The Power of Tiny Habits

As we move through the stages of motherhood, there are quite a few points where things can feel stuck. We know what we’re currently doing is not working, and we want to make changes, but these changes seem large, overwhelming and difficult to achieve when coming up against things like lack of sleep, time etc.

This is where tiny habits come in. We often buy into the idea that our lives will change for the better after a one-off, large event. And often, in this massively-life-changing day, we’re actually being quite passive. We win the lottery and live happily ever after. We start an epic exercise regime where we reach a target weight a month or so later. Someone gives us a life-changing opportunity at work.

These events can and do happen, but don’t be waiting for one to show up to change your life, because it may never come in time.

We have to work on letting go of the passivity and embracing taking action. But how?

Tiny habits allow us to start taking action, today.

Firstly, I should say that we may have to realistically look at some of our expectations. Often, we want sweeping change to happen a lot quicker than is going to happen. Again, change doesn’t happen overnight, it slowly compounds over time and repetition. But then it lasts.

The first step…

The first step, before we even start to think of habits to employ, is to work out where we’re at right now. And, to find some acceptance of that. If I’m not finding any acceptance of the size and shape of my body right now, I’m in resistance to it, and that’s a much harder place to make change from.

Where am I going?

Next, we need to have an idea of where we’re going, or what we’re aiming for. I’ve tried both the ‘be clear on your vision and set goals to get there’ approach, and the ‘take it as it comes’ approach. Neither personally worked for me, as I’m kinda unclear on what the vision is, and working without anywhere planned to go tends to make me feel anxious and constantly questioning my own actions. Is it even worth doing this thing?

Something I resonated with from Stoic philosophy was the idea of living with purpose – I have gained clarity on what purpose I am to serve, what part I have to play in the world, and I may have an idea of what that looks like to aim towards – but if I do, I also cannot be attached and rigid in achieving that outcome.

How do I know what habits to start with?

Ok, so we know where we’re at, and hopefully we have an idea of what a purposeful life looks like for us. So now is the time to start some little habits that will give us momentum in that direction.

Some habits may not be immediately obvious. As an example, for anyone who’s ever read ‘The Artists’ Way’, I’d tried on and off for years to write Morning Pages. Then last summer, I realised I kept failing with this because I tried to do them either in the morning when there’s no time with young kids, or in the evening when I was tired. I was also expecting 3 pages of content a day.

So, I changed the habit. I chose one side of A4 paper to complete – which I found took around 10 mintues, so not a stupid amount of time. And I wrote as soon as I put my toddler down for a nap and meditated. And do you know, nearly a year later I’m still doing it.

It wasn’t immediately obvious to me though, how doing this every day would have any impact on changing my life. And maybe as a singular habit, it wouldn’t.

But combined with daily meditation, and additional journalling in the evening, it’s started to help make sense of the often complete brain jumble. I’ve thrashed things out on the page which have helped me through the grieving process, as well as giving clarity on where I’m going. And slowly, I see that scribbling down one side of A4 lined paper a day is compounding into something that actually is changing my life.

So if you want to make a start today, which habits do you choose? For how long? There is no easy answer to that, but the best ones to start with are ones that are super small, very quick and that are best done daily either as part of a morning or evening routine. Here are a few ideas:

  • Taking vitamins/supplements
  • Applying face cream
  • Reading a paragraph or small passage from a book
  • Stretching
  • Breathwork (love a bit of Wim Hof style breathing in a morning)
  • Drinking a glass of water
  • Journalling
  • 10 minute mediation
  • Writing a gratitude list

Whenever I am trialling out a new habit, I want it to be about 10/15 minutes in length. Any more and it’s going to be harder to stick to consistently. At the beginning, the point is to show up on a daily basis, until the habit is ingrained.

Stacking Habits

The beauty of a morning and evening routine is that you can ‘stack’ habits. This makes it more likely you’ll follow them through. For example, the daily repetition of writing my A4 page was ‘stacked’ on the habit of going to do a lunchtime meditation, which I’d already been doing for a couple years. So from this I’ve ‘stacked’ on taking vitamins as I sit down to write, by putting them right next to my book on the table.

Hint: If your habit requires a bit of equipment or an object, put it in the location where you will do or begin your habit, and make it obvious. Running shoes by the bed is a popular one!

Once you’ve got a bit of a morning and evening routine going, you can experiment with other points in the day, as well as habits that are a little longer or not repeated on a daily basis.

Resources I recommend

The Fabulous app

Atomic Habits