new! Q: I am trying to come up with mini-habits, and I keep trying to think of what I can do consistently. What about vacation? Your habits are portable, but what about playing the piano or cooking? Is it better not to set up these mini-habits since they will necessarily get interrupted?

For non-portable mini habits, you can make them portable by having substitute mini habits on vacation (i.e. a hybrid mini habit). For piano, you could study music theory for 1 minute (or 1 page) each day on vacation. For cooking, you could find one new recipe to try per day or one new food to cook with. Get creative and think of a way to continue your progress on the go. There’s almost always something you can do.

This way, you’re still making progress on these things, but in a way that fits your lifestyle. I think this solution is important because of how powerful it is to never miss a day. Otherwise, after taking a week off, it won’t be the same.

new! Q: Your book seems to be talking about habits you want to form; what about habits you need to form for your career? I work in academia, so I need to write and publish articles for tenure, but I lack the motivation and willpower to do so. How can I commit to a mini-habit that my heart isn’t in? Is this doomed to fail?

It isn’t a requirement to have to want to do the task on any level. Of course it helps, but you can definitely succeed without having any motivation (long-term or short-term) to work on your articles. As a writer, I actually rarely find myself wanting to write because I know it’s hard mental work (as I’m sure yours is). But with mini habits, I always start and do something. This is enough to form a mini-sized habit over time, and it also helps me to feel encouraged about my progress every day.

Now I know that I’ll write something every day, and it’s less and less an annoyance and more and more a simple expectation to do it. That’s the magic of habits, and when it’s something like grueling academic work, it’s even more important to form a habit with it. Since you’re not exactly excited about the article work in general, I’d recommend using time or activity-based triggers for that; the reason being that these “single trigger” behaviors will form into habits faster than if you set a daily requirement with no specific trigger.

The faster you get to habit, the faster you get over the hump of dreading the work. When it’s second nature, your feelings subside, and in the case of something you don’t enjoy doing, that’s definitely a good thing!

Q: What happens when someone doesn’t have any innate motivation? For example they never tried using motivation as a strategy, and simply went with the flow. Then they found out about willpower vs motivation, and decided to forgo using any motivation to begin with.

I think that in that case, motivation will stay low. You’ll bumble through the minimum, and rarely raise above, because your motivation reserves weren’t built up.

What if a lack of built up motivation (through motivating stuff or experiences) can throttle a person’s growth?

So if someone uses willpower as a strategy to start, they’ll find that once they’ve hit their goal they won’t feel any new found motivation energy, because they didn’t have any motivational experiences to work with.

I’m basing this off personal experiences. I’ve achieved an incredible period of growth ever since I’ve started Mini Habits, but I’ve felt something was off. I think this is what’s been bugging me.

What do you think?

Here are my thoughts:

1. It’s ok if motivation doesn’t come. As you said, it can be lacking for various reasons even after starting. While motivation is awesome to have, it should not be the goal, nor should we rely on it even after starting. As for Mini Habits, I’ve found that my motivation fluctuates a lot and for periods of time I will only do the minimum or close to it.

2. You can still use willpower. After you get started on something, and you don’t have motivation to rise above, you can set another small goal and another to go further. In my first “One Push-up Challenge,” I had to set about 20-30 micro goals just to complete a 30 minute workout. But I felt GREAT about it afterwards. Remember that it’s the benefit from the activity we’re after, not feeling motivated!

3. Motivation won’t last, biologically speaking. A key characteristic of habits is that they’re unemotional. It’s HARD to feel motivated to do a habit, because the brain doesn’t see habits in that way. So I think what’s bugging you is that in the beginning you made all of this progress, which was exciting and made you want to continue, but it has lost its initial luster. The same thing has happened to me, but when I think back on what I’ve accomplished with mini habits, I smile. So it’s pretty mundane now, but I focus on the pleasure of making daily progress. If I had relied on motivation, I would have dropped out a long time ago.

4. I remember you saying that you had 10+ mini habits. Well, that’s probably too many! It could be that you’re burnt out. Even mini habits can burn you out at that quantity. If you’re only doing the minimum and you just can’t do more than that, then you’re probably not ready for more (but again, you could probably go further with willpower and small steps).

5. From my experience, there’s a long phase where the behavior is beginning to form into a habit—but is not there yet—that seems to be the biggest challenge. This is because it loses the motivational surge from beginning a new behavior and lacks the strong support of being a full-fledged habit. It’s an awkward middle phase that is VERY important to power through. With mini habits, you can definitely power through, even if you only meet the minimum. That’s why the minimum is there and so obtainable. It’s a safety net to keep you on track at your worst.

6. If your focus isn’t aligned at all levels, that kills motivation. The reason is that you need to understand that what you’re doing is on “dream road,” or that it is exactly what you need to be doing with your time. See this post — http://deepexistence.com/how-to-align-your-life-sharpen-your-focus-ultimate-guide/

Low motivation bugs me sometimes too, but it’s part of the journey. If you keep taking action on the right things every day, you’re going to improve your life so much that internal inspiration will come. For example, I still eat these really healthy mega salads just because of how far I’ve come with my health and fitness. They aren’t required. It’s a “bonus.”

Success inspires us to improve even more. I personally differentiate between motivation and internal inspiration. The latter is the slow-burning, long-lasting fire that you want.

My reading and writing mini habits are currently in a “grinding” phase, where I’m not always putting in a lot of extra work. Sometimes I use willpower to do extra, and a lot of the time I get into a groove and keep going once I start. But it’s not “Oh boy! I’m going to write 4,000 words today!”

There will be lulls, but if you push through, you’ll reignite at some point. I’ve experienced it time and time again. The difference with Mini Habits is that I stay on track during these “blah” times. It also helps to have a long-term perspective. Daily behaviors become habits, which don’t require motivation or willpower. I hope that helps.

Q: I am not having a problem with the habits, but when the days get busy I just forget to do them! I wake up the next morning and realize that I just completely forgot! Any advice on remembering?

First, it’s important that you’re tracking your mini habits in some way. If you’re not tracking them, it’s going to be very difficult to have success with Mini Habits. The best advice for remembering to do your Mini Habits depends on what system you’re using.

For the physical calendar, put it in a prominent location that you’ll see fairly often. And if you have a pen or a permanent marker you use to check your days off, put it on your pillow after you get up in the morning, so when you go to sleep at night, you’ll see the pen and remember. Then you can at least fit in your mini habits before you go to sleep.

For digital tracking, there are quite a few “reminder apps” you can get for IOS or Android. I’d recommend setting a reminder on one of these close to bedtime (if yours is consistent…perhaps an hour or two before). I believe the habit tracking apps such as Lift and Habit Streak Plan even have reminder functions built in.

If these suggestions STILL fail you, I’d consider incorporating a time-based cue or activity-based cue instead of general mini habits (once a day). The former two have the advantage of having a specific trigger, which makes them much easier to remember.

But again, those suggestions should work even if you have general mini habits. The main thing is to trigger your memory before you go to sleep, so putting a pen on your pillow or something similar is a pretty easy and very effective way to do that. And even if you’re dead tired, you can knock out your mini habit quickly for the night and call it a success. My mini habits sometimes start out this way (meeting them at the last second), but then I learn to naturally fit them in earlier in the day.

Final note: Make sure you place a high priority on your mini habits. If you faithfully stick to these “too easy to fail” behaviors, you’re going to see a surprisingly big payoff in the long run. If you forget rarely, it’s ok and won’t hurt your habit formation, but NEVER let it be two days in a row (that’s a streak in the wrong direction)!

Q: I can’t decide which mini habit(s) to pursue. What should I do?

This is an example of why we have mini habits. The reason you can’t decide is most often because you have too much of a burden on your mind. Maybe you want to pick the perfect set to start with, or maybe you’re not sure which habits are best for your current situation. The answer is once again to go smaller.

Choose one mini habit. Remove the pressure to choose the best one, and just choose a good one. If you want, you can always add another one tomorrow. The key is to just choose one at a time, unless one of the mini habit combos interests you.

It’s ironic. It’s the times when we’re taking action that we fear wasting our time the most. When you decide to do something positive for your life, the value of your time skyrockets, which makes you a bit more cautious; unfortunately, this can cause inaction. The fix starts with understanding this phenomenon, and ends with accepting good progress as good enough. Perfectionism is poison for personal growth. Dare to be GOOD. Have the courage to accept imperfection, because you’ll never get it anyway!

So, if this is you, pick one good mini habit to start today. Here are some ideas.

Q: I’m on the multi-mini plan. Should I check off my Mini Habits individually or as a group?

If you are pursuing multiple Mini Habits, you should count them as a whole unit. The reason for this is perception. If you check them off individually, you might think, well, I got 2 out of three on most days. This is catastrophic failure in Mini Habits. Mini Habits are so small that you should never miss any of your targets.

Another problem that this could cause is that missing one of your three Mini Habits will still feel like a semi-failure. We’re avoiding that feeling at all costs, because failure discourages us. This is not to be confused with failure from experimenting/trying something new. These mini habits are a known quantity, and failure doesn’t help us learn much—it just feels like failure.

I recommend making a single checkmark signify completion of ALL tasks.

BUT if you happen to forget one of your Mini Habits once in a blue moon, write your check, but make a small note that you forgot to do one your mini habits. This has happened to me 3 times in 156 days of doing 3 Mini Habits every day—once in a while will not hurt you, and it hasn’t hurt me, but still avoid it at all costs. I say to make it small because Mini Habits is not a negative reinforcement system. When you miss a mini habit, you want to immediately move forward again (dwelling on it isn’t going to help you).