Self Improvement

How to Use Micro Habits and Spark Massive Personal Change

Dann Albright 04-02-2015

We all want to develop good habits — especially around the beginning of the year, when our New Year’s resolutions 10 Websites To Help You Stick To Your 2015 Resolutions If you're like the majority of us and need a little help sticking to your New Year's resolutions, these ten websites will help you accomplish your goals for 2015 Read More are still fresh in our minds. But creating new habits is hard.


Habits are usually built over weeks or months of repetition Trouble Reaching Your Goals? Form A Habit Streak [Android] Picking up new habits can be a difficult task, which is why numerous popular methods exist to help you manage it. If you regularly find yourself realising that your plan to take a daily morning... Read More , and if you’ve chosen a complex habit to built, like going go the gym more often or eating better, motivation could be a big challenge How to Kill Motivation Sucking Vampires & Finish What You Start Life projects that are stalled? Yes, we all have them. The story is always the same. We start with an idea but never see it through. Break the brittle obstacles and persevere with these tips. Read More . But micro-habits can be a huge help.

What’s a Micro-Habit?

A micro-habit is much like it sounds: it’s a small, simple action that doesn’t require much motivation, but will help you build up to a larger goal habit. It’s usually triggered by a specific event.

The Art of Manliness gives us two examples. Flossing just a single tooth before bed, or swiping your card at the gym when you drive past on your way home from work. The goal is not to floss all of your teeth or to get a workout in. It’s just to do something very small.

What good does that do?

Flossing one tooth or swiping your card at the gym won’t contribute much to dental health or overall fitness. The secret lies in the fact that once you’ve gotten started, even if it’s just a very tiny start, you’ll very often think “oh well, I started, I might as well go a little bit further.” Sometimes it’ll be all the way to the end. Sometimes it’ll just be a bit more than the minimum. Sometimes you’ll just floss one tooth. But over time, you’ll add more and more to your micro-habit and it will slowly transform into your goal habit.



This happens because of an interesting psychological phenomenon called behavioral momentum.

Once you get started down a path, your mind is compelled to keep going. This can be a good or a bad thing; you can keep moving down a bad path (like overeating) just like you can stay on a good one (like flossing). But by using micro-habits to start toward a goal, you can use behavioral momentum to your advantage. Interestingly, behavioral momentum is also taken advantage of by marketers Do You Think Twice About These Online Shopping Traps Before You Buy? Retailers and marketers are using cutting-edge behavioral psychology to get you to buy their products, whether you need them or not. Do you know how they're targeting you? Read More .

People want to be consistent. Once we take an action toward a goal, we tend to try to continue toward that goal, even if we decide we no longer want to reach it.

The best part about all of this is that it takes significantly less mental effort to commit to the micro-habit than it does for the larger goal habit.


B.J Fogg talks about flossing as an example of behavior change with tiny habits in this TED video:

Unlearning Bad Habits with Good Micro-Habits

Micro-habits are great for conquering bad habits How To Kill Bad Habits With Bad Habits In The New Year Bad habits can't be all that bad if they can help you in some way. Beat them at their own game by pitting them against each other. Read More that you’ve established. The desire to engage in your bad habit is used as the trigger event. Let’s look at an example: say you want to break your unhealthy snacking habit. If you often go from your desk to a cupboard or even a table across the room to grab a piece of chocolate, you can use that as a trigger.

Whenever you get up to get some chocolate, you’ll first eat a carrot stick. Just one. After that, you can grab a chocolate and eat it without remorse. Eventually — if all goes as planned — you’ll be snacking on carrots instead of chocolate, because you’ve built from up the micro-habit to the goal habit.



You can use this with digital bad habits, too. If you check Facebook too often Facebook Psychology - Is Addiction Affecting Our Minds? [INFOGRAPHIC] Internet Addiction Disorder (otherwise known as Facebookalitis) is set to become the big psychological disorder of the 21st century - and it seems we have mostly Facebook to thank for that. Thanks to the social... Read More , and you’d rather do something that you find more rewarding, but can’t break the habit, you can use your desire to check Facebook as a micro-habit trigger. Let’s say you want to spend more time reading inspirational things in your RSS feed Top 8 RSS Feeds For Motivational Quotes of the Day Read More .

Every time you feel like checking Facebook, read just one RSS entry first. Then you can check Facebook. Hopefully, after a while you’ll be reading items from your RSS feed and getting inspired instead of checking Facebook, because once you’ve read one item, you’ll be thinking, “I switched to this tab and started reading, I might as well keep going.” (Of course, compulsive checking of your RSS feed can be detrimental to productivity, too, but at least there’s the possibility of learning some new things.)

Of course, compulsive checking of your RSS feed can be detrimental to productivity, too, but at least there’s the possibility of learning some new things.

12 Micro-Habits for a Better Digital Life

The micro-habits that you choose for your life have to be things that you want to work on, or else you might struggle to even commit to something very small.


To get you started, here are twelve triggers and micro-habits that you could use to increase productive habits 12 Productivity Habits To Finally Hack Your Life In The New Year A common resolution for most working people is to be more productive. In this article, we'll explore twelve bad habits that you can change -- one per month -- to drastically improve your workload productivity. Read More  and counter some of the bad habits we get into with our digital obsessions:

  1. Whenever feel like texting, work one Pomodoro cycle 3 Of The Best Free Pomodoro Productivity Apps Read More before you text.
  2. Whenever you want to check your email How to Beat Email Addiction by Tracking Inbox Habits Email is hijacking your days, and it's being sneaky about it. You can regain control over your time. Figure out how much time you devote to email right now and steal it back. Read More , stand up to do a couple stretches 6 Must-See Exercise Videos for Those of Us Who Spend Most of the Day Sitting [Stuff to Watch] Poor posture, not enough breaks and sedentary office behaviour can all have serious implications in the long-term. This week’s Stuff to Watch focuses on a variety of techniques that can reduced the chances of an... Read More .
  3. Whenever you find yourself multitasking 3 Ways To Stop Multitasking & Stay Focused To Be More Efficient & Productive [Windows] At MakeUseOf we have written countless articles on how to multitask. As it turns out, however, multitasking messes with your brain. Research shows that people who multitask a lot are "more susceptible to interference from... Read More , close or minimize one tab or window.
  4. Whenever you schedule a meeting, schedule a block of free time How To Stop Procrastinating: The Only New Year Resolution You Should Set Kick the habit of procrastination and start taking action without waiting for the right time. Stopping procrastination is the only new year resolution you need. Here's why. Read More at the same time.
  5. When you go to bed, before you look at your phone or computer What Your Smartphone Is Doing To Your Body & Mind Smartphones are changing us -- is that a good or a bad thing? Find out what science has to say. Read More , meditate for one minute.
  6. When you feel like taking a break to browse the web or check Facebook, open your task list Swift To-Do List 7: The Only Task Management App You'll Need [Giveaway] Read More first.
  7. When you want to have an unhealthy snack, stand up first (eventually, aim to go for a short walk instead).
  8. When you think “one more episode,” walk to your bedroom door (with the goal being to get to bed Use These Apps to Help You Sleep Better [Android & iOS] After a hectic day, the best thing you can do is to get a beneficial amount of sleep. There are always new studies appearing that prove how important sleep really is to a person, improving... Read More at a more reasonable time).
  9. When you’re eating a meal, before looking at your phone, read one page from a book Want To Read More This Year? Here Are 10 Ways To Do It Spending more time reading isn't always easy. But think of the benefits -- escape and de-stress, learn new things, connect with people, think in new ways, and gain new insights. Read More .
  10. After you brush your teeth, write one sentence in your journal Power Up Your Journal Writing With These Day One Tips Journal or diary writing is a great way to exercise and improve your writing skills, document what is going on in your life, and to stay in tune with your thoughts and feelings. Read More .
  11. Before making an online purchase Shipping Smartly: 5 Frugal Tips to Save Money When Shopping Online You're shopping around online, you find the perfect item just within your budget, but the shipping is just way too much? Here's how to cut those fees down to size. Read More , open your savings plan.
  12. When you want another cup of coffee, have a glass of water Make Sure You Drink Enough Water With These Free Apps [Android] It is easy to forget to drink enough, especially in winter time, and especially if you’re not very physically active. But it is important to take in enough water, both for weight loss and just... Read More .

As you can see, you can use micro-habits for all sorts of thing! Use them to get rid of bad digital habits, set up good habits, read more, get more exercise, improve your posture, eat better — the possibilities are limitless.

Have you used micro-habits in the past? Do you think they’ll help you establish some good habits this year? Which micro-habits do you plan on using? Share your thoughts below!

Image Credits: Smile freedom and happiness woman (edited)Counting down the days with a calendar, portrait of a young woman with chocolate and vegetables via Shutterstock.

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  1. Kim Clement
    September 29, 2017 at 12:57 am

    this article was extremely helpful to me. I especially like the video and we'll look up to see if this guy has any books. I'm working on a website to help people with ADHD create healthy habits and I think this will really help.

  2. Rob
    February 5, 2015 at 2:05 pm

    I've actually done something similar without knowing what it's called. Recently I started 'forcing' myself to simply open the Lift app on my phone, as I kept forgetting to track a few things over there. The simple act of opening the app automatically spurs me on to very quickly review and record and habits I'm building. :)

    • Dann Albright
      February 5, 2015 at 2:30 pm

      That's a perfect way to use micro-habits! It's amazing how even getting yourself to just open an app can help you create a better habit.

  3. Saikat
    February 5, 2015 at 7:13 am

    Good article Dann, and something that's close to my heart. Over the past few months, I have used it to turn around my hydration habit (take a gulp after each Pomodoro of work); my micro-learning habit, and now I am trying to use it for a consistent exercise and writing rituals.

    • Dann Albright
      February 5, 2015 at 2:26 pm

      That's a really great idea! I should use something like that; I should be drinking a lot more water than I am. I'm training for a marathon, and I still don't drink much. Maybe I should try your strategy!