Good Habits Don't Have to Be Perfect to Benefit You
By now, you’ve probably been told many, many times in your life that you need to develop good habits.
Yes, good habits can help you change your life for the better.
Brushing your teeth every day is a habit.
Going for a walk after work is a habit.
Even doing an awkward hang-down stretch / itch-scratcher after you wake up is a habit.
Where I think we tend to go wrong is focusing on habit perfection rather than just doing the habit at all.
I’ll explain my reasoning below.
The Benefit of Habits
Good habits are good for you.
Like many things in life, you’ve probably internalized this as a fact as true as knowing that an unpolluted sky is blue.
But have you considered why that’s the case? I’m the kind of person who thinks far too much about topics that probably aren’t worth my time. But still I think.
And I thought, “Why are habits so helpful?”
Based on what I’ve read — and thought in my mind — habits are helpful because they automate something that used to take a lot of focus and energy. You once had to focus to ride a bike or drive a car. Now it’s automatic. This is helpful because it means you can now free up your mind while doing these activities to focus on other, more important issues. You don’t have to think, “Ok, turn the wheel. Now turn it again. No, too much! Turn it that way! Oh no….”
Just typing that exhausted me.
So yes, good habits are good. I’m not going to delve deep into the habit development process other than telling you one thing.
You don’t have to do the full habit routine to make progress. You really don’t. You can do the bare minimum and still be on your way to making big changes for yourself.
The Benefit of Doing the Bare Minimum Habit
You might be scratching your head at this point. What is this mental health guy, Jordan, getting at? I’m getting at being lazy for once. That’s what I’m getting at.
Before I tell you why doing the bare minimum is good, let’s go over what doesn’t work. At one point in my life, I became obsessed with productivity and changing my life for the better. I made schedules. I devised routines. I did it all. And then I announced to myself, “I will perfectly implement all of this over the next week!”
Can you guess what happened? I failed miserably.
I started something new and my goal was perfection. But perfection is not a goal. It actually doesn’t even exist. It sounds good in theory, but theory is not always the same thing as reality.
Here’s what I should have done. I should have focused on the bare minimum of my habits.
I tried doing 30 push-ups a day. Some days I did it, some days I didn’t. And I sure felt guilty on the days that I didn’t do my push-ups. I felt like I had failed before I had a chance to build any momentum.
I have more success when I focus on doing one push-up a day. That’s something I can do.
And doing the bare minimum actually tricks the brain into doing more. Because it’s all about getting started. One push-up? I can do that! Well, now I guess I’m already going through the trouble, so I’ll do a few more.
Before I know it, I’ve done 30 push-ups. The same applies to other habits I’ve maintained, like writing and practicing meditation. I start with the smallest amount possible — and then I go from there.
The benefit of doing the bare minimum habit is that it’s not overwhelming. It forces me to get started, which is actually the hardest part. It’s never about the habit itself; it’s about engaging the willpower in the beginning to start the habit.
What’s Your Habit?
Are you sold on this idea? Do you think it could work?
Even if you’re skeptical, what’s the harm in doing the bare minimum of anything that you’re trying to improve?
Want to floss your teeth? Floss ONE tooth. Once you’re done flossing that one tooth, you’ll laugh at yourself and floss a few more.
Want to be more social? Just make one call to a friend during a week. One call. That’s it. You can make one call. Once you talk to one person, it’s likely that you’ll have the confidence and energy to talk to more.
So pick your habit. Even devise a whole routine for your habit if you want to. But do not — and I mean it, do not — pressure yourself into the all-or-nothing mindset. It’s silly. You don’t have to be perfect to be better. You just need to get started with as little effort as possible.
As little effort as possible? Sign me up!
That got me on board. It can do the same for you.