Mini Habits by Stephen Guise

modified 2018/11/02


A quick read. It is a very simple idea, but it does match my experiences with goal burnout. I have applied the ideas to some beeminder goals, although not all. Definitely a useful tool to try when attempting to solidify a habit (reading, exercise etc.) although not harsh enough for short term goals (write paper in 10 days, etc.)


Read at least two pages of this book every day until you finish it. You may read more than that, but never less. It won’t require much time or effort to read two pages, so there are no excuses. Now you can experience what it’s like to have a mini habit as you read about mini habits. > Book is only 120 pages long!

Months earlier, I had read a fantastic creative thinking and problem-solving book called Thinkertoys by Michael Michalko. One of the creative thinking “toys” he talks about is called False Faces. In False Faces, you consider the opposite of what you’re currently thinking, and see what creative ideas emerge from that. A crude example: instead of building a skyscraper, what if you built a structure deep into the earth? This generates creative ideas by forcing your mind to zoom out and see the spectrum of possibilities.

As 2013 went on, I continued to require one push-up per day from myself. Usually, I did more than one. But one day I forgot until I was already in bed. So I flipped over onto my stomach and did my one push-up in bed. I laughed at the thought of meeting the daily requirement at the last second. It sounds meaningless, but it actually felt amazing to succeed so easily and keep the streak alive. Later, I would see how important this was for my success.

this book will not help you quit smoking or control a gambling addiction. Mini habits are for good habits only—adding positive behaviors to your life to enrich it for years.

A mini habit is basically a much smaller version of a new habit you want to form. 100 push-ups daily is minified into one push-up daily. Writing 3,000 words daily becomes writing 50 words daily. Thinking positively all the time becomes thinking two positive thoughts per day. Living an entrepreneurial lifestyle becomes thinking of two ideas per day (among other entrepreneurial things).

small steps are relative too; a small step for you could be a giant leap for me. Saying “stupid small” clarifies it, because if a step sounds stupid relative to the most you can do, it’s perfect.

mini habits are too small to fail; and so they lack the common destructive feelings of guilt and inadequacy that come with goal failure. This is one of the very few systems that practically guarantees success every day thanks to a potent encouragement spiral and always-attainable targets.

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines a habit as “a usual way of behaving: something that a person does often in a regular and repeated way.” Since I tend to think in terms of resistance and willpower, I say it’s “a behavior that’s easier to do than not to do.” > Must we define things still? Dislike this writing trope.

“People can’t make decisions easily when stressed, are low in willpower or feeling overwhelmed. When you are too tired to make a decision, you tend to just repeat what you usually do.” This holds true for both good and bad habits and is a crucial insight for their importance in our lives.

The most-cited viable study on habit formation duration was published in 2009 in the European Journal Of Social Psychology.6 Each participant chose an “eating, drinking or activity behavior to carry out daily in the same context (for example ‘after breakfast’) for 12 weeks.” And what did they find? The average time for a behavior to become habit was 66 days. But the range was wild, from 18 to 254 days, showing that there is huge variation in people’s time to reach habit automaticity, and that it can end up taking a very long time in some cases.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that habits aren’t snap on, snap off—if you do 100 sit-ups for 60 days, day 61 will be much easier for you than day one was, even if it isn’t completely automatic yet. Building a habit is like riding a bike up a steep incline that levels out, peaks, and goes down. To start, you have to push with all the force your legs can muster. It gets progressively easier after that, but you must keep pedaling until you reach the top of the hill or you’ll go backwards and lose your progress.

Repetition is the language of the (subconscious) brain.

the two keys to habit change as far as the brain is concerned are repetition and reward. It will be more willing to repeat something when there is a reward.

Your subconscious brain loves efficiency; this is why we have habits. When you repeat a behavior over time, your brain learns to automate the process. It’s more energy efficient to automatically do something than to manually weigh your options and decide to act the same way every time.

I know exercise is a habit for me because my identity has changed with it. It would feel odd and unsatisfying in a that’s not me kind of way if I didn’t go to the gym a few times per week. Last year, however, my identity was as a person who did just enough to stay in average shape. Both scenarios emerge from habit.

The basic premise of this chapter is NOT that motivation is a bad thing, but that it’s an unreliable strategy for lasting change.

just really want to do something else more fun? This idea of changing what you desire just by focusing on benefits really discredits the power and influence of how we feel. It’s hard to change your feelings by thinking. It’s when we have a lot of energy, a healthy mindset, and no major temptations that we succeed with motivation. But when the time comes to act and the scenario appears far less favorable, we’ll decide to “do it tomorrow.”

The initial excitement of starting something is an ally at first, but it becomes a formidable enemy when it fades and makes you wonder if something is wrong. You greatly reduce this risk, however, by not relying on your motivation and feelings in the first place.

This predictable enthusiasm decrease is one reason why you see so many people drop their exercise plans after January. Despite their success exercising, they’ll notice, I’m not feeling motivated anymore, and stop going. Perhaps if they understood why they didn’t feel motivated anymore, they’d be encouraged and continue.

The perfect team in personal development is small steps and willpower. As long as you have enough willpower for an action, you can take that action. Small steps require little to no willpower. So it’s like having unlimited willpower. You can get yourself to do just about anything if you guide yourself along in super small steps.

Note: habit ideas from are already in minified form—you can write down these mini habits now as long as you know the larger habit it represents. One push-up could stand for general fitness or for a larger push-up goal of 100 push-ups daily. Otherwise, write down full-size habits for now.

Know this: mini habits never hold you back. That would be like saying a spark holds back a fire from starting. Mini habits are sparks with unlimited potential. “Normal goals” might be 2,000 words of writing per day, but that can become a ceiling as well as a minimum. You’ll feel satisfied at 2,000 words and say, “That’s enough.” With my 50-word goal, I have written more than 5,000 words in one day. This is so important to understand, because with the wrong mindset, someone could think that a small goal could hold them back. At some point, that spark is going to become a small flame, and later we’ll all be roasting marshmallows over the giant bonfire, telling stories of yore.

8. Put Extra Energy and Ambition Toward Bonus Reps, Not A Bigger Requirement If you’re anxious to make big progress, pour that energy into your bonus reps. Bigger requirements look good on paper, but only action counts. Be the person with embarrassing goals and impressive results instead of one of the many people with impressive goals and embarrassing results.