Part 2: Leveraging Micro-Habits
One of the easiest, and most effective ways to create HUGE change in your life is by leveraging micro-habits, small but powerful actions that stack to create larger change. In this section we will discuss micro-habits, how to use them, and give you the tools to get started right away.
Lesson 1: Hacking The Habit Process: How to Leverage “Micro-Habits” and Make Permanent Behavior Change — Even When You Don’t Want To
Using “Micro-Habits” to Create New Behaviors
Assume you want to build the habit of going to the gym every day after work. How would you have attempted to build this habit in the past?
Maybe you’ve tried going home first, changing into your gym clothes and heading out again. This rarely works. Distractions loom as soon as you open the front door. The dog needs to go out. Your wife wants to talk. Your kids want to show you what they did at school. And you just realized how tired you are. It looks like you’ll be doing exactly one squat — directly into the couch.
But you’re serious about this gym thing. You really want to make it a habit. So you try something sneaky next week: You keep your gym clothes in the car. Perhaps just looking at those sad under-utilized New Balances will spur some resolve.
Monday and Tuesday, it works! You drag yourself, kicking and screaming, to the gym.
But Wednesday, there’s this weird “ache” in your knee. Must have overtrained, huh? You should probably let it rest today, right? And tomorrow, you promised your friends you’d get drinks. So Wednesday and Thursday off. And you told yourself that Friday-Sunday would be your rest days, remember? Can’t mess with the plan — you pulled it from Bodybuilding.com, and they know what they’re talking about.
Before you know it, you’ve already missed 5 days in a row. By next Monday, you’ve practically forgotten your way to the gym entirely, and also, you’re out of protein powder. So you should probably wait until you get some more.
On and on this goes, until the gym clothes move to the back seat (and eventually, the trunk…)
At this point, most people say something along the lines of, “I’m too busy for the gym” or “I’m just not motivated enough”…or the even more subconsciously pernicious, “I’ll pick this back up when I have more time” — which is an ego-saving codeword for “never.”
**We’ve seen that willpower and motivation alone aren’t enough to make yourself do something — even if you really want to**.
Now, let’s take another crack at installing the same gym habit, but instead of using the traditional “just do it” mentality to power through the discomfort — let’s use a “micro-habit” to install this new behavior.
**What the step-by-step “micro-habit” process looks like:**
## **STEP #1**
The first step to installing a great “micro-habit” is choosing the correct **cue** to remind you of your goal and initiate the new behavior (this is all part of the 3-Step habit formation process we covered — see above).
In this instance, **the cue should be something extremely simple and completely unavoidable**, such as passing the gym on the way home. If you CAN avoid the gym on the way home, take a route that intentionally goes past it — even if that route is a little longer. If the gym isn’t on your way home, SWITCH gyms. Whatever it takes, make sure that you see the gym. That will act as your cue.
## **STEP #2**
The next step is creating a meaningful routine that encourages you to execute the new behavior.
In the past, the behavior you tried to execute was complex and time consuming. In order to check off “go to the gym” on your daily to-do list, you had to:
– Drive to the gym, find parking and sign in
– Get your clothes on
– Figure out what your workout is going to be for the day
– Start the workout, fight with sweaty people to use the machines
– Struggle through the workout
– Drive home
– Make sure you have clean gym clothes in the car for tomorrow’s drudgery
Not to mention that if you’re smart, you should probably eat something before and after. The whole process might take 2-3 hours some days. No wonder you weren’t able to do it for more than a few days.
**This is where 99% of people fail to create a new habit — and this is where the idea of “micro-habit” comes into play.**
From now on, I want you to forget about the gym clothes. Forget about the rude sweaty dude hogging the squat rack to do 15 lb dumbbell curls. Forget about how tired you’re going to be afterwards.
I WANT YOU TO FORGET ABOUT WORKING OUT ENTIRELY.
You’re new goal is not a nebulous notion like “work out every day” — your new goal is one, single action.
**All I want you to do is swipe your gym card.**
No, that wasn’t a typo.
Every day, you’ll see the gym when you drive past it. Remember, you’ve already planned your route home to make this inevitable. As soon as you see the gym, that’s your cue. You’ll park for 3 minutes, walk to the front desk and scan your membership card.
Then you can leave.
You don’t have to work out. You don’t even have to touch a weight. You can walk in and right back out. This might take you a total of 20 minutes to perform total for the entire week.
That’s it. That’s your new routine. If you can do that every day for a week, it counts exactly the same as going to the gym and actually working out.
**Now, let’s bring back the “Push-Pull” motivation we mentioned earlier:** Every day you aren’t able to swipe your card, you’ll have invoke some sort of negative reinforcement as a penalty — and have an accountability partner check in to keep you honest.
Have your significant other or a willing friend ask you every day after work “Hey, did you swipe your card at the gym today?” If the answer is “no,” you owe them $50. No exceptions.
Even better? Have GPS auto detect when you arrive at the gym. Or, connect with the gym’s login system, to give instantaneous non-cheatable accountability. (In fact, this is one of our favorite features of the [Pavlok app](https://pavlok.com) — it lets you choose a referee, and use non-cheatable accountability methods like GPS or heart rate to ensure you hit your goals).
(Trust me, after one or two $50 penalties for something that requires literally NO work on your part, your brain will get the message quickly.)
So how does merely swiping your card at the gym result in forming the habit of working out?
This ridiculously simple, seemingly dumb action is actually initiating a bunch of highly sophisticated psychological triggers behind the scenes:
1. Setting the bar so low that it literally requires NO effort to complete a task means that according to the BJ Fogg Behavior Model, your ability to complete the task goes WAY up. The easier something is, the less willpower/motivation it takes to perform the action (see chart above).
2. By intentionally setting a super easy goal, you’re purposely creating an environment that’s structured to give you consistent success and positive feedback on a daily basis. This repeated success builds confidence. Even if you’re only swiping your gym card, doing it 5 days in a row feels great since that was your goal for the week.
3. **MOST IMPORTANTLY:** Intentionally setting a ridiculously simple goal and achieving it over and over again begins to agitate your brain after a while. It eventually becomes impossible NOT to follow through with the entire habit, since the tiny action has already set the entire process in motion.
Sure, the first few days, you might show up to the gym, swipe your card and leave. Sweet! Mission accomplished!
But as the week progresses, your brain begins to REJECT the idea of leaving the gym without working out.
The thought process might sound something like, “This is stupid. I’m already at the gym. Maybe I’ll just get a quick workout in.”
Before you know it, you’re in full length Spandex doing Zumba to a Britney/Beyonce remix, wondering where all the time has gone.
The next day, maybe you’ll go back to just swiping the card — and that’s totally fine. However, after a week or so, it will make less and less sense to show up in the gym without working out. You will forcefully change your own psychology.
## **STEP #3**
Now, you’re on a roll.
Your new cue is in place, the “micro-habit” is in full effect, backed by the threat of losing money. You’re showing up to the gym and swiping your card. You’re even working out more — and the best part is, you’ve barely expended any willpower to do so.
Now, it’s time to activate the last part of the habit formation process by creating a reward to solidify the new “micro-habit.”
The reward can be something simple, like treating yourself to a massage or movie if you swipe your card every day for a week. The actual reward isn’t important — the important part is pairing positive reinforcement with completing your goal every week.
This is the “pull” part of the “Push-Pull” motivation.
The negative reinforcement (the monetary penalty) “pushes” you to get started on your new behavior and creates urgency.
The positive reinforcement (the massage, movie, etc) “pulls” you through the behavior change week-to-week, and encourages you to keep going by rewarding you for consistently completing the “micro-habit.”
Properly implemented, the “micro-habit” system is a psychologically bulletproof strategy for starting new, positive habits.
“Micro-habits” work when when you’re tired and just don’t feel like doing your new behavior. They work when you already have ten “pre-loaded” excuses ready to go for why you can’t get something done. They even work when you’re unsure of yourself, or lacking confidence in your new behaviors.
**But what if you don’t want to start a new habit? What if you want to STOP an old, detrimental one?**
From smoking, to drinking, to overeating, to Facebook addiction — we all have bad behaviors that we’d like to stop doing.
Unfortunately, “Micro-habits” won’t work well for eradicating bad habits.
Instead, you’ll need to use an even more powerful weapon: Classical conditioning.
Test what you’ve learned by answering the questions below.
Micro-Habit Execution Calendars
The most effective way to change a habit is via the Microhabit Method. Make sure that you read the entire section in the Pavlok Membership Course on Microhabits before continuing on.
Here is a quick summary.
What is a microhabit? A microhabit is the smallest individual action you can take to spur the execution of a new behavior and turn it into a habit.
In combination with proper cues and rewards, microhabits can help anybody execute even the most complex behavior changes without having to endure the long periods of forced, sustained willpower expenditure that typically exhaust and defeat you before reaching your goal.
First, print out the calendar in this document.
Next, create a meaningful routine that encourages you to execute the new behavior.
Choose the end goal for your habit.
Then, break the habit down into 4 component parts. These are your four “microhabits.”
On the left column of the calendar, write the four micro habits down in the labeled rows.
The next page lists a recommended path.
Choose a reward if you succeed, and a punishment if you fail. We recommend a daily penalty for failure, a small reward for daily success (eat a cookie! take a bath!), and a large reward for weekly success (buy myself a pair of shoes!).
Make a serious commitment to stick to these microhabits. Remember — they are so easy to do, you can’t fail.
Get started immediately! Do the first microhabit today, and mark the calendar for success. Go celebrate — you’re habit is changing!
Choose from any of the following habit calendars to get started now!