We often think that only drastic changes and impressive habits make us happy in the long term. Maybe you’ve already tried to exercise 5 times a week at the start of January? (Yeah, good joke, I know.) Or relocate to another country in search of fulfilment?
Yet the quest for inner contentment isn’t about leaving behind everything you know, wrangling with your inner bad guy or beating yourself up for not sticking to your overly ambitious plan (which was doomed to fail from the start, by the way—nobody can pull this off that easily).
In this blog post, I’ll show you three “Mini Habits” that you can try today. They don’t require a big time commitment and the hurdle to start is small. However, all three Mini Habits will have a positive impact on your overall happiness and mental health. Let’s get started!
You want to be happy? Do not make these mistakes
This exclamation has to be the most common lament of our time: “I HAVE NO TIME!” Some people are as busy as an entire bee hive. And they also live their life like a bee that tirelessly gathers honey and then perishes from sheer exhaustion. (Don’t get me wrong—I love bees and their fluffy and adorable butts. They’re incredible, and their system has to be one of the most effective ones on earth. But nevertheless, I wouldn’t want to live as a bee.)
To my shame, I must confess that there was a time when I wasn’t any better. I was so busy trying to get through my 120% workload in 2 hours of meeting-free time per day that I didn’t bother asking myself if what I was doing was meaningful and effective. And if it makes any difference at all or if anyone cares, for that matter.
Bad news first:
Like many people, I thought that only a huge lightning strike could drastically improve my life—a lightning strike that would raze everything I had to the ground, creating an empty, green meadow as a perfect fertile soil for new life. Some of my previous lightning strikes attempts included the following things: I have changed my flats more times than my underwear; naively assuming that an even bigger, prettier, and more Instagram worthy flat will make me feel so proud and fulfilled that I will find my home and finally find my Zen State of Mind. I’ve toured countless soulless companies in search of a job that will give me purpose and finally make me happy. I emigrated to Norway in the hope that the sight of moose and nature would make me so happy that I would finally feel that I had arrived in life and “made it” (whatever “made it” means).
What you completely forget when you make such drastic changes in your life: It’s a damn exhausting rollercoaster ride. You think it can only go up with such changes, but: It usually goes down a long way first—about as far as when you skydive from the Sky Islands to the lurking Depths in Zelda’s Tears of the Kingdom. Moving and changing jobs, along with starting a family and going through break-ups, are some of the most shattering things a person can experience in a lifetime. (And they also involve at least as many gloom puddles as you’ll find in the Depths in Zelda’s Tears of the Kingdom.)
So when you shake your life with an earthquake like that, you won’t necessarily find the happiness you were hoping for—at least not right away. For me, it was more like all the physical, social and emotional changes came crashing down on me like a tidal wave, and I had to fight my way up again. (On some days, I’m still fighting, to be honest.) There was no sign of happiness at the push of a button.
The good news is:
There are small changes you can make that are less drastic and still have a positive impact on your well-being—let’s call them “Mini Habits”. The three Mini Habits I’m about to share with you are good for people who—like me—sometimes struggle with their discipline and inner bad guy. (Yes, we are the mountain that stands in our own way…)
The first of the Mini Habits: Make your bed in the morning after you get up
Don’t worry: I’m not a retired Marine officer telling you that you can drastically change your life just by making your bed in the morning. Sorry to break it to you—this takes a little more effort than “just” making your bed.
It only takes you a few seconds to shake your sheets after you get up and put them down neatly. It doesn’t have to be so impeccable that it makes you Home Interior Influencer of the Year.
I can understand if this seems silly to you. You might be asking yourself: Duh, what difference does it make whether I make my bed or not?
If making your bed becomes one of your Mini Habits, it sends off some positive signals:
- Instead of starting your day with running after your to do list like a lunatic (like you normally would), you pause for a moment. You can use this moment to practise mindfulness which means: Being present in this moment without already obsessing over the gazillion things you want and need to do today.
- You use this break to do something for yourself, or more precisely, for your future self. It may sound silly, but this is an activity for your well-being, and can be considered self-care. It’s better to come back to a nicely made bed than to a pile of blankets that you have to untangle first, isn’t it?
- You get a sense of achievement early in the day. When you set out to make your bed and actually do it, you feel proud. It also gives you momentum to tackle more tasks, because you’ve already done something!
- You teach yourself a new habit and train your “habit muscle”. (It doesn’t really exist, but your brain learns when you teach yourself something new). This habit is relatively easy and convenient to learn—at least if you’re a believer in Atomic Habits by James Clear. Because you can tie it to another habit you already have, which is getting out of bed in the morning. So it strengthens your discipline and productivity when you establish new Mini Habits. Yay!
- You create a tidy atmosphere: Chaos can contribute to you feeling subconsciously stressed and overwhelmed, for example. If you leave your bedroom clean, you take some mental load off, and create a pleasant atmosphere for yourself.
These positive effects can spill over into other areas of your life. Try this new Mini Habit for a week, and see if your mindset already starts to change!
The second of the Mini Habits: Start your day with intention
I’ve written about this before in the post 9 Honest Life Lessons From My 20s: If I don’t start my day with an intention, I can watch it go down the drain.
Do you feel like your to-do list is a wild horse and you’re the poor fool who has to catch it and tame it—but you just keep getting kicked in the face while the horse snickers silly? Then this tip is worth as much as a freshly brewed cup of coffee in the morning to wake up the tired spirits that were busy backseating the boyfriend at Zelda TOTK until late in the evening.
After you’ve dutifully made your bed (see Mini Habit #1, wink) and possibly done other things you need to do biologically, take a moment to ask yourself these questions:
- What is important to me today?
- What do I want to achieve today?
- What is non-negotiable—what do I have to do today no matter what?
If you want, you can write it down instead of just thinking about it. Then you can even tick it off when you’ve accomplished it (best feeling ever)!
Incorporating the second one of these Mini Habits into your life, and starting the day with an intention gives you the following benefits:
- It’s easier to prioritise things because you know what is important to you.
- You minimise distractions because you have a goal in mind. And you know that if you let yourself be distracted, you will have less time and energy to achieve your goal.
- Your mind is more clear and you protect yourself from overload and from getting tired. You don’t have to constantly decide what you want to do next, because your intention guides you.
- You control your day—instead of the day controlling you and pushing you around. You start your day with a proactive mindset—that is, you set the intention yourself instead of being driven by outside forces. This is especially good if you otherwise tend to be a firefighter, running from fire to fire, trying to put everything out at once. (Spoiler: This is neither particularly fulfilling nor does it bring you closer to your goals. If anything, it brings you closer to the abyss that screams “ATTENTION, BURNOUT” in big, bold, flashing letters. Been there, done that, can’t recommend.)
- Following your intention builds a kind of perpetual motion machine of motivation: If you stick to your intention, you feel proud, which will motivate you to tackle more tasks.
You don’t have to invest half an hour to plan your day. Instead, try this Mini Habit of choosing an intention for each day. Your intention can be as broad or as specific as you like. Make sure it feels purposeful and gives you a sense of direction.
The third of the Mini Habits: Take one hour per week for yourself
Before you say “I DON’T EVEN HAVE TIME TO SLEEP, HOW CAN I FIND AN HOUR FOR MYSELF!?” I recommend you read life lesson #4 from my article 9 Honest Life Lessons From My 20s: It’s not about time, it’s about priority.
I’m aware that I may be making myself unpopular and putting you off. But it’s important to me to be honest, because living your life in illusions unfortunately doesn’t get you anywhere, but only leads to further problems (at the very latest when you hit the ground that goes by the name of reality with full force). So here comes the bitter truth:
More often than not, things don’t just happen—we have a decision to make. And we decide for or against something. I’m not here to play the moralizer—each person has to decide for themselves what is important to them and what is not. But I would like to encourage you to claim control over your time and to adapt your language accordingly. Often it’s not the time you don’t have—you just have other priorities.
I suggest that no matter how stressed you are and no matter how many commitments you have, try to carve out one hour a week for yourself. And, most importantly, do something that fulfils you during that hour. Make sure it’s not another thing you loathe to do. Make sure it’s something that relaxes you. Do NOT associate these activities with something from your work, and do NOT spend this hour with other people.
This is about creating an hour of “me-time”: In other words, an hour just for you with yourself.
Here are 15 ideas for you to make your new weekly mini habit:
- Paint a picture, e.g., with watercolours, gouache or crayons—if you have no practice in drawing, use templates or coloring books provided by others
- Do yoga
- Sew an accessory or piece of clothing for yourself
- Go for a walk—and leave your smartphone at home!
- Do a journaling session where you practice self-reflection
- Read a fiction book
- Listen to a fiction audio book
- Get lost in the music by your favourite musician—without fiddling around on your smartphone
- Draw illustrations or digital stickers on your iPad—e.g., a coffee shop, a greenhouse, a beautiful building you saw on your last holiday (can you tell I love shop fronts and cute buildings?)
- Try out a new recipe (bonus points if it has cinnamon in it)
- Practise creative writing
- Make a scrapbook or start a journal and get creative
- Start a garden and take care of the plants
- Make a jigsaw puzzle
A few of these things come with a few initial costs. You don’t have to invest in expensive materials at the beginning. You might even find someone you can borrow from.
You can also combine these activities to make one of your own Mini Habits—for example, jigsaw + audio book, or painting + listening to music. Do what feels right for you.
If it doesn’t work the first time, just try something else. For this Mini Habit, the journey is the destination.
The third of the Mini Habits has the following benefits for you:
- You work on your self-awareness. By engaging with yourself, you get to know yourself better. You reflect on what you like and what you don’t like. This helps you to discover your interests and desires.
- Your battery gets recharged. If you have a lot of pressure in your life and things that tire and exhaust you, it’s even more important that you create small islands of relaxation for yourself.
- If you intentionally take time for yourself, your mental health will improve. You will feel more balanced and satisfied because you are spending time doing something that recharges your energy.
- Your physical health can improve. The mind and the body are more closely connected than some would like to believe! If you feel more balanced and satisfied, you may also sleep better or your muscle tension will be reduced, for example.
- You are actively doing something against stress and for burnout prevention. If you regularly take time for yourself, you set boundaries for yourself and contribute to a better work-life balance.
Your task for today: Pick one of these Mini Habits!
You see: Change can start small. New habits don’t have to be overwhelming and crushing! On the contrary, Mini Habits help you to make improvements to your well-being even in your current situation.