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25 Tiny Habits That Could Totally Change Your Life

25 Tiny Habits That Could Totally Change Your Life

Research, as well as common sense and personal experience, is showing us that small steps get us to far away places. The key is to consistently take those small steps in the same direction. Building a big, life-changing habit is difficult: it’s hard to keep the willpower going long enough to see change.

But building a tiny habit? That’s doable. BJ Fogg, Director of the Persuasive Tech Lab at Stanford, has done extensive research this very topic. The Fogg Method uses the effectiveness of tiny, specific habits to create big changes in behavior.

Here are 25 tiny habits you could add into your life. They don’t seem like much, but if you practice them regularly, they can change your energy level, your fitness, your relationships, your work, your community, and your environment… in big ways.

Tiny Habits for Better Physical Health

1. Drink a glass of water first thing in the morning. We often don’t get enough water in our systems, and get so busy throughout the day that we don’t think about stopping to replenish our supply. Or we replenish with soda or coffee or tea but not water. Trigger yourself by leaving a big glass out on the counter or table. Or do what I do, and get a big travel mug with a lid. At night, I fill it up with a lot of ice and a bit of water, and in the morning it’s waiting for me: a nice, cool cup of water. Flush the toxins, kickstart your system, wake yourself up.

2. Park as far away as you can from the door. Fight the effects of a sedentary lifestyle by getting more steps into your day whenever you can. In fact, simple things like a longer stroll from the car to the door might be more effective than a vigorous work-out at counteracting the effects of long hours at a desk.

3. Eat raw fruit or vegetables with every meal. Think: a green side salad, a slice of melon, some berries, a few carrot sticks and cucumber slices. Not only will you get more nutrients in, you will also be getting in more fiber and potentially helping your body lose weight, retain energy, and decrease hunger.

4. Stand up and stretch every hour, on the hour. Trigger yourself with a beep on your phone or watch (do people still wear those?) or computer. Sitting for extended time periods is a bad idea for both your body and your brain. You need a mental and physical break, and it doesn’t have to be a big deal. Just stop, when your on-the-hour beep sounds at you. Stand up where you are, reach over your head, take a deep breath, touch your toes, roll your shoulders.

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    5. Carry a small bag of nuts or beef jerky everywhere you go. Something protein-rich will help stave off hunger as well as keeping you from getting to that ravenous point when you’ll eat anything in sight, no matter what the calorie count is. Getting a little more protein in your diet can help boost your metabolism and build your muscle, as well.

    Tiny Habits for Better Mental Health

    1. Ask open-ended questions. Instead of throwing out questions just so you can insert your own opinion, ask bigger, better questions. Avoid asking questions that can be answered with a simple Yes or No. Try questions that start with “What do you think about…?” and “How would you….?” or “What is your experience with…?” Then listen to the answers with the attitude that you are here to learn. Having an open perspective and initiating deeper conversations will help you to relate with others, cultivate empathy, keep your own problems in perspective, make new friends, and learn new ways of approaching life. Imagine the wisdom you would gain in five or ten years if you just have one of these conversations every week.

    2. Keep a tray of art supplies out on your table/desk/shelf. Don’t force or even expect yourself to clock in a certain number of minutes or productions. Just keep them out, in reach, so that when you feel like doodling around with something artistic, it is effortless. Bonus points: switch the art medium out every week or month (pastels, crayons, watercolors, ink, clay, playdough, carving knife & wood block).

    3. Sit in silence for a few minutes every day. We don’t have to call this meditation, because that might be a little too intimidating. You don’t have to sit cross-legged. You don’t have to close your eyes. You don’t have to be Zen-like in anyway. Your brain can be flying a hundred miles an hour, but don’t say or do anything. Just sit, comfortably, and breathe for a few minutes.

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      4. Jot down everything on your mind for a few minutes at the end of the day. This is a brain dump in the easiest way possible. It’s not a big deal like a daily journal or to-do list or planner might feel. Keep a simple notebook by the bed, and give yourself a few minutes to pour out everything that’s on your mind before you go to sleep. Don’t edit. Let it all out, in any format, in any order. It doesn’t have to make sense, even to you. Studies show that this type of writing can reduce anxiety and depression. Alternative: use a voice recorder and simply talk, in unedited stream-of-consciousness style, for a few minutes into your recorder.

      5. Repeat a personal mantra to yourself when you hit stress points. Make it something simple to remember that calms you and reminds you of the important things in life. This is a simple way to retrain your brain and tell it how to respond to stress. Instead of letting stressful points send you into a panicked mode, you pull out your mantra and tell your brain that it’s going ot be okay. A few of my favorites: This too shall pass. I am stronger than I think. I can learn what I need to learn when I need to learn it. I’ve handled worse than this. I am not alone. There is freedom here. When I take responsibility, I take power.

      Tiny Habits for Better Productivity and Work

      1. Pretend to be your hero. When you’re faced with a challenging situation, an intimidating project, a new career leap, an important meeting, think about a hero in your industry or career. Then ask yourself what this person would do in your situation. How would she handle it? Would he be intimidated? Fearful? Or confident and calm? Now imagine yourself doing exactly what you think your would do. This helps to clarify what the right actions are for you by removing the self-doubt and negative self-talk that can bog you down in uncertainty.

      2. Do a 5-minute daily review at your desk at the end of the day. Before you leave work, or from your desk at home before you wrap things up for the day (or night!), take five minutes. Write down what you accomplished in a quick, bulleted list. Write down what you didn’t accomplish that you had hoped to, and what stopped you. Don’t beat yourself up for your failures, just notice, if you can, what caused you to get off track. And notice how much you did accomplish. This type of review is a way to help your brain focus on the positive (I did accomplish something today) and will help you to become more aware of the things that tend to derail you or distract you from productive work.

      3. Turn off all notifications for at least one long block of work time every day. Our brains are not adept at switching from one task to another. The single ding of an email notification or text, even if it’s about something completely unimportant, can cause you to lose up to 40% of your work time. Is it really worth it? Maybe if you have infinite time at your disposal… But we all know that you don’t. So do yourself and your career a favor, and silence all the dings and chirps for at least one long block of time (2 – 4 hours).

      4. Respond to all invitations and opportunities with “I’ll check my calendar.” Stop the knee-jerk response that you give, whether it is negative or positive. Maybe you’re too quick to say no (I am). Or maybe you’re a people-pleaser and you’re too quick to say yes, and find yourself over-booked and overwhelmed. Give yourself time to evaluate each opportunity by simply making it your practice not to answer right away. Instead, say, “I’ll check my calendar and let you know.” Then, when you have a little time, check your calendar, your priorities, and determine what you can fit it in.

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      5. Spend 5 minutes a day thinking about the process you will take that will get you to your career goals. This is the right kind of positive visualization. Visualizing the end result doesn’t usually help you get there. But visualizing yourself doing the steps you will take to reach your end goal can help you to actually follow-through on those steps when it is time.

      Tiny Habits for Better Relationships

      1. Call, text, or email one friend or family member a day. Staying in touch has never been easier, but it’s all too easy to only connect with the people we see at work or the ones who just won’t stop showing up in our Facebook feed. Reach out a little further than that to stay connected with the friends and family members you value. It only takes a few minutes to invest in a relationship, with the result that you have a strong network of people around you, both near and far.

      2. Write a thank you note every week. This can be an exercise solely for you: write a thank-you note to someone who’s passed on but impacted your life, and tell them all the things you wish you could say in person. Or write a note of thanks to someone who is or was part of your life and send it to that person. Cultivating gratitude helps to lessen the fear in your life. How much better would your life be if you had trained yourself to be appreciative instead of afraid?

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        3. End your night with a word of thanks or encouragement. This is the kind of simple habit that can make or break a lifelong relationship. Before you roll over and go to sleep, let your significant other know you accept and value him or her. You don’t have to be elaborate: “I love being with you,” or “Thanks for being there for me,” sends the right message. If you’re not in a relationship, give yourself a word of thanks or encouragement. Sounds silly? Maybe. But it can help build your confidence and keep you from letting one bad day spiral into depression.

        4. Pause before you answer or respond to people. Train yourself to listen well, by giving yourself time to think up your response in that pause, not while the other person is talking. This not only shows that you value what the other person is saying (which communicates acceptance and respect) but it also gives you time to weigh your attitude and words. In a high-tension situation or stressful conversation, a simple five-second pause might be what keeps you from blowing up and ruining a relationship you value.

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        5. Give yourself a time out. Life happens. You’re going to hit points when you feel stressed, frustrated, angry, or impatient. That’s okay, because if you can give yourself a time-out then you can keep things in perspective. You can’t expect yourself to be a non-emotional robot, but you can train yourself to take a five-minute break from humanity when things are getting to you. Walk around the block, lock yourself in the bathroom, take a quick drive with the windows down and the music blaring. Find the “time-out chair” that works for you, and use it.

        Tiny Habits for a Better Community and Environment

        1. Take a short walk around the block with a trash bag and pick up litter. This weekly or daily ritual will help you to be more aware of how you treat your daily environment, and you never know the effect it can have on others. Sometimes just one person taking the time to make something better can spark others to take better care of things, as well.

        2. Stop and say hi to your neighbors. Make it a habit to do a little more than a nod or smile. It takes just a moment, whenever you see them out, to walk over and say hello. Create a friendlier community and help the people around you get plugged in, too. Some of my best friends are neighbors who were willing to lean over the fence and chat for a minute. Now they’re the ones calling to see if I need anything when they run to the store, or offering to babysit my kids if I’m not feeling well.

        3. Borrow before you buy for big purchases. It’s not always possible, but why not try it? Save money and help the environment. Make it a habit to borrow first, try it out, and see if it’s what you really need/want/must have. Then try to buy used before you buy new. Obviously this won’t apply to every big purchase… but it will apply to a lot.

        4. Set aside money for giving. It can be a small amount. Really. Five dollars can make a big difference to somebody. Out of every paycheck, or every month’s total income, put aside a small bit for giving. It has to be no-strings-attached, and anonymous is the way to go whenever possible. Help out your neighbors. Donate to a charity. Buy that homeless guy a meal. We are all part of the same human family.

        5. Keep your bike out where you can see it. No, you don’t have to use it… Just put it out there, in front of you, where you can eyeball it. Every day, when you run to the car and hop in. Wait, you don’t have a bike? Hmmm. Maybe call up a neighbor and see if you can borrow one.

        Featured photo credit: somegeekintn via flickr.com

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        Last Updated on April 23, 2019

        How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

        How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

        Stretch goals are a lot like physical fitness. When you adopt a physical sport such as running, continual practice leads to increased stamina, growth and progress.

        While commitment to the sport improves performance, true growth happens when you are stretched beyond your comfort zone. I know this from personal experience.

        For years, I was an avid runner. I ran with a variety of running groups in the Washington, D.C., area and in Columbus, Ohio, where I lived prior to moving to the nation’s capital in 2011.

        While I was initially fearful about slacking off on my exercise habit when I moved to D.C., running enthusiasts in the area provided continual motivation, inspiring me to lace up my shoes day after day. Much to my surprise, many of the area’s running stores (including Pacers and Potomac River Running) boasted running groups that met in the mornings and evenings. So, it was relatively easy for a newcomer like me to connect with like-minded peers.

        I was never a particularly fast runner, but I enjoyed the afterglow of the sport: being completely drained but feeling a sense of accomplishment; setting and reaching goals; buying and wearing out new tennis shoes. The sound of throngs of feet pounding the pavement in semi-unison is still enough to bring tears to my eyes. Yes, I sometimes tear up at the start of races.

        Of all the groups I ran with, the Pacers Store group that met on Monday nights in Logan Circle boasted the fastest runners. I met up with the group week after week only to be the slowest runner. It was difficult to muster the courage to get up every week and meet the group knowing what was waiting for me: sweating and watching the backs of fellow runners.

        Each time I joined the group, I was stretching myself without even realizing it. Instead of feeling like I was transitioning into a better running, for a long time I felt I was torturing myself.

        Then something remarkable happened. I went for a run with a different set of runners and noticed my time had improved. I was running at a faster pace and doing so with ease. What was once uncomfortable for me I now handled with ease.

        The reason I was becoming a better runner was because I was taking myself out of my comfort zone and challenging myself physically and mentally. This example illustrates the process of growth.

        Fortunately, we can create situations that stretch us in our personal and professional lives.

        What Is a Stretch Goal?

        A stretch goal – as authors Sim B. Sitkin, C. Chet Miller and Kelly E. See detail an article “The Stretch Goal Paradox” in Harvard Business Review[1] – is something that is extremely difficult and novel. It is something that not everyone does, and it’s sometimes considered impossible.

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        In general, you establish stretch goals by doing things that are difficult or temporarily challenging.

        For instance, when I was first promoted to a senior communications management role, I knew I needed to beef up my relationships with media personalities. I set a goal to once a month book a day of media interviews in New York City – which is home to many media outlets, including SiriusXM radio, CNN, NBC News, HuffPost, VIBE.

        This was a huge goal because it meant not only identifying the right people to meet with but convincing them to meet with me and my team. While I didn’t end up meeting the goal of doing a full day of media interviews in New York City, I met more people than I would have met had I not established the goal and instead stayed in the comfort of my D.C. office.

        It is important to note that just because you establish a stretch goal doesn’t mean you’ll achieve the goal each time. However, the process of trying is guaranteed to provide some level of growth.

        The Importance of Creating Stretch Goals

        The beginning of the year is a perfect time to assess where you are excelling and where there is room for you to grow. I typically start the year by creating a yearlong strategic plan for myself.

        I think about the things that are necessary to do and things that would be cool to do. I assess the people I should know and think through how to meet them. Then I ask myself if the goals are realistic and what would need to happen for me to achieve them.

        Over time, I have learned that there are five things I can do to set stretch goals:

        1. Get Outside of Your Head

        If I exist within the confines of my imagination, I imperil my own growth and creativity.

        If I examine my accomplishments and celebrate them in isolation of others’ accomplishments, my vantage point is limited.

        I want to be comfortable with what I accomplish, but I also want to be motivated by watching others. In some respects, stretching is about expanding your network of friends, associates and mentors. These are the people who will propel or slow your growth and development.

        Since two are better than one, I always value being able to share my progress with others, seek feedback and then map a plan for success.

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        2. Focus on a Couple Areas at a Time

        When setting goals, it is important to focus on a couple of areas at a time. Most of us are only able to focus on a few things at a time, and if you feel you are unable to tackle all that is before you, you may simply disengage.

        I see this in so many areas of life:

        When people get in debt, if they believe the debt is insurmountable, they refuse to look at incoming bills for fear of facing down the debt. Unfortunately, many businesses go awry when setting stretch goals.

        In “The Stretch Goal Paradox,” Sitkin, Miller and See note:

        “Our research suggests that though the use of stretch goals is quite common, successful use is not. And many executives set far too many stretch goals. In the past five years, for example, Tesla failed to meet more than 20 of founder Elon Musk’s ambitious projections and missed half of them by nearly a year, according to the Wall Street Journal.”

        Goal-setting is like a marathon, not a sprint. It doesn’t all need to happen at the same time, and pacing is extremely important if you want to get to the finish line. It is better to focus on a couple goals at a time, master them and then move on to the next thing.

        3. Set Aside Time Each Year to Focus on Goal-Setting

        When I was a managing director for communications for the Advancement Project, I spent the first part of every year facilitating a communications planning meeting.

        The planning meeting began with the team members assessing the goals the team had established in the preceding year, and whether those goals were realistic or not. If we failed to meet certain goals, we broke down why that happened. From there, we brainstormed about possibilities for the current year.

        For instance, one year we set a goal of pitching and getting 24 opinion essays published. This was audacious because no one on the eight-person team had the luxury of focusing exclusively on editing and pitching opinion essays to publications around the world. We would need to focus on pitching in between the rest of our work.

        We hit this goal within the first eight months of the year. Remarkably, in total, we ended up getting 40 opinion essays published that year, which was an indication that our original goal was too low. We upped the goal to 41 the next year, and amazingly, we hit 42 published opinion essays or guest columns.

        From this experience, we not only learned what was feasible, we also learned the power of focus.

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        When we focused as a team on getting the commentary on our issues out in the public domain, we were successful. The key in all of this is that there was a ton of discussion around which goal we’d pursue and why.

        Equally important, as a manager, I didn’t set the goals alone; the team members and I established the goals collaboratively. This ensured buy-in from each individual.

        4. Use the S.M.A.R.T. Goal Model to Set Realistic Goals

        S.M.A.R.T.

        is a synonym for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. For the sake of this article, the realistic portion of the acronym is most important.

        While you want to set audacious goals, you want to ensure that they are realistic as well. No one is served by setting a goal that is impossible to accomplish.

        Failing to meet goals can be demoralizing for teams, so it’s important to be sober-eyed about what is possible. Additionally, the purpose of setting goals is to advance and grow, not depress morale.

        For instance, my team would have been discouraged had I begun the year asking it to pitch and place 40 opinion essays if we didn’t already have a track record of placing close to two dozen essays.

        By using the S.M.A.R.T. formula, we were able to achieve all that we set out to do.

        5. Break the Goal up into Small Digestible Parts

        I am a recovering perfectionist. As a writer, being a perfectionist can be counterproductive because I can fail to start if I don’t see a clear pathway to victory.

        The same is true with goal-setting. That’s why I join Lifehack’s fellow contributor Deb Knobelman, Ph.D., in noting that it is critically important to break goals into bite-sized chunks.

        When I had a goal of doing daylong media meetings in New York City, I had to think through all the barriers to achieving that goal and all the steps required to meet the goal.

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        One step was identifying which reporters, producers and hosts to engage. Another step was writing a pitch or meeting invitation that would capture their attention. Another step was thinking through the program areas I wanted to highlight and the new angles I could offer to different reporters.

        Since reporters want to cover stories that no one else has written, I needed to come up with fresh angles for each of the reporters I was engaging. An additional step was thinking through who from my team I’d take with me to the various meetings.

        I was clear that, as a talking head, as public relations reps are sometimes called, I needed the right spokesperson in order to land repeated meetings with different outlets.

        A final step was thinking through what I needed to bring to each meeting and which reports, videos and testimonials would buttress our claims and be of interest to media figures.

        As I walked through what was needed to bring my goal of doing daylong meetings to reality, I realized that not only was the idea within reach, but I was excited to tackle the challenge.

        From that point until now, I have learned to break down goals into smaller parts and tackle the smaller parts on the path to knocking the goal out of the park.

        The Bottom Line

        These are my recommendations for setting stretch goals, and there are a ton of other resources to support you in the workplace and in your community.

        For instance, LinkedIn’s Lynda.com platform has a wonderful suite of leadership development videos, including ones on establishing stretch goals. This is a paid resource but may be worth the investment if you lead a team or want to invest in tools for your own growth and development.

        Featured photo credit: Avatar of user Isaac Smith Isaac Smith @isaacmsmith Isaac Smith via unsplash.com

        Reference

        [1] Harvard Business Review: The Stretch Goal Paradox

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