What if the secret to a better you wasn't about achieving bold, life-altering feats, but performing minuscule, low-effort habits?
Forget trying to lose 15 pounds, getting eight hours of sleep a night, or giving up alcohol in January. Think smaller. Now even smaller.
Every year my New Year's resolution is to become more organized. It's why I spend 20 hours in December researching the best daily paper planners and ask for things like a label maker for Christmas. But researchers will tell you why such a generic goal of getting organized is paving the road to failure. It's vague and boring, devoid of all prompts. Science shows that habits will stick easier when you have a precise plan that's easy to remember.
If more exercise is your goal, take a cue from BJ Fogg, a behavior scientist at Stanford University and author of "Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything." He started with a microscopic but specific goal: He did two pushups every time he made a trip to the bathroom. He literally told himself, "After I pee, I will do two pushups."
He had other mantras for separate actions, he told NPR in 2020. They sounded like this:
"After I brush my teeth, I will floss one tooth."
"After I sit down on the subway, I'll open my book and read a paragraph."
"After I turn off the TV, I'll take three calming breaths."
You can see how the story ends, right? Tiny habits formed routines that cascaded into bigger behaviors. It's not uncommon now for Fogg to bang out 50 pushups on a given day.
I was thinking more about the concept of tiny habits after reading a callout initiated by independent journalist Simone Stolzoff, who asked people on Twitter for their "personal rules" by which they've chosen to live. These rules could take a stand on anything from work-life balance to personal tidiness. They certainly aren't right for everyone, but the responses were eye-opening.
Among the personal rules the Twitterverse shared: Don't use my phone when on a date with my spouse. Write down one thing I'm grateful for before going to bed. If a street performer makes me stop, I owe them a dollar.
While my daily life lacks structure — peek inside my house, and you'll hear it howl "Live and let live!" — I see why people find comfort in rules and rituals. They offer a sense of structure and rootedness amid the chaos. Hence my daily Wordle habit, and now Quordle habit. (Hey, I didn't say these routines were all well advised.)
In the spirit of building habits that value the power of small, here are some easy-peasy resolutions I've made for myself in 2023:
Before I leave a room, I will put things back where I found them. This is my personal resolution that excites my husband the most. I clean more than he does, but I clutter more, as well. The notion of "a place for everything, and everything in its place" has been around since time immemorial. So why is this so hard to achieve for many of us? Returning items to their place is the most common house rule in America, and yet it is the one most often broken, according to a recent nationwide survey by HomeAdvisor. It's also the most flouted rule in Minnesota.
After I sit down at my desk to work, I will mute my phone for 1 hour. The idea is not to go cold turkey with my devices, but to set some boundaries. I'm most productive in the mornings, so guarding my time from interruptions at that time of day can help me build momentum and position me for a smoother week ahead. If an hour passes and I find my groove, what's to stop me from blocking off another hour?
Before I go to bed, I will charge my phone outside my bedroom. I already practice this habit every night and am stunned that most of my friends and colleagues do not. My co-worker Richard is one of them and was aghast when I disclosed that not only is my cellphone nowhere near my bed, but I do not have a landline. "Laura, tell me this," he says. "What do you do when the intruder comes into your home and you can't call 911?" I haven't thought that far ahead. But I do know that I routinely get eight hours of blissful, uninterrupted sleep. And in the morning, the thought of being reunited with my Wordle propels me out of bed.
After I get up, I will make my bed. This one isn't all that novel, but I'm sharing it with you for personal accountability. (Please check in with me in March.) Making one's bed can encourage an overall sense of tidiness and create a small win first thing in the morning. And just think: Falling asleep with taut sheets is a reward for completing a full and exhausting day of following personal rules.
What are some small and sneaky habits you've incorporated into your daily life? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.