All the hype around mindfulness -- being aware of the present moment, on purpose and without judgment, has gotten many people interested in giving it a try. The big challenge for most has been how to sustain their practice past the initial excitement. Too many factors in our busy, task-oriented way of life conspire to deprive us from the time, energy and intention that are necessary to cultivate mindfulness. This is where modern behavioral psychology can be very helpful. After all, we are talking about how to facilitate adoption of new behaviors such as sitting still for a few minutes every day.
Dr. BJ Fogg, a social scientist at Stanford University, has spent the past 18 years researching the psychology of behavior change. I just finished participating in "3 Tiny Habits," a new program that BJ Fogg designed to help people create new behaviors in their lives. The 3 Tiny Habits program is a clever elaboration on the common notion of baby steps.
BJ Fogg's believes the tinier the habit, the easier it is to take on for good. New habits also need to be set up right. In fact, the trick is all about how to design the habits so that they are a source of positive emotions, leading to automatic behaviors. Tiny habits are things you can do at least once a day, in less than 30 seconds, and with little effort. Tiny habits must take place after a solid habit that always happens in your life. And you must learn to declare victory after each successful completion of a tiny habit. This is how you will rewire your brain to associate the new tiny habit with positive emotions, hence reinforcing yourself.
I decided to take advantage of the opportunity to see if I could enhance my mindfulness practice with the addition of several new habits. Of particular interest were three habits I had tried before with various degrees of success, habits which I felt could make a huge difference in the quality of my practice. The first one was to set the intention to be mindful first thing before even getting up. The second habit was to meditate first thing in the morning. And the third one was to practice loving kindness before going to bed. All three habits were inspired by Vipassana teacher Ayya Khema's teachings on mindfulness in daily life.
I realized my three mindfulness habits were too big and too vague. I needed to shrink them into three tiny habits. I also needed to provide them with some context based on my already existing every day routines. As pointed out by BJ Fogg, each new tiny habit needs to be attached right after an already existing habit. This is what my three tiny mindfulness habits looked like during the five-day 3 Tiny Habits experiment:
- Right after I open my eyes, and before getting out of bed in the morning, I state my intention to be mindful for the day. I appreciate my intention.
- Right after I finish getting dressed in the morning, I sit on my meditation chair, and I practice mindfulness for a few seconds. I appreciate myself for making it to the chair.
- Right after I turn off the light at night, I do 30 seconds of loving kindness practice, wishing myself and other beings well. I appreciate myself for remembering to practice.
So easy, so simple, and almost impossible to not do. After only five days of performing those three tiny habits, I have set in motion a whole new way for my daily mindfulness practice. BJ Fogg is confident, tiny habits eventually lead to big habits, in this case:
- Starting the day off on a mindful note, not giving mind a chance to go with its habitual, mindless ways. I can then add another tiny habit, that of noticing the general feeling upon waking up. Did I wake up on the wrong side of the bed? Left unchecked, that initial feeling can set the tone for the whole day. And simply knowing gives one the freedom to decide. I can also add the practice of resting in the breath for a few seconds before waking up. Three tiny habits strung along...
- Meditating first thing in the morning, while the mind is still fresh and not encumbered with too much reactivity to outer events. Getting myself to the chair guarantees that my sitting practice will not be brushed aside by other "more important things." It is also known that the hardest thing is to get oneself to the chair and to start sitting. Once there, it is easy to keep going and make it to the full recommended 30 minutes.
- The last habit is a good way to wrap up the day and take care of one's heart. Relaxing the heart with a feeling of loving kindness for oneself and others, smoothing out what may have gone wrong during the day and preparing oneself for the night. A good way to ease into sleep. Again, such tiny habit paves the way for a more extensive loving kindness practice. Not just a few seconds, but maybe a few minutes, or longer even...
During his experiment, BJ Fogg acted as virtual coach and dispensed daily encouragements in response to our stated successes. There is something to be said for such acknowledgment from another person. I suggest you find a friend to practice your three tiny mindfulness habits with. Email, text, or call each other at the end of each day during the first five days, and give each other high fives for your respective successes.
3 Tiny Habits. So easy and powerful, and the best way I have found so far to painlessly habituate the brain to the daily practice of mindfulness.
Give it a try and let me know!
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