A Weekly Prompt
I have heard and indeed taught about the power of tiny habits, for a while. As they strived to create new habits, my clients found that breaking down their habit-forming process into smaller and more achievable victories made the process of forming the desired behavior much easier to achieve. More often than not, the reason we tend to fail at establishing new habits is because we are stretching ourselves too thin.
Planting a Seed
For example, if we aim at meditating for 15 minutes per day, we might find ourselves fighting on a war of two fronts:
1) We want to establish a time and space to sit down and do some meditation.
2) We want to meditate for an uninterrupted period of 15 minutes.
So, the suggestion here is to create a tiny habit first (I call it planting a small seed) by defining the time and the place for our new habit. At this stage, you want to keep the mediation time to the minimum, something like 1 minute or even 3 breathing cycles. Once the habit of sitting down is established, we water the seed and allow it to grow by gradually expanding the duration of the session until we reach our goal of 15 minutes.
Nurturing the Seed
What supports the small seed is to let the new habit piggyback on an already established one. Since our brains naturally form habits on their own, we all do things with some aspect of regularity, meaning we can link the new habit to the existing one by deciding that, for example, we will sit down to meditate on our way back from the bathroom after we first brush our teeth. Also, we can give ourselves a reward just after the habit, so the dopamine receptors in our brain can register the positive feedback of what we are doing. The reward doesn’t need to be something totally new, it can be the cup of coffee we would have drunk anyway, the difference being that you can say “I earned this coffee”.
Something I eventually discovered for myself was that I could actually make my existing habit the new tiny habit, establishing a new goal and then gradually expanding the established habit into it.
And so, I began to brush my teeth mindfully. No, I did not brush them in a cross-legged position with my eyes closed while humming OM, I simply paid attention to the sensations that accompanied the act of brushing my teeth. The feeling on the gums… The sound of the electric brush… The taste and smell of the toothpaste… In doing this I received two benefits, my mind became calmer and clearer after brushing my teeth, but also the quality of my oral hygiene improved because I naturally spent more time on it, and I also paid attention to the act of brushing so my brushing became more thorough.
The end result of adopting not just this new tiny habit, but also the mindset behind it, was that I ended up smiling more and more brightly into the day ahead. Not just because of the confidence in my healthy teeth, but because I had implemented mindfulness into the very beginning of my day, ensuring I approached the rest of it from a better place.