Awakening to mini-habits

How many times have you committed to change in your life, only to find that within days of starting your new regime, you stop, give up and end up where you started?

‘That’s life…’

But I think that’s only because we’ve been too focused on the outcome and not the process.

Over the course of last week, I wrote a few posts about mini-habits or to be precise, the application of Kaizen in our everyday lives. In case you’re not familiar with the term, it’s the process of incremental change, most often credited with Toyota and, more latterly, Sir David Brailsford and the GB track squad. (As I write this post, I’m watching various GB track riders — I think they’re juniors — ride furiously around Newport Velodrome, doing lap after lap on various drills; but my sense is that rather than trying to get them to do something new, it’s all about getting a little better at something, I’m sure, they’ve done thousands of times.)

In writing these posts (and to Medium), it’s not that I’m trying to sell you on anything but, merely, to share with you a methodology that I fervently believe has the power to reshape our lives for the better.

In my case, I’ve tried many different methods to bring about change, but mini-habits is something quite different. Apart from anything else, it feels right, not faux or invented on a whim.

How did I come to mini-habits?

It started with cycling. Like a lot of people who’ve watched the GB track squad improve year after year, I was curious to know about the law of marginal gains. Despite my research, I couldn’t quite pin it down, certainly not to some all-new Brailsford methodology, but I did find a plethora of material on Kaizen. And it lead me to read the Shibumi Strategy by Matthew E May and The Kaizen Way, One Small Step Can Change Your Life by Robert Maurer.

For a while I didn’t make the connection with my everyday life (silly old me!); but something more contemporaneous triggered my (deep) enquiry. That ‘something’ was me returning to Devon — my spiritual home — from having worked away in Southampton for the last 18 months. For reasons associated with the (vertical) market that I found myself no longer living and breathing, I decided to revisit my previous work in and around the world of professional cycling. I met with a few former clients, which again led me to consider Kaizen (I think it has something to do with the fact that my middle daughter, Hetty, has started cycling in a serious way — it’s not my fault, honest — and I wanted to understand what marginal gains meant for her). For a while I did think that I might go back into practice (yes seriously!) and retrain as an IP lawyer, but having met my old colleagues, at least one of them was honest enough to say that I would be completely stifled, and, in truth, the reasons I’d left law hadn’t changed one jot.

So, instead, I decided to invest my energy in growing my local practice, and up my writing and speaking output.

Before I fired the gun, I ran into Derek Sivers’ blog post which, in turn, led me to investigate the work of Cal Newport. At this stage, and before I started down another rabbit hole of business development, I was intent on mapping out all my skills, and clarifying my career capital, so that I maximised my available opportunities. But, deep down, if I’m honest, I still felt an unease that I would end up asking the same question that’s been lurking in the background for a long time, namely:

“What’s my thing?”

I knew instinctively that if I was going to develop my business beyond professional services that I had to nail the link between Awakening the Genius (of my clients) and the practicalities of the process. (In simple terms, how can I talk about Awakening anything without: (a) showing what we’re all capable of; and (b) a process to move from the current stasis to a more enlightened, self-fulfilled state?)

It was in that moment that I resolved to investigate habits.

In hindsight it was such an obvious thing, I now wonder why it took me so long.

If I’d really thought about it, in the context of my consulting work, one of the biggest barriers I face is the inability of people to break their daily habits, which are self-limiting. Also, I reasoned that absent a breakthrough in changing daily behaviours, I would never deliver on the value front. The surprising thing was, as soon as I started to go deep with my study, I immediately saw the applicability to my own life.

In promulgating habits as a way of changing your life, I could have said go read this book or watch this video, but that’s not my style. I never feel I can advise properly without up close and personal insight. That said, if you do want to know where to start, you should read a few of James Clear’s posts or watch a talk by B J Fogg.

As you’ll quickly discover, there’s innumerable methodologies to habits, and a great deal of science; but with mini-habits you don’t need to read any of it. You see, much like habits that are already part of your life, if you can find a habit that makes a positive difference in your life — that’s exercise for me — then it’s compass goes well beyond the one habit. Call it a keystone habit if you wish, but it’s a habit that gives you the self-confidence to know that if you can master one thing, no matter how small, you can tackle bigger projects. And mini-habits can get you to that point.

I hope this rather long-winded back story gives you the insight to know why, as well as everything else I do, I’m committed to Kaizen and mini-habits.

In terms of my own mini-habits, right now, I’m invested in adopting them into my daily rituals, which includes 15 minutes of meditation, reading for 30 minutes and writing morning pages (think of it as a daily journal).

I have, of course, been here before but my adoption of new habits has been patchy. With mini-habits I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I can’t fail, particularly, as goes the methodology, I restrict myself to the smallest possible component part of each habit.

I’m tracking everything with HabitBull an Android app, which is excellent. In time, I’ll report on my progress, but if I’ve learned one thing so far, it’s to have a mini-habit to focus on and not another habit. In other words, rather than trying to stay motivated and use my willpower to do things, even when I don’t want to, I should dial back to the most infinitesimally small thing I can.

What I’ve noticed though is that by writing down something like, ‘check my income and expenses [every day]’ I’m not actually setting a mini-habit loop. For a start, it’s not specific enough. It should say, ‘open my [name] bank account’. Of course, unless I log on and look at the numbers I won’t know what’s going on but I hope you get the point. I’ve got to make it as easy as I possibly can.

The takeaway really is that in adopting mini-habits in my own life, I want to put the theory to the test, so that in turn when I sit down with my clients I don’t just babble on about this author or that study but I can report what worked for me. Not only will I feel happier in doing so but I’ll know we’re there for each other if things start slipping.

I don’t want to say I feel more inspired than ever but I do feel a peace has come into my life knowing that nothing is out of reach to change or improve, providing I stick to the mini-habits methodology and I’m patient. Oh, yes, I forget to mention that to adopt any new habit, mini or otherwise, it takes on average 66 days. Trust me, in this busy world we live in where there’s a myriad of distraction, that feels like an awfully long time.

It may sound premature, but I’m considering offering some free coaching via a Google+ hangout every Friday at 18:00 GMT; or I may use ustream just to see which one works best for you. If you’re up for it then let me know and I’ll schedule something.

In conclusion, I’m convinced that with the adoption of Kaizen and mini-habits, it will enable me to make the most of my career capital and bring life to my Awaken the Genius message.