Are there healthy habits that you’re trying to build and it’s just not working out?
Perhaps you stick to your habit for a little while, but at some point you fall off the wagon and find it difficult to get back up again?
I feel you, because I’ve been there. Especially when building my exercise habit. I fell on and off the wagon for years.
But, no matter what healthy habits you’re trying to build, I’m here to tell you that it is totally possible!
In this post, I’m going to be sharing how taking smaller steps can help you build healthy habits. Taking this smaller steps approach has been a serious game-changer for me, enabling me to build solid habits like exercise, meditation, drinking more water and drinking less coffee. It has been such an incredible mindset shift, and I’m so excited to share it with you so that you can make building your healthy habits a lot easier.
And so, without further ado, let’s get into it!
Our aversion to smaller steps
I personally had an aversion to taking smaller steps at the beginning of building my healthy habits.
If I needed to drink more water, I’d set the goal of 2 or 3 litres a day. Or if I needed to exercise more, I’d set the goal of going to the gym 3 or 4 times a week for an intensive 1 or 2 hours. If I needed to cut down on coffee, I’d go from drinking over 10 cups a day, to setting the goal of drinking only 1 cup a day.
You see what I’m saying?
Being quite hard on myself, like many people are, I felt like I needed to set bigger goals. Because if I set smaller ones, it felt like I wasn’t really achieving anything.
Can you relate?
But, these above experiments in building these healthy habits didn’t work. I’d last for a few days or a few weeks or sometimes even a couple months. But, eventually I’d fall off the wagon and go back to my old ways.
Why a smaller steps approach is a such game-changer
Then, after years of falling on and off the wagon, with many of my healthy habits, I started to focus on taking smaller steps.
There are many reasons why taking smaller steps is so effective when building healthy habits.
Here are a few:
Smaller steps make being consistent easier.
I’d been researching how to build habits for a while and what came up very often was that it is important to focus on consistency over intensity. This is because, when you’re building a habit, repetition and consistency is what matters. Because, by doing it for 66 or 90 or 100+ days in a row, you actually ingrain that habit into your life.
When you’re building a habit, you need to be consistent. You can’t be consistent one week and then fall off the wagon for a few weeks, and then get back up again. That is not going to actually build that habit.
Think about brushing your teeth. You do it every single day and night. And because of that, it becomes part of the fabric of your day. Not doing it would feel like something important was missing.
That’s what it’s like when building any healthy habits. You do it consistency, until it becomes an integral part of your life. So that it becomes your new normal and you go there without even thinking. So that when you don’t do it, it feels like something is missing.
And to be consistent, taking smaller steps makes it so much easier.
It’s easier to drink a glass of water every morning, instead of taking on 2 or 3 litres of water a day. And it’s a lot easier to do a quick 15-minute workout every morning, instead of taking on big 2-hour workouts at the gym.
Smaller steps taken consistently keep you motivated.
Instead of taking a giant step every few days, by taking smaller steps, you keep your momentum up.
Every single day, as you take action, no matter how small, you feed that momentum. And that momentum propels you forward, helping you keep going.
That was one of the biggest things I discovered about keeping motivated.
Instead of having 2 litres of water one day and then falling off the wagon for the next few days, I stuck to one glass every morning. And by doing that, and achieving my action, no matter how small, I felt empowered to keep going. It didn’t matter that it was only 1 glass. By sticking to that one glass every day, I felt such a sense of achievement. And that gave me momentum and kept me motivated.
Daily progress makes you happy.
And that leads me to a wonderful quote by Tony Robbins that goes: Progress is Happiness.
I love this quote because it’s so true.
As humans, we all want to feel better. And by progressing in our lives in some way, no matter how small, we feel happier.
By taking smaller steps every day, you progress every day. It doesn’t matter if you’re taking the tiniest step ever, you are still progressing. And that constant progress makes you happy, and that further fuels your momentum and motivation to keep going.
The process becomes more enjoyable and less painful.
Another big advantage of taking smaller steps is that you make the process more enjoyable.
Instead of putting a huge amount of pressure on yourself, you make your steps more manageable. While it’s great to add some pressure and challenge, you can still find a balance and make your journey more enjoyable.
When we set too big a goal or too big a step, we can activate a part in our brain, the amygdala, that can bring up feelings of fear or overwhelm. So because the thing we need or want to do is just too big for us to handle, it can become too overwhelming to face, filling us with dread or freezing us into in-action.
Think about a habit you’ve been wanting to build, but that you keep putting off…
You may really want to build this habit, and you may have started and stopped a few times, but it’s just not sticking… You may just be making your steps too big to take on…
By giving yourself permission to take smaller steps – steps that are manageable enough to maintain and to enjoy on some level – you can get yourself started. And, it’ll help you keep progressing, reducing the chance of you falling off the wagon once again.
Over time your body naturally adjusts.
This was a powerful one to experience.
Oftentimes we don’t give our body enough credit. We forget that our body is a highly intelligent bio-computer and that, by taking smaller steps in building our healthy habits, it naturally starts to adjust to a new normal.
As I started eating less sugar, over time, my body couldn’t handle eating the normal sugary foods I’d waffled down before. When I didn’t eat snicker chocolate bars for 30 days, when I did take a bite of one again, I could hardly swallow it. It tasted so overly sweet and artificial. It was incredible to experience how my taste buds had changed!
When I was reducing my sugar in my coffee, I started reducing it slowly. Instead of 1 teaspoon, I started having half a teaspoon. And after having half a teaspoon for quite a while, I got used to it. Then, months down the line, I tried having 1 full teaspoon of sugar in my coffee again, and it tasted far too sweet. It was amazing!
It’s truly amazing how your body adjusts to its new normal.
After hardly ever drinking water, I knew I needed to build a hydration habit. So I started by not having anything else in the house to drink – like fruit juice. This got me to drink a little more water. Then, I made sure we had a couple glass water bottles around the house, encouraging myself to have extra sips here and there throughout the day. Then I started keeping a water bottle next to my bed, and in the morning I’d have a few sips. Over time, through these little adjustments, I found myself literally getting thirsty. I never used to get so thirsty. Over time my body has adjusted, and now it craves almost 2 litres of water a day. Amazing!
When I seriously wanted to build a solid exercise habit, I stopped going to the gym and I committed to simple 15-minute morning workouts a day. I’d get up, press play on a workout video and 15 minutes later I was done. After 100 days of daily exercise, that habit was built. It was so ingrained in me that I felt like something important was missing if I skipped a workout.
Once you find your new normal, you can always increase.
By taking small steps consistently, eventually you find a new normal.
It doesn’t matter how long it takes, because you need to give yourself the necessary time to adjust and to find your new normal. From there, when you feel like you’ve upped a level, you can then take on more.
When I’d gotten used to my half teaspoon of sugar in my coffee, I then moved on to no sugar. That took me a while to get used to, but eventually, after a couple months, it was my new normal. Now, having sugar in my coffee is awful. It truly feels like it ruins my coffee.
And that’s the thing about building healthy habits – you take baby steps consistently over a period of time, and only when you’ve properly adjusted, do you take on more, if you so wish.
At least, that is what works for me.
After getting used to coffee without sugar, I then started having coffee without milk. Now, years later, that is how I genuinely prefer my coffee – black and without sugar.
Give yourself time to adjust.
It is so incredible to experience these shifts, because looking back, a coffee without milk and sugar would’ve sounded like a punishment. Now it’s genuinely what I prefer.
The key takeaway is that, by making smaller changes consistently over a period of time, you give yourself a chance to adjust properly.
After doing 15-20 minute daily workouts for months, my exercise habit was ingrained into my life. Now, if I don’t move my body every day, it genuinely feels like something is missing. And sure, some days I take a break and don’t exercise, and some days I just do a very short 10-minute workout. But, most of the time I spend at least 20-30 minutes on my mat, and I thoroughly enjoy it.
That’s the thing you need to remember about building healthy habits that actually stick – by taking smaller steps over an extended period of time, you give yourself the time and space to adjust. Your body has time to adjust physiologically, your mind has the chance to adapt and work through its resistance, and you have time to properly incorporate it into your lifestyle.
And I encourage you… don’t rush it. Enjoy the process of adjustment.
Building habits in smaller steps may take a bit longer, but this way actually allows the habit to form and it’ll be more enjoyable.
The Kaizen way to building healthy habits.
There is a fantastic Japanese philosophy called Kaizen – an approach to creating continuous improvement based on the idea that small, ongoing positive changes can reap major improvements.
When I discovered this Kaizen philosophy, it was further proof and inspiration that by taking smaller steps, you can be more consistent, build solid healthy habits, and see longterm results.
And I mean, you can apply this smaller steps approach to all areas of your life. It’s not just for building healthy habits. You can also apply it to big projects you aren’t starting, or to annoying tasks you’re avoiding – you can break these projects and tasks down into tiny manageable steps, list the steps from start to finish, and then forget about the end result and just focus on doing that next small step. One small step at a time you will get closer to your end goal.
Examples of healthy habits you can build using smaller steps.
You can use this smaller steps approach to build any healthy habit. All you’ve got to do is commit to smaller steps, and do them consistently.
NOTE: Be realistic, and make the steps manageable for you, it doesn’t matter how small. Remember, building healthy habits is about consistency NOT intensity.
We all know of at least 1 healthy habit was should build, but here are some examples to get your brain ticking:
Drink more water
If you don’t drink enough water, instead of aiming for 2 or 3 litres a day, start by having 1 glass in the morning when you wake up. When you really get used to that, add in another glass of water after every coffee or before each meal.
Drink less coffee
I used to drink 10-13 cups of coffee a day. Now I drink 3 cups a day. And this gradual change was made possible through smaller steps.
If you want to reduce your coffee, start by simply replacing one of your coffees a day with a cup of tea. When you get used to that, replace another. Start replacing your coffees with more herbals teas and over time you’ll see the adjustment. Your body will get used to the reduction in caffeine, and over time, it won’t be able to handle so much, even if you want to.
When I did this – replaced a few of my coffees with herbals teas – my body adjusted slowly to less caffeine. Then, when I didn’t do it and just drank more coffee instead of tea, I ended up feeling wired and sometimes couldn’t fall asleep at night.
Eat dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate
If you eat lots of sugary milk chocolate, start slowly introducing dark chocolate into your life.
Switching from normal milk chocolate to very bitter dark chocolate is too big a leap. Simply replace your normal chocolate with a very slightly dark chocolate. Then, over time, increase the percentage of dark chocolate. Over time you may just find yourself munching on a 95% dark chocolate, wondering how you ever ate the milky sugar chocolate you used to eat before!
I really disliked dark chocolate. But, when I worked my way up, my tastebuds adapted to the bitter powdery taste. Now, while I still like the odd bit of milk chocolate, I prefer 80% and higher dark chocolate. I have adapted, and so can you.
Build a solid exercise habit
So many people are frustrated that they keep falling off the exercise wagon. I’ve been there, and I know the frustration. Especially because, when you don’t stay consistent, you don’t see the best (if any) results.
If that sounds like you, I encourage you take a smaller steps approach and instead focus on how you can be more consistent.
Do you love going to the gym, but just aren’t managing to make it there 3 days a week? Perhaps you can start by committing to only 1 or 2 days a week, and on the other days, simply go for a walk around the block or do a quick 5-minute YouTube workout video first thing in the morning. This way you can keep consistently moving every day and build the habit. Over time, when this routine is part of the fabric of your day, you can then work on increasing to 2-3 days a week at the gym.
Do you want to workout but you aren’t doing anything because you just don’t feel motivated? It’s time to take a look in the mirror and re-confirm your commitment. Because, if you want to get fit, you are doing to have to get up and move. But, to make it easier for yourself, create a workout playlist on YouTube full of simple 5-10 minute workout and stretching videos, and simply press play every morning – be that some jumping jacks or some light yoga stretches. 5 – 10 minutes goes so quickly, and before you know it you’ll have moved your body and be ready for the day.
NOTE: In my own personal experience, when building my exercise habit, I had to be as routined and consistent as possible. I exercised at home, first thing in the morning every day. That familiarity and path of least resistance is what worked for me. Experiment what works for you, but be as consistent as possible. If you’re mixing gym workouts with something else, make your gym workouts on the same day at the same time of day. Make everything as routine as possible, so that you don’t have to think and you can just go. Especially in the beginning.
If you’re particularly interested in building an exercise habit, check out this post on What 100 Days of Daily Exercise Will Teach You, to get inspired.
Stop eating processed junk food
To stop eating all processed and junk food in one go would be tough for most. So instead, simple focus on swopping one of your junk foods for a healthier alternative. Instead of that packet of jelly babies, have some sweet berries. Or instead of that bag of crisps, have a bag of raw nuts.
By swopping out one thing at a time, you’ll make the process easier. And over time your body and tastebuds will adjust.
Build a meditation practice
In the beginning, the idea of meditation felt diabolically opposed to who I was – sitting still and quieting my mind felt like the biggest struggle ever. But, over time I’ve built a good habit and I’m able to sit in total peace and quiet. Practicing yoga helped me get to this place, but when I committed properly to meditation, I simply committed to listening to the same 10-minute guided meditation every morning. Even if it was tough to sit still and my mind wandered, I just committed to sit there and listen to the same one every morning for months.
Over time, with every 10-minute morning session, I found myself really getting into it. My mind quietened and I found a beautiful sense of peace after those 10 minutes. Only after months and months of this same 10-minute guided meditation, did I start to sit by myself without any guidance – setting the timer on my phone for 10 minutes and just quietly breathing by myself.
If you want to start or re-ignite your meditation practice, give yourself permission to start as slow as you need. Even if it’s just for 5 minutes every morning as soon as you wake up, or perhaps in the evening before going to sleep. By just committing to 5 or 10 minutes, you’ll make it much easier to do it consistently, and you’ll build the habit into your life.
Ready to think in smaller steps and build some solid healthy habits?
I hope that this post has inspired you to finally build those healthy habits.
Through my own personal experience, I’ve realised that anything is possible when you give yourself permission to take smaller steps. Because, you enjoy the process more, you’re able to been more consistent, and you keep yourself more motivated. And all this encourages you to keep going, to build those solid healthy habits and to find your new normal.
You can do this!
Whatever healthy habit you want to build, think about how you can use this smaller steps approach. And you’ll be on your way to building a solid habit that actually lasts!
I’d love to know what healthy habit you’re wanting to build, and how you think you can use the smaller steps approach to do it?
Keep shining xoxo Sian