Why starting radically small – with Microsteps – is the key to behaviour change.

Behaviour change research emphasises that to create a new habit, you must first simplify the behaviour.

Microsteps are small, science-backed actions you can start taking immediately to build habits that significantly improve your life. Each Microstep takes less than five minutes, so the idea is that you can fit them into your schedule no matter how busy you are.

Unlike big, lofty resolutions that we most likely won’t commit to (for example, “I want to work out five times a week”), each time you complete a Microstep (“Each day I will walk for five minutes”), you can celebrate your progress, boosting your motivation to keep going. By making Microsteps too small to fail, we can make those initial small changes on which we can begin to build a new and healthier way of living and working.

The science makes it clear: you don’t need to overhaul your life. You just need to start, and start small. 

Now, let’s explore four ways to make Microsteps stick.

Connect to your why

When you want to change your life, it’s important to understand why you want to make this change. Is it to become more resilient in the face of challenges, or to have the energy to play with your kids? Coming back to your ‘why’ can help you overcome obstacles along the way and inspire you to keep moving forward. Once you identify this, it can be helpful to have a visual reminder that represents your ‘why’, and place it somewhere you can see it every day. Perhaps it’s a family photo propped on your work desk, or a phone screensaver that takes you back to a time when you were healthiest and felt your best. By returning to this image as a physical or digital reminder, you’ll be able to keep your ‘why’ top of mind.

Make the habit part of your identity

As you embark on a behaviour change journey, instead of waking up in the morning and focussing on what you have to do each day, consider thinking about who you want to be. Identity is one of the most underestimated aspects of habit formation, and where most attempts at habit change fail. How we position and frame our approach to making positive life changes is key. For example, if you’re trying to get into the habit of going on a daily walk, rather than thinking about the action – “I am going on a walk each day” – consider affirming to yourself, “I am a person who walks outside daily”.

Focus on the feeling you get from following through

Think about how motivated you feel when you tell yourself you’ll do something – even if it’s tiny – and actually do it. You give yourself a pat on the back, your self-esteem gets a boost, and you feel encouraged to keep going. That’s the beauty of starting small and celebrating your accomplishments – feeling proud is addictive and before you know it, you’re building on one small Microstep by expanding it and continuing to take more actions that have a noticeable impact on your life. The benefit of even one small win goes beyond just the new healthy behaviour you’ve created – it actually builds that willpower muscle to create even more wins and good habits. The more you succeed, the more capable you become at succeeding in the future.

Enlist an accountability buddy

Never underestimate the power of social connection to achieve a goal that’s important to you. Many people find their goals fizzle out if they don’t surround themselves with allies. A great resource for sustaining behaviour change is having an accountability partner – someone with whom you can share your goals and progress towards them, who can support you and share their own journey in return. Their impact on you achieving your goal can be significant. Research from the American Society of Training and Development found that you have a 65 per cent chance of completing a goal if you share your commitment with someone, and if you have a specific accountability appointment with a buddy, you can increase your chance of success up to 95 per cent.

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An alliance between Thrive Global and Monash University with the mission to end the stress and burnout epidemic. The partnership brings an evidence based approach to well-being and performance and will work with organisations to deliver programs that lift the performance, resilience, engagement and mental health of employees.

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To see how Monash handles your personal information please refer to our Data Protection and Privacy Procedure and Visitors and Enquirers Data Protection and Privacy Collection Statement or contact dataprotectionofficer@monash.edu
To see how Thrive Global handles your personal information please see thriveglobal.com/privacy/.