eating · fitness

Teeny Tiny Habits, One at a Time

HabitsWe’ve blogged about habits before (Sam’s post here and another here and here), and about doing less (my post here).  I’ve known about small changes leading to big things for quite a long while now.  But since starting the Precision Nutrition Lean Eating Program last month, I’ve really made the link between habits and doing less.

It’s the tiny habit that wins the day. Why? Because it’s more likely to stick.  That’s why the Pomodoro Technique has always worked so well for me when it comes to tackling projects that I procrastinate on.  I can get into the habit of spending just 25 minutes on an important project.  I am so grateful to Daphne Gray-Grant, the Publication Coach, for pointing me in the direction of that technique and for her wise emphasis on small, do-able changes.

The PN Lean Eating program, as Sam described so well in her review post, focuses on healthy habits, one at a time.  Last month, for the first two weeks of the program, we were encouraged to come up with our own “5 minute action.”  This is any positive change that would take no more than five minutes. If it only takes five minutes, it’s easy to accomplish because, face it, who doesn’t have five minutes?

My five minute action that first two weeks was to meditate for at least five minutes after I arrived at work each day, before I started working. When I get to the office, I plug in the kettle for my tea, turn off the overhead light, set my Insight Timer for 5-10 minutes, and meditate.  Going into silence before I get down to my daily tasks has created a buffer between my commute and my workday that grounds me.

Now, we are working on the habit of slow eating.  I have never been a slow eater. In fact, if I eat with people, I’m almost always one of the first to finish.  Even though I’ve had the slow eating advice zillions of times through my various diets and eating plans, I’ve never done it for a sustained period of time. I think the reason is that it always came along with a suite of other changes, not on its own.

But this time, it’s literally the ONLY habit that I need to work on for this two week period. And you know what?  Since I started practicing this habit last week, I’ve been the last one to finish every single time I’ve had a meal with people. And when I eat by myself, I’ve added at least 5-10 minutes to each meal.  What felt odd and unnatural at first is now, after just 9 days, becoming my default way of eating.  Scarfing down my food is no longer appealing to me.

It’s a small change, and right now it’s the only change. I can handle it because I can focus on it without the distraction of having to juggle a raft of other changes at the same time.

Leo Babauta has a wonderful website called Zen Habits.  He has an excellent post about “The Four Habits that Form Habits.” Number one on the list is to “start exceedingly small.” As he puts it, “make it so easy that you can’t say no.” Instead of starting a whole new workout program, commit to doing three push-ups.  Instead of overhauling your entire diet, practice eating slowly.

Whether you want to follow Sark in calling these small steps “micro-movements”(download overview available here) or PN in calling them “5 minute actions,” whether they seem like changes that are too small to make a difference, the fact is, this approach to change works.

Doing less than you think you should and working on establishing just one habit at a time is a winning combo. It’s taken me from fast eater to slow eater in less than two weeks.

If you have any stories or experience with teeny tiny habits, one at a time, please share them in the comments. Now—time for my five minute meditation!

7 thoughts on “Teeny Tiny Habits, One at a Time

  1. Good post. That was one of the hardest lessons, for me, in the lean eating program.

    Like you, I’ve been a speedy eater. I recall being really embarrassed eating at a nice restaurant after a thesis defence when a thin and sharply dressed external examiner remarked that I ate like a new mother. I was a new mother but it still made me self-conscious. New parents eat fast for survival sake. When I was home with my colic y middle son, my partner joked that you could tell what sort of day it was by counting unfinished cups of coffee around the house. I lived on cereal bars and fruit, hand held food I could eat while nursing a baby.

    I’m better (slower) now but I still need to think about it.

    I think I told you that indirectly it makes for some interesting changes in the way I eat. Eating slowly and stopping when you’re full means some meals don’t get finished. But I’m also keen to eat my veggies so I’ve become a person who eats veggies and protein first.

  2. I`ve only recently realised how small changes leading to big things. And I still need reminding about it, so thank you for that.

    There is a free Pomodora app which I find useful, especially for spurring me on through the tough stuff, like housework. I line up a list of tedious but necessary jobs, set the timer and Go!

    Another thing I find useful is to put all those jobs I keep putting off onto little slip of paper and pop them into what I call my Procrastination Jar. I pull out one or day-or two if I`m feeling energetic-and zap them then and there.

      1. Me, too! I am definitely going to create a procrastination jar for myself. Thanks for the idea.

        I also wanted to share a teeny change I have made recently. A friend who is getting certified in positive psychology and is a life coach ran a facebook-based group on positive psychology and well-being. We were to incorporate one or more practices about gratitude during the month (examples: asking yourself each day, “What went well?”, and giving 3 answers; saying 3 things you are grateful for; etc.) I just couldn’t bring myself to write these down– was feeling burdened by academic work, and all I wanted to do was THINK them and SAY them, not WRITE them. So I did. And I am doing it every day. And I like this– it makes me feel good. Who knows if it is having positive effects, but I can say this: I have not had any email fights with errant non-computer-savvy online logic students this term (yet), in contrast with last term, which was a bit of a slugfest at the beginning of term.

        I want to make big changes in my eating, but know that big changes are unsustainable in that form. So I will try some teeny ones and report back. Thanks, Tracy, for the great post.

  3. Great blog post. Part of taking up tiny changes and hence, new tiny habits, is not overthinking them in advance or doing them. Weave them seamlessly into daily life or several times per week.

    I had to make a tiny change to result in a big change: I had a near diabetes 2 reading several years ago. So I dropped eating white rice and heavy pasta. And I grew up on eating rice nearly daily for dinner for first 40 yrs.

    Methinks I just found lighter pastas to eat, had abit more couscous in some of my meals. Stopped buying rice for home pantry.

    I saved eating rice for sushi at restaurants. 🙂 That’s only several times annually. When I indulge on white rice, I actually get a sugar rush and feel unwell.

    Now should work on cutting back on coffee desserts.
    Lesson: If there’s something that you know you have to drop, first just don’t even buy it for home eating. Save it for occasional restaurant meal.

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