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Doing Less to Achieve More

I would like to recommend a book by Stephen Guise – Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results


It is that time of year in the blogosphere; where we tend to be deluged with posts about motivation, goal setting – and usually along the lines of dream big, be your best self, how to achieve your dreams, not playing small (and on and on – i.e. all the things that were said last year, and, well, here we are this year, not much different, and trying to be different by doing the same things as last year (and the year before and the year before and . . .).).


I think Stephen’s book might be a good permanent antidote to this kind of thing. And I think it might just be the way to get out of the ‘motivation trap’ – forcing yourself to do something and then stopping because you run out of energy (if you fight yourself you lose – even if you win).  In short: this book could help you make the changes in your life that you have been wanting to make but haven’t.


Stephen’s Story

Stephen had struggled for years with establishing an exercise routine (far from uncommon). He had followed all the usual advice about goal setting and habit formation. And had the usual results – it didn’t stick, he wasn’t especially healthy, at the moment he wasn’t exercising.


So he decided to do something tiny – ‘stupid small’ as he calls it. It was that he would do one pushup a day. This would be something so easy he could always do it. [One of my favourite quotes is from Dan Millman, “A little of something is better than a whole lot of nothing”. The usual advice about aiming in big goal setting usually results in a whole lot of nothing in my experience.]


It worked, it was a revelation, and it lead Stephen to develop the approach that he now calls “Mini Habits”.


Stephen’s Approach

The basic approach is to do set a goal that is so ‘stupid small’ you will be able to do it everyday without fail barring some major catastrophe; even if you forget until just getting into bed at night. The examples from Stephen’s life are doing one pushup a day and writing fifty words a day.


This addresses the big problems with goal achievement and habit formation – resistance and running out of energy. Fighting with yourself and forcing yourself to do what you don’t want to do take energy – and eventually you run out of energy. But a “mini habit” – something “stupid small” doesn’t take hardly any energy so you don’t encounter resistance and won’t run out of energy.


A different example. An artist friend of mine (his medium was paint on canvas) was concerned that his work be creative. This meant that it was tough – creativity doesn’t come easily (it means consistently being on the edge of what you can do and what you want to say). Usually he would feel reluctant to begin the struggle each day. So he would say to himself that he would just go and have a look at what he had done yesterday. And then, as he looked at the painting, he would get interested; and find that he was taking up his brushes to do more stuff, and another productive day would result. But pushing himself to do great art didn’t help, and having a deadline didn’t help either. It was having a tiny, easy to do step, that got him moving.


And it is the getting moving that the “mini habits” approach is about. You won’t get fit from doing one pushup a day. You get fit from is finding that from doing one you can begin to develop a habit. And that after doing one, most days, you will find that you do a few more. And after a few months you will find you are doing quite a bit more – more than you achieved when you set a grand goal that brought up lots of resistance in you and which you ran out of energy for.


This is the core of “mini habits” tricking yourself into starting – so that you then find yourself doing more.


This next bit is important: The success of this system relies entirely upon not upgrading the ‘stupid small’ goal to a ‘realistic’ level. You need to keep tricking yourself. Stick with the stupid small or you will just end up with the usual resistance and running out of energy. Stick with what is ‘stupid small’ for you – it might be a mile run if you are a marathoner or getting out of bed if you are recovering from a health problem.


And reward yourself for doing the “stupid small” even if you don’t do anything more. After all, doing something is infinitely better than doing nothing. And make the reward pleasurable – it can be just congratulating yourself, or enjoying a few easy breaths, or a nice piece of fruit (if they are available) or bragging to someone you live with (if they are supportive). Something simple, easy and pleasurable. Then the extra (which you will usually do) is a bonus.


The Book Itself

Is fairly short for a book and about the usual length, or a little longer, for a kindle book. (It is in kindle format.)


The writing is good enough. Stephen conveys his message with clarity. He gives examples from his own life to show what the principles means in practise and has footnotes to the relevant academic research if you want to follow it up. His prose may not win awards, but this doesn’t matter; it is not award winning prose that usually leads us to changing our lives. I found it a little repetitious in places. On the other hand this means that what is relevant is present in the immediate context – no “see chapter X for the information about this”.


The whole of the “mini habits” system is laid out in the chapter called, “Mini Habits – Eight Small Steps to Big Change” (it starts at location 1042 of 1873 – navigating around kindle books is still not as easy as paper books). You can just read this if you like and ignore the story of how Stephen developed the system, the detailed reasoning why it makes sense (and the usual approach doesn’t work) and the links to the research. It takes up a bit more than a quarter of the book.


For this price (US$5.99) it is remarkably good value, it is available on Amazon. Stephen Guise Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results

I'm Evan Hadkins. To find out how to live a more satisfying life you can download my manifesto on living authentically. It is a book of exercises to guide you to finding, nourishing and living from the core of who you are.

If you would like me to write about some aspect of living an authentic life please don't hesitate to get in touch. There is a box in the sidebar where you can leave a question anonymously if you wish, or you can email me, use the contact page, or comment on this post.

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{ 10 comments… add one }
  • Ruth 2014/01/08, 4:11 pm

    Thank you Evan, This is exactly what I need. Now I just need to convince my computer that my phone does have Kindle software….some days computers really drive me crazy.
    Ruth recently posted..Reminder to selfMy Profile

  • Evan 2014/01/08, 4:13 pm

    Yes, technology is great (when it works!) isn’t it? Glad you found it helpful.

  • bikehikebabe 2014/01/10, 8:44 am

    Excellent Post. Something I do is Accountability. So far I’ve done 2 1/2 months of “stars” I give myself for my hour a day of “tortures”. I’m a ONE on the Enneagram personality chart. Ones are perfectionists. I don’t want to miss a day without a “star”.

    I call the workout my “tortures” but I enjoy doing them because I want to be strong more than anything. There are 4 parts to it, 15 minute intervals. I tell myself this is fun & I don’t want it to stop because it’s doing me SO much good.

    This comment isn’t reinforcing this post but I do use the post when necessary. I’ll do -whatever- for 5 minutes. That gets me started & I find out it’s not so bad after all.

  • Evan 2014/01/10, 9:11 am

    Thanks bhb. Getting started often is the main challenge I think.

  • bikehikebabe 2014/01/10, 9:37 am

    Ruth, I was unable to publish my comment on your post. Here it is:
    “I find that letting go is the hardest. Habits are hard to break.”

  • Stephen Guise 2014/01/11, 5:52 pm


    Mini Habits changed my life (as you know), and the book will change more lives because this concept works. I think the conclusions from the science are fairly straightforward—we must take great care to preserve our willpower and aim for consistency for the best results in life. Thanks so much for this post and your review on Amazon.

    Stephen Guise recently posted..How To Change Your Life Permanently With Small StepsMy Profile

  • Evan 2014/01/11, 6:03 pm

    You’re most welcome Stephen

  • Chris Edgar 2014/01/14, 10:32 am

    In keeping with what you say here, I do find these days that, when I’ve started something new by taking a first step of any size, I’m acutely aware that I’ve actually taken the most difficult step that I’m likely to face in the course of my new endeavor. That’s a very encouraging thought and is in itself a source of motivation.
    Chris Edgar recently posted..Seeking Album Cover HelpMy Profile

  • Evan 2014/01/14, 12:48 pm

    True in my experience too. Thanks for your comment Chris.

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