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I’m sick of lists of habits that are unrealistic for the majority of people. Even worse is when someone says to wake up at 5 am or run 10 kilometers every day and calls it a micro-habit.
This is not one of those lists.
Each micro-habit here takes one minute at most each day or uses a task most people do anyway. None of them will transform or revolutionize your life but they can help you live a little bit better every day and this adds up over time.
I draw on the research by BJ Fogg in “Tiny Habits” and the Japanese concept of kaizen. When each task is so small it’s hard to skip it so there’s no need for willpower. The beauty of this is after some time it becomes a natural part of your daily routine so you’re acting in your best interests without even realizing it!
I’ve avoided fluffy ideas and stuck to things I have done in my own life where I can find good research backing. Don’t try to do everything on this list at once but pick the ones you think will work for you. Later you can come back for more or create your own to suit your lifestyle. Here we go!
#1. Lie on your back and hang your head and shoulders off the bed for up to two minutes.
In our daily lives, we don’t invert our bodies enough. This little stretch before going to sleep helps to open up the chest and get some blood flowing to the heart and brain. It feels good too!
For people who are hunched over their desk at an office, it also relieves some of the damage.
#2. Turn off autoplay and leave the control and your phone next to the TV.
Streaming services want you to watch more, they want you to be addicted to their service. I used to end up watching 3 episodes in a row when I planned to watch one because I was too lazy to stop when the next episode auto-played.
Turn the feature off and make sure your control is next to the TV so you physically have to get up to continue watching. It gives you a circuit breaker to choose to do something else with your time and move your body.
#3. Add on the cost to your health for any convenience buys.
There are so many things we can buy to make us lazier and make us do less work. Do you really need Alexa to turn the lights on and off rather than walking over to the switch yourself?
Work out how many steps/calories buying the product will cost you and make sure you replace it if you decide to buy. Don’t cut out simple everyday movements to make time to not go to the gym.
#4. Do extra squats whenever you go to the bathroom.
The Chair Test is used by doctors to test functional fitness. If you are young and healthy it might sound easy but it’s a key ability that diminishes as we age and can reduce our quality of life. Modern life means we sit for long periods which can weaken our muscles and make it harder to stand.
This doesn’t mean you need to break your back squatting at the gym. Try sneaking in a few squats whenever you finish in the bathroom. It might only be 10 squats a day but over time, it adds up.
#5. Balance on one leg when brushing your teeth in the morning and the other leg in the evening.
Balance is overlooked until it’s gone. How incredible is it that most of us can go about the majority of our lives and stay steady on our feet? After injuries or with old age, balance can decrease and contribute to painful falls.
The time you can spend standing on one leg is a great indicator of overall brain health too. I sneak balance training into my day by standing on my left leg when I brush my teeth in the morning and on my right in the evening. I wobbled a lot at the start but now I can hold 2 minutes on each leg without a problem.
EDIT: Dan Schmelter, a 75-year-old from Indiana, goes the extra mile. He uses brushing time as the beginning of a stretching routine that he continues after his electric toothbrush pings to say time is up. He varies this every day to keep nimble. Thanks for sharing!
#6. Make sure your butt goes to the back of anywhere you sit.
Despite a decade in martial arts, I had awful posture because of the way I sat when using a computer. The gap I left between my butt and the backrest of the chair weakened my back muscles.
I don’t aim for perfect posture, I only make sure my butt is always flush against the backrest. By doing this, the other aspects of good seated posture feel more natural.
#7. Use mobile websites, not apps.
Here’s a secret, mobile apps are designed to make you enjoy using them as much as possible. It’s good business sense and they want your attention. Yet mobile websites are far more clunky because developers have far less freedom to create a great experience for you.
If you want to spend less time on your phone then choose the poorer user experience. Anyone who has used Instagram’s mobile website will know it’s far harder to become addicted and as an extra win, you don’t receive any notifications!
#8. Follow the 20–20–20 rule.
Surprisingly, humans didn’t evolve to spend half their waking hours staring at a screen. The 20–20–20 rule is simple:
Set a timer for every 20 minutes to look away from a screen for 20 seconds at an object 20 feet away.
Make sure to blink while you are focused on the object in the distance too. While following this rule isn’t a license to spend 16 hours in a computer chair, it can help reduce the strain on your eyes.
#9. Put your phone on airplane mode in another room before going to sleep.
I’m willing to bet 99% of the time, most people don’t get a call in the middle of the night that they needed to deal with urgently. We don’t need to sleep with our phones.
Blue light late at night messes with our body clock and waking up with a need to check your phone instantly screams addiction. Take back control of your mornings by leaving your phone in another room on airplane mode. At the very least you’ll have extra motivation to get out of bed and start your day.
#10. Unfollow accounts that stress you out.
I didn’t have Twitter until this year and I wasn’t ready for the constant outrage. The trending bar at the side is almost always some kind of drama I don’t need to know about.
Several people I followed for their insights used their platform to post rants about dubious information. I did myself a favor and unfollowed people who wanted to enrage rather than inform me. How Twitter sees an event often isn’t how it actually plays out.
#11. Always eat before you go shopping.
Research found people who shopped on an empty stomach were more likely to impulse buy food to meet their cravings. Whatever diet works best for you is what you want to stick to and it’s easier to avoid temptations when your belly is satisfied.
I’ve made the mistake of going shopping just before dinner and coming back with a pack of cookies to eat while I cook.
#12. Take a break after your meal before going for dessert.
It can take 15–20 minutes for our brain to register that we are full as we process our food. If you jump straight into dessert, you’ll only feel the bloating and food coma effects afterward!
#13. Drink water before you eat.
We can confuse hunger and thirst pretty easily and many adults are chronically dehydrated. Try drinking a glass of water before your meal to be sure you’re eating because you are actually hungry.
#14. Leave a glass of water by your bed when you sleep.
You’ve probably heard the drink a glass of water advice when you wake up. But do you do it? Instead, bring the body out of its dehydrated state because there’s already a glass staring at you in the morning when you get up. Put it in front of your alarm so you can’t ignore it.
#15. No sugar in tea or coffee.
We don’t need sugar in tea and coffee. We don’t really need sugar in most places it’s added but hot drinks are one of the few places where we do the deed ourselves.
Most of us get more than enough sugar as it is judging from the diabetes explosion in the western world. The great thing about stopping this sugar habit is your taste buds adjust after a couple of weeks so you won’t miss it.
#16. Wear sunscreen whenever in the sun for long periods.
The cosmetics and make-up industry is booming yet many of us neglect to protect our skin. Even when it’s cold or cloudy, UV rays from the sun can still do damage. It’s not only about having skin that looks youthful but it prevents skin cancer too.
The easiest way is to pick a moisturizer that includes a sun protection factor of at least 30. It’s such a small change, why wouldn’t you make it?
#17. Take vitamin D spray in the winter.
If you live in a country with a cold and dark winter like me, you are probably vitamin D deficient in this period. Vitamin D comes from sunlight naturally and helps regulate the immune system.
I leave my spray next to my toothbrush and it’s near impossible for me to skip even if I’m in a rush.
#18. No screens while eating.
Eating mindfully means you give your taste buds the chance to enjoy your food. It gives our minds much needed rest from being plugged in all the time and helps us work out when we are full so we don’t overeat.
I found this hard when I started doing it, which says a lot about how addicted to my smartphone I was. If it’s the same for you, it should shock you into knowing change is needed.
#19. Every time you go shopping buy a fruit or vegetable you haven’t tried before.
It’s easy to stick to foods we know we like but the human body is designed for a variety of nutritional sources. Modern supermarkets have a huge variety of fresh food available so it’s easy to grab a new one on top of your usual shop each time.
The different colors of vegetables signify different essential nutrients so by mixing things up we reduce our chances of severe deficiencies. As a bonus, you’ll find new healthy foods you like the taste of and can get more of in the future!
#20. Whenever you want to doom scroll, do a minute of deep breathing first.
The average American checks their phone 52 times a day. Yet according to breathing experts like Rangan Chatterjee and James Nestor, we rarely breathe as deeply as we should.
We can pair up our instinct to check our phones with a reaction of taking a deep breath. Before you touch your phone, breathe in for 3 seconds, hold it for 4 seconds, and release for 5 seconds. This trains us to improve our breathing capability and introduces a delay where there’s a chance we’ll decide we don’t need our phone anyway.
If these ideas resonate with you, here’s a simple plan to help you turn them into lasting habits.
Stop telling yourself you are going to start a new impossible habit and pick one or more of these realistic micro-habits. Maybe none work for you but I hope they inspire you to think of your own.
Do you have any more ideas? I’d love to hear them.