Habits are stronger than chains

“The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken.”
― Samuel Johnson

I have a lots of reasons to dislike this book.

1. It’s full of references to scientific research.

I don’t put much faith in the research results, especially if they are not in line with my experience.

It seems that research, like almost everything else, is for sale today. It’s not enough to tell me “Mr. Professor proved that thing.” It needs to be proven in my life, too. I don’t care about opinions (and sadly that’s what a lot of research comes down to); I care about results.

Some of the research quoted in this book is compatible with my experience; some of it is not. All of it is creating much unnecessary noise in the book.

2. The author’s zeal against motivation is silly.

First of all, he comprehends it very narrowly as a feeling to do something. But in English it’s also a deep reason to do something.

Feelings didn’t work for him. Well, they generally don’t work all too well. They are transitory.

Deep reasons works beautifully for me. Better than mini-habits.

But whenever Stephen hears the word “motivation” he goes on the rampage. Dismissing real motivation is definitely a weak spot of Mini-Habits
as a book which intends to help people change their lives.

But after I pointed it out to his very nose, Stephen admitted that he was overly negative toward motivation and he expanded its meaning into True-North kind of drive.

Besides, you really don’t need motivation to start a mini-habit. That’s the beauty of this concept.

3. I’m the infinitive willpower engine.

I don’t need mini-habits.

I don’t mean habits are not important; I just have a system which works much better for me.

When I decide to start a new habit, I just do it. I developed about 30 daily habits in 18 months (plus several weekly and monthly). Some of them are definitely ‘maxi’, like writing for 30 minutes a day. Most of them are medium-sized and could be squeezed into 10-minute periods of time. They are not very big, but they look like huge towers in comparison to mini-habits.

Usually I run out of the time to do my all habits before I run out of willpower for the day.

4. Mini-habits don’t work very well for me.

I’m not going to resign from my habits or downgrade them to mini size. When I introduce a mini-habit I don’t exceed the minimum expectations. I reach the quota and go on to the next habit before the day is over. I appreciate that I’ll have at least something done, but it will never grow up to the next level. For me they will forever stay ‘mini’; they are too slow for me. Four at a time? Give me a break! When I was on the lowest point of my abilities, beginning my life transformation, I started 6 habits at once. And they weren’t small.

These were the not-so-bright sides to the mini-habits, and they reflect only my personal application of this concept.

However, the concept itself is quite cool. As one reviewer on Amazon, who also wasn’t very enthusiastic, has said:

“Any book that offers good workable points on self-improvement deserves praise.”

The bright sides

Yes, the book is too long and overloaded with research examples, but it also defines concisely the revolutionary concept that anyone can change his life. What is more, it provides a step by step process of how to do it.

I’m lucky enough to have a purpose, the big idea that drives me forward every day. But let’s face it, it’s rather uncommon. Mini-habits are the solution which will work for everyone, motivated or not, with or without the big idea.

1. They work.

I could find examples of mini-habits in my life, something I already implemented using the mini-habit rules: setting stupid-small expectations, exceeding them on a daily basis and getting much better results in the effect.

I’ve already shared with Stephen how my gratitude journaling habit expanded from 1-3 entries into 25-35 entries seemingly without effort on my part.

But I have an even more vivid example—talking to strangers. I wanted so badly to talk to strangers every day, but I was unable to. I was too shy to start conversation with a stranger. Sometimes I could force myself to do it, but each time it was a monumental task. So I lowered my expectations. I was supposed to smile at strangers. That’s all. Talking to strangers is still an issue for me, but with such a low ‘metric’ I succeed more often than not. This stupid-small discipline has already allowed me to talk to dozens of strangers.

Brilliant theories describe reality, so without much effort anyone can find his own experiences in accordance with that theory.

In my opinion that’s the factor which discerns them from artificial ones.

The idea of mini-habits in this methodology qualifies as brilliant.

2. Mini-habits partly explain my success with developing habits.

I focused on the 10-minute long tasks—studying the Bible, reading a book written by saint, listening to motivational/educational materials, studying professional documentation and so on. It was only 10 minutes at a time. I could spare them, no problem. They all were stupid-small for me. So even if their scope and quantity would be overwhelming for someone else, they were mini-habits for me.

3. They are for everyone.

It’s a tool for habit mass-production for people with grit shortage, something I think which is desperately needed in our society. Instant gratification is a murderous vice which has gained a foothold in our era. No one seems to value perseverance anymore. Stephen explained in detail that it’s the way human brain works; it loves instant reward. But it also needs constant, slow stimulus to introduce a permanent change.

The mini-habits concept utilizes both of those aspects. You are an instant success because you achieve your mini expectations. And you do it over and over again giving your brain the time to conform.

Even the willpower engine – like me – can still find some areas in which to implement mini-habits. I’m overloaded with the number and scope of my habits. I have a hard time developing more of them. I usually need to give up one to add one more. But using mini habits I can incorporate a new habit without much fuss and keep it at the minimal level. I can do it for as long as I want. It may grow independently, as explained in the book; however, with my existing schedule it’s not likely. Or I can decide one day to take it to the next level and I will have the core of the habit already developed.

Even with my willpower resources I find that some tasks – like talking to strangers – are beyond me. I can do anything, really. But the cost of forcing myself to do something so uncomfortable every day would leave me dry. I wouldn’t have the strength to practice my other disciplines, to function normally.

I can easily imagine using mini-habits for achieving such “impossible” tasks.

So mini-habits work for everyone. They may not be the best solution in your unique situation, but they will always do the job.

A scientific summary

Let’s summarize it, so you can really get the picture of how powerful the mini-habits are. Take a look at the chart below:
BJ Fogg's Behavior Model

It demonstrates the model of Stanford University’s Doctor BJ Fogg, who explains how the specific behavior is occurring at a given moment in time.

You need a combined level of motivation and ability to be high enough to do something (plus a trigger).

But we are talking about building a daily habit; the behavior must take place every day. Every day you need to face the same battle. This is where the willpower factor comes into the game.

Ponder this model for a while; consider people who want to introduce a new good habit. Like with New Year’s resolutions, they are usually full of good intentions and a bit low on abilities. It’s something new; they have no experience. Their abilities are definitely somewhere on the right half of the chart. The more they want to achieve, the harder it is for them and the more motivation they need to actually do the job.

As the results of resolutions clearly show, having such sustained motivation is a rare quality. Most of us are full of good intentions, but low on actual grit which makes you do the job day after day, after day.

MH advantages

recommends you make your habits stupid-small. According to the model it means you choose the behaviors which are extremely easy to do. It’s working for the masses—those who didn’t master the art of motivation and who are low on willpower.

And those two terms are accurate for the vast majority of modern society. The multitude of daily duties quickly drains our willpower and doesn’t leave us much time to ponder about our True North, thus we don’t usually have the source of lasting motivation.

So, to practice a mini-habit you don’t need willpower. You don’t need feelings to do it. All you need is to lower your expectations so you will always be above Fogg’s Behavior Model line. The behavior will always occur. You will always be developing your small habit. And it will build your abilities slowly but gradually, so after some time you will be able to face bigger challenges.

My recommendation

What is more, I know that daily sustained action – even the tiniest – always brings the result in the end. You will enjoy the tangible results of your mini-habits.

That’s why I recommend Mini Habits to everyone who is struggling with willpower and motivation but wants to introduce positive changes into his life.

Mini Habits Review

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