Mini Habits by Stephen Guise: notes10 min read

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Mini Habits explains how you can get the most out of the fact that 45% of your behavior happens on autopilot by setting ridiculously small goals, relying on willpower instead of motivation and tracking your progress to live a life that’s full of good mini habits.

Mini Habits has sold over 100,000 copies and has become the go-to habit formation strategy for many, I’m guessing thanks to the simplicity of the concept. Stephen strategically walks you through the science of habits and how our brain sees and uses them, then explaining why that means motivation is unreliable and how you can rely on willpower instead.

He then gives you a step-by-step plan to implement mini habits into your life. Here are 3 of these steps:

  • Set a super easy goal to start, because chances are you’ll keep going once you’re off.
  • Use some kind of system to track your habits and progress.
  • When you beat your goal, don’t increase the standard, or you’ll fall off the wagon.

Have you been wanting to change your habits for the better? Here’s how to do it, without changing much at all!

Lesson 1: Make starting your habit easy, because objects in motion stay in motion.

Let’s say you want to be able to do 100 push-ups in a row. Where would you start? 10, 20? Doing as many as you can every day? It’s very easy to think that by starting at the highest level you can currently achieve, you’ll reach your goal the fastest, but actually, that’s just a recipe for disaster.

If you can barely do 20 push-ups, doing it for seven days in a row and collapsing on the floor every time will only make you want to trade morning exercise for a bigger breakfast – it’s frustrating and de-motivating. I know what Stephen would tell you: just do one push-up every day.

Wait. One?! Are you serious? Yup. It’s how he got started. Why does it work? Because if all you have to do is one push-up a day, you’ll laugh at the challenge. It won’t be difficult and it’s impossible to get tired.

But as you do your single push-up, Newton’s first law will kick in, which says objects in motion tend to stay in motion. It’s easy to add another 3-4 push-ups to your first one. Overcoming that first, initial hurdle is all it takes.

Soon, you’ll find yourself upgrading to two push-ups a day, then three, and so on.

Lesson 2: Track your habits using a system, so you’ll know how much progress you make.

To know how you’re fairing with your habits, it pays to track them. Last year, I tracked 15 of my habits and learned a lot. Next to good old pen and paper, there’s a whole bunch of habit tracking apps available at this point. Goals are much more powerful the second you write them down (even if you never look at them again), so even just adding habits to a tracker helps.

My favorite, and this won’t be a shock if you’ve known me for a bit, is Millions of people track thousands of goals on there, and for each and every single habit you’ll find a wonderful, positive community to support you, cheer you on and answer all your questions. As of 2015, you can even get coaches for specific goals (yours truly was among the first 200 on the platform) .

The most important thing about tracking is looking at your tracker every day and noting your progress. You won’t only know your current level of progress all the time, but also be reminded to finish the habits you haven’t done for the day.

Lesson 3: Don’t make big successes your new standard targets.

Let’s say you do join the one push-up challenge and on the fifth day, you’re so motivated and energized, that you just keep on going and manage to pull off a staggering 15 push-ups. Congrats! That’s fantastic!

However, here’s where achievement often turns into pitfall: You’ll likely be tempted to increase your standard the next day, because one push-up seems way to easy now. Resist this temptation. It’s a trap.

If 15 push-ups is your all-time best at this point, how can you expect an all-time best of yourself every day now? This is where many people go into overdrive and subsequently fall off the wagon again.

There’s reason to celebrate exceeding your goals. You should. Pat yourself on the back, but see this accomplishment as a bonus, don’t take it as pressure to try harder. If a mini habit becomes boring, that means it’s actually become a habit and that’s something to celebrate in and of itself, not just upgrade to the next level and start the struggle all over again.

By keeping your mini habits mini, you’ll soon find yourself living a life that’s full of positive rituals, which make you a better person – and that’s what habits are all about.

My personal take-aways

As someone who’s dealt so extensively with the subject, I knew many of these things already, but I do have to say the way Stephen lays out his strategy is something for anyone to learn from. He manages to never ask too much of you, take things one step at a time and make habits feel effortless. This is the perfect signal that he’s living his mini habits concept – it has seeped into how he’s written the book itself. This is the kind of authenticity you can’t manufacture and for that alone, the book is well worth a read.

Mini Habits by Stephen Guise

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Mini Habits Summary

The Book in Three Sentences

You don’t need triggers to form habits.

The easier a habit, the easier it is to sustain.

Let your core motivations drive your habits.

The Five Big Ideas

“Doing a little bit is infinitely bigger and better than doing nothing (mathematically and practically speaking)”.

“Doing a little bit every day has a greater impact than doing a lot on one day”.

“We’re quick to blame ourselves for lack of progress, but slow to blame our strategies”.

“When you invest in yourself in key areas like fitness and learning, you tend to do it in other areas too”.

“When you add good habits into your life, it illuminates another possible path, restores your confidence, and gives you hope”.

Mini Habits Summary

“Doing a little bit is infinitely bigger and better than doing nothing (mathematically and practically speaking)”.

“Doing a little bit every day has a greater impact than doing a lot on one day”.

“We’re quick to blame ourselves for lack of progress but slow to blame our strategies”.

“Every great accomplishment rests on the foundation of what came before it; when you trace it back, you’ll see one small step that started it all”.

“In False Faces, you consider the opposite of what you’re currently thinking, and see what creative ideas emerge from that”.

“[False Faces] generates creative ideas by forcing your mind to zoom out and see the spectrum of possibilities”.

“When you invest in yourself in key areas like fitness and learning, you tend to do it in other areas too”.

“When you add good habits into your life, it illuminates another possible path, restores your confidence, and gives you hope”.

“A mini habit is basically a much smaller version of a new habit you want to form”.

“The foundation of the Mini Habits system is in ‘stupid small’ steps”.

“To summarize, a mini habit is a VERY small positive behavior that you force yourself to do every day”.

“The only way to create habits is to teach the rest of your brain to like what the prefrontal cortex wants”.

“Motivation is unreliable because it’s based on how you feel, and we’ve known for centuries that human feelings are fluid and unpredictable”.

“As a behavior begins its transition into habit you will become less emotional about it. It will even begin to seem boring and mundane”.

“The five biggest factors found to cause ego depletion were effort perceived difficulty, negative affect, subjective fatigue, and blood glucose levels”.

“The Mini Habits strategy is forcing yourself to take 1-4 ‘stupid small’ strategic actions every day. These actions are too small to fail and too small to skip for special occasions”.

“Self-efficacy is your belief in your ability to influence an outcome”.

“Make a quick list of habits you’d like to have at some point”.

“My rule of thumb is to minify my desired habit until it sounds stupid. When something sounds ‘stupid small’, your brain sees it as non-threatening”.

“Once you’ve listed your habits, identify why you want them. But don’t stop there. Ask why again. Continue to ask why until it becomes circular and repetitive, which means that you’ve found the core”.

“The two common habit cues are time-based and activity-based”.

“Small steps get us started and allow us to build momentum towards a meaningful goal, but it works the other way too. If you allow yourself small concessions, soon enough you’ll find them growing against your will”.

“Have you noticed that bad habits have multiple cues, while everyone suggests that a good habit should have one cue?”

“Another problem with specific cues is their additional load on your willpower”.

“Mini habits are too small to fail, even without a cue”.

“Writing something down instantly elevates it above all of your other thoughts”.

8 Small Steps to Big Change

Step 1: Choose Your Mini Habits & Habit Plan

Step 2: Use The Why Drill On Each Mini Habit

Step 3: Define Your Habit Cues

Step 4: Create Your Reward Plan

Step 5: Write Everything Down

Step 6: Think Small

Step 7: Meet Your Schedule & Drop High Expectations

Step 8: Watch For Signs Of Habit, But Be Careful Not to Jump the Gun

5 Signs That a Behavior Is a Habit

No resistance. It feels easier to do the behavior than not to do it. Identity: you now identify with the behavior and would feel completely confident saying, “I read books” or “I’m a writer.”

Mindless action. You’ll engage in the behavior without making an executive decision. You won’t think, Ok, I’ve decided to go to the gym. You’ll just gather your things and go because it’s Tuesday, or because it feels like it’s time.

You don’t worry about it. Starting out, you might worry about missing a day or quitting early, but when a behavior is habit, you know that you’ll be doing it unless there’s an emergency.

Normalization. Habits are non-emotional. You’re not going to be excited that “you’re really doing it!” once it is habit. When a behavior makes the transition to normalcy, it’s habit.

It’s boring. Good habits are not exciting; they’re just good for you. You’ll be more excited about life because of your habits, but don’t expect it with the behavior itself.

8 Mini Habit Rules

Never, Ever Cheat

Be Happy With All Progress

Reward Yourself Often, Especially After a Mini Habit

Stay Level-headed

If You Feel Strong Resistance, Back Off & Go Smaller

Remind Yourself How Easy This Is

Never Think A Step Is Too Small

Put Extra Energy and Ambition Toward Bonus Reps, Not A Bigger Requirement

Recommended Reading

If you like Mini Habits, you may also like the following books:

Better Than Before: Mastering The Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin

Essential Zen Habits: Mastering The Art of Change, Briefly by Leo Babauta

One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way by Robert Maurer

Buy The Book: Mini Habits

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