How Small Habits Made a Big Change
October 9, 2020

When I decided to get in shape a few years ago, I started with some small habits ... and I mean really small.

I had to. The "big" plans just weren't working. I had joined the gym and was doing hour-long classes but then my trips there had been getting further apart until they were (once again) non-existent. I just couldn't maintain that level of effort long enough to make it stick.

So instead of doing the same thing over and over (and expecting a different result) I changed my approach and decided I would start with small habits and see if I could get those to stick before I started building up.

I decided I would take just a few mere minutes each morning doing a minimal number of crunches and push-ups (I think it was maybe 10 of each) followed by a 20 minute walk outside. Now, for some people that might be a lot. I've always loved being outside, so going for a walk didn't need much of a push to become a habit. The push-ups sure did and that's why I started so small!

Man doing an upside down pushup to illustrate the idea of starting with small habits.

No one - not even this man! - starts out at this level but small habits can LEAD to this.

It was so small that it seemed almost negligible, like it was doing nothing. But what is was doing was getting me on track. It was building the habit, so that after a couple weeks of persistent action, I was ready to take the next step – joining a woman’s bootcamp! In this group, I was encouraged and held accountable for showing up and doing my best on the work outs. The "community" helped me make early morning workouts a priority and a habit that stuck.

This might be a really big jump for someone else. I'm a little bit "all or nothing" sometimes, but it took that small, tiny little effort every day to get the habit going. Almost like priming a pump.

With this positive experience under my belt, I now use this method whenever I have another new habit I want to adopt. I call it "start small, but start."

How do you know your small habits are small enough?

If you find yourself balking at doing something, it's time to make it smaller. When I started running, I learned from the more experienced athletes that the most common thing to happen to new runners is that they do too much and get injured.

For new habit builders, the risk is that you set too big of a task or too big of a goal and you get discouraged when you can't get it done.

That's when you make the habit smaller.

Were you trying to go for a 20 minute walk and you couldn't do it?

Make it a 10 minute walk. If that doesn't work, make it two 5-minute walks during the day (this is better for your health anyway). Or three 1-minute walks. Whatever it takes to just get your brain used to doing the same thing at (usually) the same time.

I went from collapsed and crying in a pilates class to losing 35 lbs and competing in a national track meet!

This is just one of many strategies. When something is important, difficult or vital for our health or maybe is a big or really important habit, you need other strategies. I needed them to do things like kick my sugar habit, make self-care a priority, and even become a more positive, resilient and happy person. Different things work for different people and it's important to find what works for you.

For now though, think about leveraging small habits.

What would you like to do? How small could you start? Let me know and join my Facebook group for encouragement.




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