Can forming new micro-habits really help change your life?

This has been a time of intense change, leaving many of our old, tried, tested and healthier habits in the dust.

The extent to which we’ll be able to ‘get back to normal’ is in doubt, and with different iterations of lockdown and tiers still to grapple with, it’s little wonder that some of us are feeling a bit lost.

While it’s important to not put yourself under too much pressure, part of looking after your welbeing involves taking care of yourself on the regular.

That doesn’t mean you need to go through any more massive changes in your life in the name of self-care – we’ve had plenty of big changes for the time being, and pandemic or not, lots of change is a big commitment and it can be intimidating not to mention hard to keep up.

That’s where micro-habits come in.

Micro-habits are exactly what they sound like – small habits that are easy to undertake, and are, ideally, good for you. They are supposed to easily snowball into a full-scale routine.

As one TikTok explains, micro-habits can be as small as getting yourself a glass of water in the morning, which can turn into making your bed every morning, which can turn into also making coffee every morning.

‘Suddenly,’ TikTokker @marynorawolf says in her video, ‘you have a routine.’

That all sounds lovely, but does it actually work?

micro habits are honestly so cool and make #adhd manageable (usually) #routine #morningroutine #morningmotivation #microhabit #asmr #fyp

Life Coach Directory member Sarah Withey tells us ‘the micro-habit route makes goals more achieveable’, and strongly recommends the technique during the pandemic.

She says: ‘The daily torrent of bad news can be overwhelming and it’s all too easy to switch into survival mode and just drift along waiting for normality to return.

‘If you already have strongly embedded habits for maintaining your physical and mental health, your exercise routine and your diet in place then you won’t just survive, you might even thrive.

‘But trying to kick-start new behaviours might be the last thing on your mind and you could find the idea of developing new eating or exercise habits just too intimidating.

‘The micro-habit route makes those goals much more achievable. If you can take steps to minimise medical problems like obesity, hyper-tension or diabetes then your Covid risk will be reduced.

‘Building an exercise routine starting with micro and building to macro, will be beneficial for both your physical and mental well-being.’

Her fellow Life Coach Directory member Denise Bosque says: ‘Habits are what make a person, they are effortless for the brain and hard to break.

‘Once we’ve learned something, be it positive or not, driving a car, snacking every time you walk through the kitchen, it’s a habit.

‘It becomes “automatic behaviour” – the brain learns through repetition, so you don’t have to think about it anymore. That’s great if it’s a habit you want. If not, you have to be very conscious, mindful about changing it.’

‘It would make sense,’ she continues, ‘Rather than an ‘all or nothing’ approach (unless that’s your style) to start on simple, micro-habits.’ 

Sarah says: ‘Do you know the best thing about a micro-habit? It’s tiny. And because it is so small you don’t need to be afraid of it and because it can’t intimidate you, you can start developing them straight away: no procrastination, no waiting until tomorrow.

‘You can easily make a minuscule adjustment to your daily routine because it isn’t overwhelming and it doesn’t come with that fear of failure attached from when you’ve tried to make those huge changes in the past and not been able to make them stick.

‘With micro-habits you aren’t dependent on that unreliable friend – willpower – so once you’ve nailed the first one it gets easier and easier to add more and more.

‘Before you know it those big changes you’ve struggled with have been achieved and have become an established part of your routine.’

When it comes to building your own new micro-habits, it’s all about starting small and doing what feels manageable.

For now, prioritise micro-habits that can get your self-care routine back on track.

Denise says: ‘Being stuck at home for the last few months, we have developed habits we may not have intended. Think about your daily life, where you would like to incorporate some good habits; maybe in self-care.’

Sarah adds: ‘Don’t be embarrassed to start super small. Make that your normal and then move on.

‘If your big picture is to be fitter and stronger then why not begin by doing five squats while you’re waiting for the kettle to boil? Everyone can do five squats (ok, maybe two squats) and before you know it you will be doing them for 30 seconds and then a minute.

‘If your big picture is to learn French then practice one sentence while you’re in the shower and before you know it you’ll be having a full-blown conversation with yourself.’

Denise lays out some specific examples of better micro-habits worth starting, telling us: ‘Start your day with a one-three minute stretching routine. It will wake your body and prevent injuries. Have your exercise gear to hand, do it immediately.

‘Then another one-three minute (or more) meditation, during which you can express positive feelings (love, gratitude etc).

‘Starting your day writing down what you are truly grateful for in your life has been proven, scientifically, to change the chemistry in the body. It releases serotonin, the “feel-good” hormone (as long as you are really feeling the gratitude).

‘Put your phone out of reach, in a different room so you break the habit of the automatic reflex to keep checking.

‘Take a daily walk, even if it lasts five minutes. It will boost your vitamin D and ground you.

‘Put post-its in strategic places around the house to remind you to do X.

‘Make sure you always have a water bottle at your desk.’

Sarah says we should look at the pandemic and resulting lockdowns as ‘an opportunity to take stock of the aspects of your life that you want to change,’ adding: ‘Everything around us has altered dramatically with our normal points of reference gone so we do need to create a stable routine and healthy habits to give us foundations.

‘There are big changes happening around us but try and use that as the trigger to start developing the micro-habits that will grow and merge to create big changes in you.’

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