We spend more than 40 percent of our precious waking hours engaged in habitual actions, according to a 2006 study by Duke University. That’s a significant chunk of our lives. Let’s break down the various kinds of habits we take part in.
First, there are conscious habits, those we intentionally do, like taking the stairs instead of the elevator and powering down our devices at the end of the day. Then there are many unconscious habits, those that have become automated, like brushing our teeth, drinking coffee or watching the news.
Our habits, conscious and unconscious, have the potential to empower or disempower our lives. In other words, our habits can help us feel great or make us feel lousy.
The problem with habits is that the bad ones are hard to break and the good ones are hard to make. Why? Because your brain has been wired to repeat them, and it takes effort to change those connections. But the effort is worth it. In his book “The Power of Habit” (Random House, 2014), Charles Duhigg suggests that success in making modest alterations in behavior creates a ripple effect into other areas of your life. In short, small positive actions, or mini-wins, build confidence and momentum.
Instead of battling with your New Year’s resolutions to meditate or hit the gym daily, why not try a different approach? Accumulate wellness mini-wins throughout the day. Baby steps. Slow and steady wins the race.
Wellness mini-wins are simple strategies and micro-practices woven into the fabric of everyday routine. They work to restore balance and clarity, one moment at a time. Similar to riding a bike, mini-wins are subtle shifts—refined decisions—that re-establish stability. These modest alterations in behavior can shift you from frazzled to focused and from chaos to calm. Best of all, you don’t have to add mini-wins to your never-ending to-do list. And with a little effort, mini-wins will become habit. Here are a few:
- In bed: Before the dread of your busy day creeps into your mind, focus on taking five deep breaths. Pause for another few moments and set a positive intention for your day.
- Commute: Drive to work in silence or listen to instrumental music to relax your nervous system for a full day of stimulation ahead.
- Meetings: Start meetings with two minutes of silence or build in a few minutes at your desk before heading to the conference room. Doing so gives your busy mind a chance to settle and opens you up for deeper listening. In fact, take it a step further: Build it into your meetings so everyone in attendance can regroup with a one-minute meditation before starting.
- Transitions: Reset your mind whenever you need to change gears. Before or after a phone call, stand up and stretch your spine in six directions for a few minutes.
- Lunch: Turn off the devices. Yes, including the TV. Sit outside or away from your desk while eating.
- Bedtime: Lie down beside your bed for a few minutes to stretch the tired and tense muscles in your lower back and hips. Pull one knee in and squeeze. Then alternate. Twist your spine. Reach your arms overhead.
- Lights out: Reflect on three mini-wins from the day. Throw in a quick gratitude practice for good measure. It’ll help you sleep better.
What you do on a daily basis has a cumulative effect on your life. Your routines and habits have carried you to this very moment. Wellness mini-wins build momentum and show up in positive ways in other areas. For example, the five deep breaths you took in the car show up in how you run the staff meeting: calmer, clearer, more focused. Taking the stairs to the presentation instead of the elevator shows up in your positive, charged-up energy to engage your audience.
Celebrate every time you execute a mini-win. Give yourself a mental high-five—an inner nod and way of saying “good job!” Acknowledge your small victories and you’ll build the confidence to tackle the bigger challenges. Not only that, the positive reinforcement will help your brain form new connections, solidifying them as new healthy and effective habits.
With more to do and seemingly less time, we are quick to set aside the most important habits and practices that help us feel our best. As we all know all too well, our mindfulness practice often gets thrown in the back seat on our fast drive.
Luckily, it doesn’t have to take hours of your day. In fact, not even one hour. Focus on the small stuff—the mini-wins—all day long, and in the long run, you’ll feel better and have more energy. In his book “Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time” (New Harbinger Publications, 2011), neuropsychologist Rick Hanson, Ph.D., describes short practices as “simple things you can do routinely, mainly inside your mind, that will support and increase your sense of security and worth, resilience, effectiveness, well-being, insight and inner peace.”
You already have wellness mini-wins. You’re already doing stuff every day that makes you feel balanced and stable like drinking water or taking your vitamins. Add a few more, like the ones mentioned above, and you’ll see positive results quickly and without a whole lot of effort. Keep your mini-wins light, and don’t take them too seriously. If you have fun through the process, your mini-wins will translate to big wins in no time.
This post originally appeared on blog.whil.com.
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