Do you ever look at the “before and after” pictures from success stories a year or two (or ten) after they’ve won the big prize and wondered if they kept off the weight? (You know, like The Biggest Loser TV show?)
To make such a dramatic transformation so quickly, these people made big changes in just about every area of their lives. They had breakthroughs in their nutrition, their exercise, and their mindsets. And they kicked serious butt—especially during the competition—often working out for many hours each week and watching every bite of food that crossed their lips.
Their stories are incredible and so inspiring. Maybe you are one of those inspiring success stories, and if so, our hats off to you. If you’re part of the BioTrust VIP Facebook Community, you’ve likely seen the photos of these types of powerful transformations of real-life people. I know they inspire us every day.
Yet another group of people may not make that degree of transformation after just 8 or 12 short weeks. But if you were to look at their “before and after” photos after several months or a year, their transformations are just as incredible and inspiring. And for many of us, they may also be easier to both replicate, and especially important, maintain. (Many of the “where are they now” stories show even the champions can gain much of the weight back if they fall back into old habits.)
To change your life, you may think you have to make big, bold, audacious goals and change just about everything you’re doing. If you’re currently in a transformation challenge and you want to win, this is probably the right mindset.
But if your goals are to make lifelong changes and live healthier for the long haul, another option is to make smaller micro habits every day and then take advantage of compound interest and exponential growth.
Exponential Growth & Your Life
To get a better idea of what exponential growth can do, let’s switch to a money analogy. If given a choice of receiving $1,000,000 up front or taking a penny a day and doubling its value every day over 30 days, the initial reaction for most is to take that instant gratification of the big sum of money up front. And if you quit after the first 10 days, you’d be right—you would have gotten to just $5.12 per day or a total of $10.23 if you started with the penny. Far from that $1 million!
Yet if you stuck to it and continued to double those pennies for the full 30 days, you’d actually end up with more at the end of the month. A lot more. (Over $10.7 million in fact.) The biggest growth occurs at the very end—in the last 5 to 10 days. (Don’t believe me? Here’s the math.)
Of course, unless you have a genie in a lamp, chances are you’ll never have the opportunity to make this choice with cold-hard cash. But it is a good way to think about how even the smallest “change” can have a big impact given time and repeated effort.
Another analogy is dishes. It’s not quite as fun to imagine as piles of money, but it does paint a similar picture. Say you hate doing the dishes and decide to put off doing them for the next 30 days. By the end of the month, your counters will be teetering with dirty dishes, and it will take you hours upon hours (or even days) to catch up and wash every dish. A daunting, overwhelming task to be sure, especially if you do most of your own cooking.
If, on the other hand, you do your dishes after every meal or even once a day, it takes only about 5 to 10 minutes. A much easier, less painful process.
My point? Change isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition. It’s often more about starting small and then continuing to build momentum. A 1% change for the better is still change for the better and explains why micro habits can have such big effects.
In what area do you want to change? Your finances? Health and fitness? Living environment? Outlook on life? All of the above?
Here are 13 micro habits that can change your life for the better. You’ll likely notice improvements within the first couple of days to weeks, and if you keep it up for several months to a year, you may notice virtually everything has changed.
13 Micro Habits That Can Change Your Life
1) Choose your priorities. If you’re like most people, you have more on your to-do list than you know what to do with—deadlines to juggle, emails to answer, texts and phone calls to make, and so on. Prioritize your one to five “big rocks” to ensure you are able to accomplish your most important tasks before you get swallowed up by all the sand. Moments of thoughtful prioritization can save hours of spinning your wheels—that treacherous, deflating juxtaposition where you’re “busy” but never really moving forward.
2) Plan your day. Now that you’ve clearly set your priorities, at the end of each day, take a couple of minutes to plan the following day, putting the priority on scheduling time for the things that matter most. Don’t forget to plan when you’ll exercise and take time to plan your healthy menu. As the saying goes, “Fail to plan, plan to fail.” By deciding ahead of time what’s most important to you and placing that in your schedule, you won’t have to depend on will (or “won’t”) power when faced with too many choices. Instead, it’s as simple as just following the plan.
3) Check your bank account daily. Many of us are so busy that we may not even be aware how much money is in the checking account, much less savings or retirement accounts. To become financially aware of where you are vs. where you want to be, take a few minutes to check your account balances. Within a matter of weeks or months, you’ll have a much better grasp of your finances and where your money is going. (Plus, you’ll also know right away if your accounts have been compromised.)
4) Do the dishes. I don’t know of anyone who loves doing the dishes, but as explained above, if you make it a micro habit to spend even five minutes to finish the day’s dishes, you’ll be able to keep your kitchen in better order. That will not only make it so much easier to prepare and eat healthy meals, it will also eliminate the distraction of a messy kitchen, which can be a source of negative energy and zap precious mental resources.
5) Take a breath. We are constantly being bombarded with news, gossip, and thoughts that can be upsetting or even enraging. Before you react, take a deep breath and tune into your feelings. Ask yourself if your reaction will serve you and others, or will it just upset you more. This micro pause may help you look at the stimulus differently and may allow a more effective response. After a year of taking micro pauses instead of reacting so quickly to upsetting news or thoughts, you’ll likely see the world much more positively.
6) Keep learning. Nearly 25% of American adults admit they haven’t read a book (or even part of a book) in the last year. While there are many ways to keep learning throughout life, one of the easiest, most cost-effective ways to continue learning, growing, and developing is to read. Take time to read an article or blog (like this one), grab a special report, or read a full book. Listen to audiobooks or podcasts. Start with a couple of minutes or a page a day and enjoy the process of self-growth and lifelong learning!
7) Say “yes” more often. If you’re stuck in a rut or just feel like you’re too busy or overextended, you may have gotten in the habit of always saying “no,” even when you really wanted to say “yes.” Maybe it was saying “no” to going for a hike or to the gym or a class with a friend. Or, “no” to taking a walk during the middle of the day just because it’s nice out. Perhaps it was “no” to an offer for a quick coffee to catch up and connect…or that concert or game you really want to see. Instead of saying “no,” take a chance and start saying “yes” more often—especially when it comes to fostering social connections, spending time in nature, and nourishing your body and soul.
8) Stand up. If I were to take a guess, I’d say you’re sitting down right now. If so, please stand up for a couple of minutes. If you don’t have a standing desk and you work behind a computer, take a minute or two and stand up throughout the day. You can set a timer to remind you to stand up, or you can stand up whenever you get a certain type of notification—for example, when the phone rings, a message pops up, or you receive an email. Standing up may even save you from an early death.
9) Drink a glass of water. You know you need to drink more water every day. But if you’re barely drinking any water, instead of pressuring yourself to drink 8 glasses to a gallon a day, focus on drinking just one more cup. Start with a cup of water in the morning and then add another cup… Within a year, you’ll likely find you drink so regularly that you carry your water with you wherever you go and feel out of sorts without it.
10) Pick one healthy practice. If overhauling your diet and exercise routine all at once is overwhelming, focus on just one small change. Forgo one unhealthy choice and replace it with a healthier one. If you typically have a soda in the afternoon, for example, switch to a sparkling water. Or, add a small side salad to your lunch rather than the usual chips. If you don’t eat enough vegetables and fruits, add one serving per day. If you don’t currently exercise, start by scheduling five minutes of movement at the start of your day. If you sit at a desk all day long, schedule two-minute micro movement breaks every hour. Just make one small but better choice.
11) Get physical. Don’t think you have time for a full-on workout? Move your body, at least a little bit, every day. Even if you start with just a single set of 5 squats, 2 push-ups, a 30-second plank, a 7-minute workout, or a 15-minute walk, you’ll quickly start feeling better, and you’ll also likely feel like doing more. Most people find once they start moving, they want to move even more.
12) Be grateful. Gratitude lists are all the rage for one great reason—because they work. “Happiness is not having what you want but wanting what you have.” Take one minute before you close your eyes to sleep every night to write down one to three things you’re grateful for. (And instead of listing the same things every day, try to use the time to think back on your day to come up with at least one unique thing to be grateful for—something that doesn’t necessarily happen every day.)
13) “It’s going to be a great day!” One person who has made micro habits his life work is behavior scientist BJ Fogg. And even though his favorite tiny habit takes just 2 seconds, it can have astounding effects on your entire life. What is it? As you get out of bed in the morning and place your feet on the floor, say out loud, “Today is going to be a great day.” Every day is a gift to be grateful for, and by saying this first thing in the morning, you’ll start your day off with positive expectations. This habit is so easy and automatic and tends to create ripple effects throughout life. So, if you choose only one micro habit to start with, this may be the most profound.
The Power of Micro Habits
Behavior change is a skill that takes practice—just like learning an instrument or a language, how to lift weights, or become a better cook. Start to practice these micro habits and see how quickly you become better and how such little effort can lead to big results. The one caveat, however, is to start practicing the behaviors you want to have rather than those you think you “should” have. And if it’s not working, be flexible, adaptable, and willing to revise the habit. You’re more likely to be successful if you have fun with it. Transformation isn’t about punishment; it’s about reward. It’s about progress, not perfection. Don’t be afraid to change the new micro habit until it really is fun and does start to stick.
Good or bad, most of us are creatures of habits. Take small steps each day to build more good micro habits and replace the ones that aren’t taking you where you want to go. These little improvements will add up day after day, and just like those pennies, you may not see a big result after a week or two, but after a few months, much less a year, you’ll likely find your life is completely transformed.