Navy Seal William H. McRaven wants you to make your bed, and don’t try telling him that you’re only going to mess it up again tonight. Admiral McRaven is a big believer in the power that small actions have in accomplishing big objectives, and he should know. He was the commander of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
Start Your Day With Success Momentum
In his 2014 commencement speech at the University of Texas, Admiral McRaven told graduates, “If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed…It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task, and another, and another.” At Tiny Habits we call this success momentum, and it’s one of the keys to the Tiny Habits method.
By making your bed, you start the day off with a win. You’ve only been awake for two minutes, and you’ve already accomplished something tangible. It’s a visible daily reminder that you have power over your environment as well as your attitude. It’s the first domino in your day of accomplishing tasks both large and small.
Order or Chaos?
A tidy bed sets the tone for your day, but it also impacts how you’ll feel at the end of it. Imagine it’s finally time for bed. Maybe you’ve had a terrible day. You lost your temper with your kids. You got stuck in traffic and arrived twenty minutes late for an important meeting. You didn’t accomplish half the things on your list. You open your bedroom door and there, blankets disheveled, pillows askew, is one more reminder that your life is out of control.
Or maybe you had a great day. You made it to the gym. You finished a project early. You helped the kids with their homework and had time for a story before bed. You open your bedroom door, feeling elevated by all the things you accomplished, and there is your bed. Disheveled and unkempt. Your balloon of satisfaction deflates just a bit.
End Your Day With A Feeling of Pride
Now imagine how a two-minute investment at the start of the day can change the way you feel at the end of it. You had a terrible day and you just can’t wait for it to be over. You open your bedroom door and there is your bed, tidy and neat, reminding you that not all is lost. You started your day with a moment of triumph, and you’ll do the same tomorrow. And if you had an amazing day, that perfectly made bed is the icing on the cake.
After your feet hit the floor each morning, take a moment to make your bed, then pause to celebrate your accomplishment. Teach your children to do the same, and they, too, will start their day with satisfaction and pride.
Our Groundbreaking New Course
Whether you’re a veteran bed-maker or recommitting yourself to the task, you’ll learn many new strategies for putting your life in order and finding much-needed balance in our new course, Tiny Habits for Moms. Sign up here to join this life-changing workshop.
If you missed yesterday’s post explaining the neuroscience behind habit formation and the novelty response, click here to get up to speed. If you’re wondering how you can cultivate cognitive reserve in your most routine moments, you’re in the right place.
Mindful Habits or Mindless Routines?
When you first learned to drive, your brain was probably very engaged. This challenging task requires coordination between your eyes, hands, and feet in particular. You have to be aware of everything around you while also monitoring your speed and position on the road. However, over time driving becomes less of a challenge and you are eventually able to navigate all but the trickiest of roadways with only minimal engagement. This is great for your commute, but not so great for your brain.
The brain possesses an infinite capacity for mastering new skills and making them feel effortless. This is great, as it’s exactly what we need to establish healthy habits and effective routines. However, like an energetic child, it needs to be continually challenged or it can become bored and disengaged. The key is to strike the right balance between novelty and structure.
Turning Off Auto-Pilot
If you frequently can’t remember whether you took your morning supplements or arrive at work with little recollection of the drive there, your brain may be so bored by the day’s predictability that it has essentially shut off. When your routines have become mindless, you’re missing out on great opportunities to boost your brain throughout the day.
Try spicing things up by adding a small cognitive challenge to each routine task.
Now you know how you can change your everyday routines to better support your brain health, but what about that morning crossword puzzle? Is it possible it’s not as productive as you think? Check back tomorrow to find out more.
If you’re ready to learn more about the habits that support your brain health, click here to join our groundbreaking new course, Habits for Brain Health. This live, interactive course combines the Tiny Habits method with powerful, practical recipes for keeping your brain sharp now and throughout your life.
If you’re hoping to foster new habits this year that will increase your health and happiness, we’re here to help. Daily exercise, meditation, and even flossing can boost your brain health, but not all habits work in your favor. You probably already know that smoking, sugar and a sedentary lifestyle can wreak havoc on your cardiovascular and cognitive functioning, but what about your drive to work or your morning crossword?
Making Healthy Actions Automatic
Habits and routines give our lives structure and direction. Turning healthy behaviors into habits is important because you want to follow through on those actions even when your motivation is low. That’s one reason the Tiny Habits method is so successful. Often those habits become part of our daily routines, and are so engrained we don’t even have to think about them. In general, that’s a good thing. However, you certainly don’t want to go through life on auto-pilot. Your brain craves novelty and challenge to stay sharp and agile.
Pathways in the Forest
Every new thought or experience sends a tiny spasm of electricity that stimulates dendritic growth and expands your brain volume. Dendrites are like tiny pathways through your brain, and the more of them you have, the greater your cognitive reserve. If a thought or action is repeated, the pathway becomes stronger and it takes less effort to send a signal through. “Neurons that fire together wire together,” as neuroscientists say, and this is exactly how habits are formed: by repeatedly following a trigger with an action, that pathway is solidified in the brain and the action becomes more automatic each time.
Building Cognitive Reserve
Establishing strong pathways that reinforce healthy habits is a good thing. However, you don’t want your brain to become so accustomed to its most well-worn pathways that stagnation sets in. As we age, the plaques and tangles that cause Alzheimer’s disease can choke off even the most established of routes. If one pathway becomes bogged down, it’s good to have plenty of other options. As you continue to learn new things and challenge yourself throughout your life, you increase your cognitive reserve, creating a brain that is both resilient and adaptable.
This Is Your Brain On Novelty
Psychologists call it the “novelty response”, and in some ways it’s the opposite of a habit. Where a habit is so engrained you don’t even have to think about it, a novel experience requires your attention and engagement, but this is precisely why it’s so effective. When you challenge yourself to learn a new word every day, cook a new recipe or take a new class, you activate new neural networks that keep your brain alert and engaged. For the best results, be sure there’s a method to the madness. Build novelty into your day by periodically establishing new habits that challenge your brain in new ways.
Building cognitive reserve doesn’t have to be costly or time-intensive. Come back tomorrow to learn how you can increase your cognitive reserve on your drive to work or even in the shower. Click here to join our groundbreaking new course, Habits for Brain Health. This live, interactive course combines the Tiny Habits method with powerful, practical recipes for keeping your brain sharp now and throughout your life.
When my children were younger, we spent a few years homeschooling. Class started promptly at 7:30 am, in our pajamas, after we had gathered and scrambled some eggs from our free-range backyard chickens. I knew that the arrangement was temporary, and that these few extra years with my children at home were a gift that I did not want to waste. While I had always been their teacher, the role took on new meaning as I worked to create a curriculum that would inspire passion, kindness and creativity while imparting the skills they’d need to assimilate into a traditional classroom one day.
I considered my priorities. As an English major, I wanted them to crave beautiful language and stories the way I always had. As a lover of science, I wanted them to wonder how everything works, from the creation of the universe to the infinite reaches of their own minds. As a mother, I wanted them to understand the power they have in this world, and to use it well. I knew that the habits and values we form in our youth are often the most lasting.
I began collecting quotes, scriptures and verses of poetry that inspire kindness and courage. Each morning as we nibbled our toast we worked to memorize one. We learned about Nelson Mandela, who said, “We can change the world and make it a better place. It is in your hands to make a difference.” We talked about Ghandhi, who taught, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” We read Aesop’s Fables and learned, “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”
Every week we talked about someone new, someone who used this one life we’re all given to make a difference in this world, and as we went about our day we looked for opportunities to “be the change”. Soon we’d made a habit of picking up stray trash at the playground, thanking our cashiers, and smiling and making eye contact with those we meet. We learned to watch out for new members of our groups and to invite them into our circles. We looked for those who were struggling and learned to ask, “How can I help?”
In first grade my daughter returned to public school. One day her teacher told me that they’d read a book about Helen Keller in class, and that London had shared from memory Keller’s famous words, “I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. I will not refuse to do the something I can do.” I explained our homeschool devotional. “Well, it worked,” she said. “I’ve noticed that. She’s always watching. If someone is getting picked on or left out, she takes care of it.” All those words we’d learned were still there, in her mind as well as in her heart.
During this holiday season, we become more focused on serving others. Up to 88% of those who make charitable donations each year do so during the holidays. In addition to money, many individuals and families donate gifts and food to homeless shelters and needy neighbors. Others give of their time, serving in soup kitchens, caroling at nursing homes or collecting packages for soldiers stationed abroad. We recognize how blessed we are, and we search for ways to share those blessings with others.
On the heels of this season of giving we begin to contemplate the year to come. We imagine ourselves thinner, wealthier and more accomplished. We set goals and make resolutions and consider deeply the people we want to become. For many, giving is a cherished Christmas tradition, but imagine how powerful it would be if this tradition became a habit, a way of living that infused our lives every day of the year. How could you transform your own life, and the lives of those around you? As you write your resolutions for the new year, consider how in the accumulated small moments that are available to every one of us every day, it is in your hands to “be the change” and make a difference.
If 5 Ways to Improve Your Brain Health in Under 30 Seconds inspired you to care more for your brain in the coming year, click here to receive information about our upcoming course, Habits for Brain Health. If you’re ready to plant some new seeds today, try one or more of the habits below.
These habits may seem simple, but don’t be deceived. Every one of these actions can have lasting long-term effects when they become a part of your everyday life. But you don’t have to wait until your senior years to reap the benefits. The habits that support long-term brain health will also help you to feel healthier and happier while you’re still young. For information on our upcoming brain health course, click here.
I’ve been on the board of directors for a group called Choice Humanitarian for thirteen years, and am now on their advisory board. Every year when my kids were growing up we would take trips to Guatemala, into the villages where there is no running water, no electricity and no doctors. We would spend weeks there providing medical care and helping them to build water systems and schools. It was tough work, but when I ask my children about their greatest memories so far in their lives, without fail, all of them reference their experiences serving the Guatemalans. In fact, when I asked my daughter what she wanted for a high school graduation gift, she asked if we could take another trip to Guatemala.
I think when you have a 17 year old girl who says that, it really says something about the power of service. Here we went into a place where they didn’t even speak Spanish, they speak a Mayan dialect, and what surprised me the very firs time that we took a group into the very deep forest there was that even though no one spoke their dialect, what it really came down to was the universal language of love. You don’t need to know each other’s spoken tongue, but that love and just the fact that we were there to serve them immediately bonded us.
We went into these very poverty stricken communities hoping to bring them a wealth of health, and we found that they were far more wealthy than we were in the most important things in life, like loving, serving each other and compassion. That sticks with me to this day. When you go and serve someone you always come away with more than you gave. You always come away richer from the experience.
People often think that self worth and self confidence comes from awards that people earn, prizes or accomplishments, but in actuality self confidence comes from serving others and knowing that you made a difference in someone’s life. Realizing that even though you’re a single individual, you can make a big impact on people and on a community. And the best thing about service is that you don’t have to travel to Guatemala to make a difference in someone’s life. You can make a difference in your own community every single day through small acts of kindness and service that leave both you and the people you serve richer and happier.
One of my favorite quotes is on my office wall, and it states: “To the world you may be only one person, but to one person you may be the world.” Oftentimes you might think, “I can’t make a difference, I’m only one person, there’s nothing I can do,” but in reality, there’s a lot that you can do. Something as simple as a kind word to a cashier or a smile to a stranger on the street, just acknowledging other people and their worth, is huge.
When I was in junior high we moved to a new area in the middle of the school year. I found myself in a big new school, not knowing anybody, but during those first few weeks there was one girl in particular who didn’t know me, but she would say “hi” and smile, and that was enough to make me feel like I was going to be ok. It cost her nothing, but it meant the world to me.
As you celebrate the holidays and begin to think about the person you want to be in the coming year, consider how acts of service large and small can make an impact on the people in your life. Even a simple habit like saying thank-you with a smile or letting one person each day know how much they mean to you can change a person’s day, and can increase your own feelings of self-worth and efficacy. If you are feeling powerless in your own life, there is no better way to realize the difference you can make.
Having worked with clients for over 20 years in the art of improving memory I noticed that there were a number of common problems people shared:
So when I first discovered the Tiny Habits® Method it sparked my interest. I had a feeling it could perhaps be a solution to overcoming some of these key problems.
One of the simplest ways to demonstrate how Tiny Habits can help improve your memory is to pick a specific problem countless people deal with, in this case, Remembering Names.
The steps to remembering a persons name, for the most part are quite straight forward, in summary you need to do 5 different things:
Each one of these steps use part of what I refer to as creative memorisation and initially this can feel like a lot of things to do, although in real-life steps 1-4 all happen in about 3-10 seconds depending on the name.
Imagine being able to walk into a room with 20 people and walk out remembering everyones name. Depending on what line of business you are in, this can be a very valuable strategy, especially if you can meet someone a month later and still remember their name.
The biggest challenge I’ve observed is making all of this automatic and not getting caught up in old habits. This is where the Tiny Habits Method excels and makes it all feel super easy.
One of the things I love about Tiny Habits is that the ‘recipes’ for new habits are so simple to create, here’s an example of how to take the first 2 steps of remembering names and turn them into a simple tiny habit.
After I sit down on my train into work (you replace this with your own anchor, a habit which already exists in your life)
I will choose a person and ask myself, “what is interesting about them?” while I breathe, look and listen
If you did nothing else and just this for the next 7 days you would notice your ability for remembering names start to improve. Once this habit becomes automatic it starts to permeate into other parts of your life. You walk into a meeting and your brain is already primed to notice the people in the room and be ready to listen to their names rather than your mind being diverted or wondering about other things.
If you have any challenges with remembering names and you’re looking for a strategy that not only gives you a way to remember names on the fly, makes them stick and makes it all happen on autopilot then I’ve created a free 7 day email course to get you up and running over at memoryschool.com
For the next week, you can check in with me everyday on how your habits are going and I will give you some personal 1-1 email coaching.
It’s as simple as that!
You can get started at anytime, just pop over to memoryschool.com and sign up for the 7 Day free email course.
If you want to improve your memory Tiny Habits is the simplest and most effective way to create those key behaviors. Imagine if you could use this strategy to not just remember names but remember anything?
BJ Fogg, PhD
I’ve been coaching people in Tiny Habits for about four years now.
Each week people sign up for the 5-day program I offer, and then I guide them in learning and practicing the Tiny Habits method, from Monday to Friday.
Day by day — for over four years — I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t. And this has helped me make the Tiny Habits method even better.
(This daily experience has also shown me how we can improve our teaching Tiny Habits, but I’ll save that for another time.)
I decided to pull together some of the messages people sent me this week. These are habiteers who are in Day 4 of my 5-day session. As you read the notes below, you can probably imagine why it’s fun and rewarding to teach Tiny Habits. Imagine people tell you these things. It downright makes you happier.
(I’m not coaching next week; I’m taking a rare break because my family is celebrating my dad’s 80th birthday. I’ll miss the daily boost I get from sharing Tiny Habits.)
A sample of what people have told me this week:
“I’m also pleasantly surprised at how easy it’s been to nail all three habits.”
“Adopting just three tiny habits is spilling over into other areas of my life. I feel more in control of my circumstances, which in turn makes me so much more relaxed”
“The feedback and process was simple to follow, thank you for your insights!”
“I’m actively looking for excuses to do my habit (putting things away) for that little rush of a “high 5″ that I give myself.”
“I’m most surprised about how much of an impact simple celebrations make. Now I know why some elders in my family are so consistent; they are constantly heard saying, “Praise the Lord!” Thanks BJ!”
“I can see and feel results already from the tiny habits practice”
“Thank you for this course. I’ve realized that I’ve been trying to do way too much and then feeling frustrated and overwhelmed when I don’t succeed right away. This has been very eye opening for me.”
“I feel more accomplished in my tiny habits then I have I’m my whole life!”
“[I’m surprised by] the power of the celebration. The habits that I celebrated more are more automatic.”
“Results this week. More energy and more dancing to the music channel on tv.”
“Your Tiny Habits method works! Even though I have a psychology degree, and know why this works, I’m still surprised that it does.”