Minimalism A to Z: H Is for Habits

habits

“Habits equal autopilot. Take brushing your teeth for example. Once that becomes a habit, you don’t have to write positive affirmations or remind yourself constantly to brush your teeth. It is simply a habitual part of what you do every day.”

– Gudjon Bergmann

Habits are an important piece of the minimalist puzzle, because one of the easiest ways to simplify our lives is to turn our to-dos into habits.

Why?

We don’t have to try to remember to do something that’s a habit. We just do it. This saves mental energy for other tasks.

Also, the best way to break a bad habit, such as engaging in “retail therapy” or mindlessly watching TV, is to replace it with a good habit.

According to Charles Duhigg, there are four steps to replacing a bad habit with a good one:

1.Identify the “routine,” the behavior you want to change.

2. Experiment with different “rewards” to see what might be a good substitute habit.

3. This will help you isolate your “cue,” the reason you engage in the habit. Are you bored? Hungry? Lonely? Tired? Or maybe it’s just your location or the time of day.

4. Create a plan for change.

For more information on this “habit loop,” read my post on Building Minimalist Habits or Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.

Another tip for instilling new habits is to stack them on to older habits. Think about getting a new prescription medication, for example. It’s not too hard to remember it if we can take it at bedtime or first thing in the morning, right? We can just do it when we brush our teeth.

But if we’re told to take it at some random time of day, say, 3 p.m., we’ll probably forget to take the pill unless we set an alarm as a reminder.

The same logic applies to all kinds of new habits you need or want to acquire. Simply stack the new habit you want to learn on to another habit, like making your morning cup of coffee or tea, showering or walking the dog.

“If you pick the right small behavior and sequence it right, then you won’t have to motivate yourself to have it grow. It will just happen naturally, like a good seed planted in a good spot.”

– BJ Fogg

When dealing with habits, it’s always best to start small. Ridiculously small. “Micro” or “tiny” habits minimalists may want to add to their daily routine include:

  • Meditating for one minute.
  • Doing a “brain dump” before bed (writing down everything floating around in your head).
  • Spending two minutes before making dinner looking for kitchen gadgets you don’t use.
  • Naming three things you’re thankful for.
  • As soon as you get the mail, putting all junk mail into the recycle bin.
  • Each time you go outside, pausing for a couple of seconds to just be.
  • Writing it down (or adding it to your smart phone) instead of trying to remember it.
  • Saying “let me check my calendar and get back to you,” instead of saying “yes” right away when asked to do something.

Think about the areas of minimalism you want to work on, and choose a habit or two you think will help you accomplish your goals.

Remember to start small. Choose something you know you can do. You can work your way up to more time and effort later once the habit is established.

After you decide on one or two habits, choose a cue for each new habit. For instance, maybe you’ll meditate for one minute after you brush your teeth and name three things you’re grateful for before eating dinner.

Do you have any micro-habits? Do you rely on habits to simplify your life?

6 thoughts on “Minimalism A to Z: H Is for Habits

  1. What a wonderful article. I’m feeling inspired and I’m going to try and identify some of the things I do on a daily basis that move me towards a more minimalist life style that are not identifying things to remove. I’m hoping it will remind me of the little steps I’m taking every day. I’m aiming for Progress not perfection after all!

    I enjoyed this so much I’ve shared a link on my blog. Hope you don’t mind.

  2. I would say I have become someone who relies on habits to simplify my life. Areas where I experienced challenges before, I worked to/am working to develop habits to make life easier. For example, I have the same breakfast every morning during the week so that mornings are a lot less challenging!

    • Thanks for sharing, Claudia. Your comment about noticing where you experienced challenges and then began working to develop habits makes a great point. We can note our ongoing challenges – perhaps running late in the morning or letting laundry build up too long – and consider whether a new habit will help resolve the problem.

I'd love for you to share your ideas and experiences.