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Breaking down movement into tiny habits
Breaking down movement into tiny habits
Anastasia avatar
Written by Anastasia
Updated over a week ago

Short read

  • We place a lot of emphasis on habits throughout the Second Nature programme as we know these are the key to lasting lifestyle changes

  • Some habits are more difficult to form than others, like regular physical activity, and we might struggle to find the motivation to do these habits every day

  • One strategy to help us form new habits is to break these down into ‘tiny habits’. Tiny habits are much easier to achieve as they present fewer barriers to completion.

  • Research shows people are more likely to maintain an habit around activity if there’s a social or community aspect. This is one of the reasons why running clubs are so popular, even though many people say they don’t necessarily enjoy running itself. What exercise or leisure clubs are active in your area? Would you consider joining one?

We know that when it comes to physical activity, often the most challenging part is getting started. Many of us know the benefits of moving our body and that we should be doing more of it, but life tends to get in the way of our good intentions.

Research has also shown that some habits are easier to form than others. You may have personally experienced that habits regarding activity, in particular, can be more challenging to form and take a long time to feel automatic.

This is because activity habits tend to be more complex compared to other habits, like drinking water or brushing our teeth.

However, no matter what barriers you’re facing, it’s possible to make activity a regular part of your routine and find a form of movement that’s enjoyable for you. Sometimes we all just need a bit of a push and a boost of motivation.

Why are physical activity habits more difficult to form?

When it comes to habit formation, the key is consistency and repetition. We need to consistently perform a behaviour simultaneously for it to start to become automatic.

But with activitye, we often don’t set consistent, daily goals. For example, we might aim to do a high-intensity workout 2-3 times a week, or do a 5km run every weekend.

Because we’re not performing this behaviour at the same time every day, it’s harder for a habit to form.

Since regular activity is a more complex habit to form, it also requires a lot of motivation. We often need to overcome more barriers with exercise than we do with other habits. The most obvious of these is time.

Physical activity takes a more extended amount of time compared to other habits, like drinking a glass of water or deep breathing, so it can be easy for us to de-prioritise it.

There are also a lot of steps involved before we can start actvity. We must decide what form of movement to do, stop what we’re currently working on, put on different clothes and shoes, and set up our workout environment.

For some of us, we might also need to negotiate child-free time or find someone to watch the kids. At each step, we can face barriers that zap our motivation, like bad weather or a busy work day.

But what if we could ‘hack’ our habit-formation process to lower these barriers and make a habit regarding acitvity a much easier habit to form? Imagine if we didn’t need to rely on willpower or motivation to make us exercise ever again!

This is where tiny habits come in.

The tiny habits method

As we discussed throughout the Adapt phase and in week 1 of Grow, tiny habits are about lowering the barriers to starting a new behaviour, so we don’t need to rely on motivation or willpower.

Tiny habits are a scaled-back version of the bigger habit we’d like to form. They work because they require less effort, meaning there’s less mental pushback, and overall they’re easier to achieve.

Tiny habits mean breaking down a habit like ‘jogging for 20 mins 3x/week’ into smaller, more manageable goals.

And when we say smaller, we mean tiny goals. For example, ‘put on walking shoes and step outside’.

It may seem pointless initially, but these tiny habits have fewer barriers to completion, so we’re more likely to do them.

Over time, we can build on these tiny habits until we’ve formed the whole habit of completing physical activity regularly.

In the long term, it’s more beneficial for us to consistently build on these tiny habits rather than starting and stopping bigger habits.

Examples of tiny habits for activity

Below, we’ve created a list of examples of how you could break down your physical activity goals into tiny habits.

Remember, your tiny habit needs to be part of a behaviour that you want to do, as opposed to feeling like you should do it. So be sure to think about a form of movement that you enjoy and create tiny habits from these.

If you can’t see your personal exercise goal listed, feel free to post in the group chat to discuss how you could turn your activity goal into a tiny habit.

Screenshot 2021-04-09 at 1.05.17 pm

Achieving your tiny habit

The point with tiny habits is only to set yourself the goal of achieving your tiny habit. If you go above and beyond, for example, if you step outside with your walking shoes and do a 5-minute walk, you can treat this as extra credit.

However, you must also celebrate achieving your tiny habit on its own – going above and beyond every time is unnecessary.

Written by Robbie Puddick

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