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Revenge of the Tiny Habits!!!


2017-01-10

Just over 4 years ago, I wrote one of my first posts for this blog, and it was about forming habits by starting with the smallest ‘piece’ of that habit, and expanding from there (i.e. Tiny Habits). The canonical example is… If you want to start flossing regularly, your tiny habit would be flossing one tooth.

At the time, the tiny habits I decided to develop were health-related:

  • After I get out of bed, I will do 3 push-ups.
  • After I brush my teeth at night, I will floss 1 tooth.
  • After I brush my teeth in the morning, I will drink a glass of water.

How Did It Go?

My experience was largely positive, but as I wrote about back then - a problem that kept cropping up was that my habits kept dropping every time I woke up in a new location (e.g. not the apartment where I originally tried to form the habit). Here we are a few years later, and NONE of those habits stuck (which included moving several times, and many months of travel in between).

Frankly, I think my expectations were too high. As if setting up these 10 second mini routines was enough to withstand all my travel, moving, business, day-to-day changes, life changes, etc… Kinda crazy, now that I think about it.

I’m going at this again, with a slightly different angle, and vastly different expectations. This time around, I’m mix and matching habits into my short/mid term goals - as in, working on building up habits which fit into something bigger. Also, I’m working on managing my expectations to be a bit more fair.

Three Tiny Habits - Redux

This time around, I’ve decided that I will be happy if I can stick to my tiny habits under the following conditions:

  • I’m at home
  • It’s a weekday
  • I’m not hungover (“it’s a weekday” might imply I shouldn’t be hungover - but who knows)

The first point excuses myself for slipping on my habits while traveling, or if I’m staying over at someone else’s house. Second point specifically identifies that it’s important to keep these habits 5 out of 7 days - as my weekend routines can vary more than my weekday routines. The third point is a catch-all for the fact that booze hinders all plans.

As for the tiny habits themselves, they’ve gone through some minor iterations, and still need a few more - but I’ve written them below, with some commentary.

After I brush my teeth, I will floss 1 tooth.

This one is solid - all it is, is my reminder to floss. I know I should floss, and when I get in the groove, I do floss daily - but it’s so easy to get knocked out of that groove. My adherence also increases when I know I have a dental appointment within 1 month (my next one is 4 months away - so here’s to an extra 3 months of good dental hygiene).

Interestingly, I’ve noticed that when I floss, I almost automatically rinse with mouthwash after, whereas when I don’t floss - mouthwash is used only sometimes. I think mouthwash after flossing is some engrained habit that just never left me, even though flossing does sometimes.

After I weigh myself, I will put on my left running shoe.

I weigh myself most, if not all, days. Those measurements are stored on a website for later use in some side projects - so I weigh myself for later data analysis, rather than curiosity - but it’s consistent enough to use as an anchor. With the intention of keeping the ‘spirit’ of my anchor/habit combo the same, I decided to use weighing myself as an anchor for exercise.

For the past few years, ever since I started working for myself, I’ve had a horrible time adhering to a fitness schedule (and it shows). However, when I was working as an employee or when I was doing my Masters, I was usually able to get into the gym 3-5 times a week for weight lifting and cardio, up to 7 times including squash and rock climbing.

Throughout all of this, I have noticed a trend and I’m leveraging it. Once my running shoes are on, they don’t come off until I have exercised. It’s the strangest thing to take note of, but I did - so I’m using it. In the mornings, after I weigh myself, I put on my running shoes - even if I’m still going to have breakfast! Eventually, I wind up going to the gym - even though before, it was really hard to get myself down there… Apparently it was just about getting my shoes on.

An additional note: I thought I was being clever by putting my shoes and gym clothes in front of the front door, so that I couldn’t leave without putting them on, but it actually just made them more difficult to get to after weighing myself. Instead, I now place them directly beside my scale, so I can weigh myself, get off, put on shoes, and I’m good to go.

Extra additional note: I didn’t account for the fact that I can’t wear socks on my scale, so that it can do a body fat measurement - but I need socks before I put on shoes. Not a big deal, just an extra mental half-step that I didn’t even think about beforehand.

After I finish my shower, I will fill a glass of water.

This one is currently my most poorly framed tiny habit. Not that drinking water is bad, but ‘finish my shower’ is a terrible anchor… Is that when the water is turned off? You’re dried off? After I’ve shaved (when I do shave, anyways)?

Also, my brain is having a hard time linking the two… “Alright, just took a shower, what’s the most logical step? Oh, well, naturally I would walk over into the kitchen, open the fridge, and pour some water”. Yeah… No.

I’m pretty good with water on a daily basis, but I feel an extra 1-2 glasses would be beneficial. I think this one might be better framed as “when I walk in the front door, I will pour myself a glass of water” - as they’re close, I’m entering my place, and I’m usually thirsty when I get home. But sometimes I come and go 30 times, so I will miss a lot of glasses. Need to ponder this one further.

What’s Next?

Well, I mentioned that I’m mix and matching my habits with short/mid range goals (e.g. build up a habit with a specific path in mind). To that end, for the next couple of posts I’ll be going into some more of the specifics of what I’m doing to meet my health-first initiative for 2017, and then backing out to the bigger picture (and by then, hopefully I’ll have some good results to share as well!).

If this works for my health, then I have secondary and tertiary targets for my business and side-projects to test out.

Postscript

I wish I could figure this out, but there are some habits which I’ve been able to create or change within just a day or so. There has never been any specific reason why these stuck with me, they just did.

For example, when I was young, I only brushed my teeth every morning. Went on for years. Then, one day, I just decided to start brushing in the evening as well - and it continued on for the next 25 years.

Also on brushing, I used to brush my teeth before eating breakfast - reason being, I didn’t have breakfast every day, but I sure as hell wasn’t leaving the house without brushing my teeth. Then, in university, I just decided to switch - and since then, I’ve always brushed my teeth after breakfast. However, when traveling, I revert back to brushing my teeth right after waking up - regardless of breakfast situation.

Finally, just a few months ago I started making my bed in the morning. I just woke up one day, didn’t like that the bed wasn’t made (keeping in mind that I didn’t care about this for 30+ years) and since then, I’ve been making my bed every morning.

Feature photo credit: nhanusek / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND