How to turn obstacles into opportunities with Tiny Habits

On the 4th of September, my life changed forever. Of course, I had no way of knowing that would be the day. I thought I was in Bali to celebrate my friend’s marriage and figure out the next chapter of my life. You see, my husband and I had decided to separate only a few days before. I had no idea the universe was about to deal such an unexpected hand. 

I was drugged at the wedding, abducted, violently, and repeatedly assaulted, and had a huge accident coming off a motorcycle trying to escape. This resulted in a mild traumatic brain injury and spine, neck, head, and nerve injuries. I couldn’t do much at all for more than two years. I couldn’t even legally make my own decisions because of my traumatic brain injury (TBI).

I was terrified of doing anything which might limit me. I avoided people; I avoided love; I avoided connection. I avoided friends, family—everyone. My natural state is an adventurer, explorer, extrovert, and I love people—but I became a hermit. I stopped exercising and socializing, which I had done all my life. I barely left the house. I told no one, not even friends or family or even my mother, what was going on. I didn’t show up to things when I said I would, though I prided myself on my reliability and reputation before this. 

I took approx 12 types of medication—anti-depressants, anti-anxiety, pain relief, sleeping tablets, sedatives, nerve medication. Otherwise, I could barely move, and I looked kind of like I had MS as a result of my collapsed spine pressing on my nerves. 

In the beginning, it was so bad I needed help to remember to do basic things, like take a shower. I’m grateful I didn’t need to learn to read, write or walk again—I was fortunate to have a mild TBI. Space and time seemed to merge into one for me. I had an excellent memory before the incident—it was one of my superpowers. Afterward? I couldn’t remember anything, but I was too embarrassed to tell anyone, so I wrote down what I did each hour of each day in my iPhone calendar in case someone asked me what I had been up to; otherwise, I couldn’t recall.

I gained a lot of weight as I was recovering, which was the least of my worries, to be fair. I didn’t look in a mirror anyway as I couldn’t look at the woman who stared back at me. Who was she? I didn’t recognize her at all. I relived the trauma day after day. I had flashbacks and was often terrified to go to sleep. My hair fell out. I never felt safe. I installed locks on every window, deadbolts on my doors, and locks on each internal door inside the house. I checked the locks countless times each day. I had the consistent pestering thought, “You’re not supposed to be here.” I felt endless shame and guilt that my recovery/getting back on track was taking so long. I felt like an utter failure day after day.

I was abducted. And that makes me an abduction survivor.

I narrowly escaped with my life.

My spine did collapse, and I did have a TBI (traumatic brain injury) from the experience.

And yup, I was violently and repeatedly assaulted.

Yeah, it did take several years, teams of people, and emptied my bank accounts to recover.

No, I didn’t tell many people when it was happening as I was so ashamed.

Dad drowned in a boating tragedy, check.

Mum went to prison; I had a violent stepfather, a tumultuous upbringing, check.

My best friend died while this was happening. My marriage ended. Yeah, I can tick those boxes too.

Each of us has a story to tell.

Our own version of these types of struggles and challenges.

Each of us has a life filled with trials and tribulations, ups and downs, highs and lows, the good times and the bad. Some of us have had horrific experiences as part of our destiny, some of us have had a life filled with shiny, magic moments, and most of us have some sort of combination.

What each of us takes out of these experiences — whether consciously or unconsciously — will ultimately shape our future.

We may not get to choose what happens to us, but we decide what we will make things mean.

What we decide shapes our experience of the world and our identity.

I have never worked so hard in all my life to overcome my obstacles, but at some point, I thought there has to be a better way, there has to be something I can do, and this is where Tiny Habits entered my life.

How the Tiny Habits Methods helped me overcome obstacles

At the time, I barely wanted to leave the house. Starting exercising seemed insurmountable.
I wasn’t lacking motivation; I was so terribly full of fear and feeling unsafe that I felt I couldn’t face people. 

But walking to the letterbox and back? Now that I could do.

Getting my exercise clothes ready for a workout? Now that I could do.

The Tiny Habits Method was helping me achieve both Fogg Maxim #1 & #2.

Fogg Maxim #1: Help people do what they already want to do.

Fogg Maxim #2: Help people feel successful.

So, where did I start? Where you can begin, too:
Start way smaller than you think you need to. Set yourself up for a win. 

Tiny Habit Recipes for Wellbeing, Exercise & Weight Loss

After I prepare my PJs in the evening, I will prepare a set of exercise clothes/shoes and put them in the bathroom and celebrate by smiling and thinking, “I got this!”

Why this works: I was already getting clothes ready to wear after my evening shower—my PJs and robe. So it was very easy to open another drawer and take exercise clothes to the bathroom with me. I even moved my exercise clothes to live in the drawer next to my PJs, so it was super, super easy.
I recommend this—making things easy to do, rather than relying on memory or motivation.

The pairing: Well-being stuff in the bathroom always works well for me (and my clients & fellow coaches too.) The only thing I needed to do was open another drawer and take a set of clothes out. I also started storing exercise gear in ready-to-go sets—rather than tops/shorts separately.

The frequency? Once per day

Time the recipe takes? 15-30 seconds

It also made me feel prepared, future-focused, and on top of the next day, in advance.

After I pee for the first time in the morning (final step: washing my hands/hanging the hand towel up), I will get dressed in my exercise clothes/shoes and celebrate by doing a Serena Williams fist pump.

Why this works: This Tiny Habits recipe made me feel like someone who worked out—it started to shift my identity and how I saw and related to myself. Also, once I was in my clothes and shoes, I felt like I needed to do something before getting out of them.

The pairing: Wellbeing stuff in the bathroom

The frequency? Once per day

Time the recipe takes? Approx 15 seconds.

After I finish the last mouthful of my first coffee, I will walk to the letterbox (and celebrate by clapping my hands).

Why this works: I was in action. Tiny, simple, action—walking. 

The pairing: Coffee is a feel-good morning ritual, so I wanted to anchor exercise in here.

The frequency? Once per day

Time the recipe takes? Approx 15 seconds.

Want to earn extra credit? Keep walking! Just remember to practice your celebration first.

Focus on Celebration

Celebration is how we make our habits automatic. It creates a feeling of positive emotion right after we practice our Tiny Habit recipe—our new behaviour—or while we are doing it. It teaches us how to be our own BBF and to be kind to ourselves.

Focus on Creating Success Momentum

Rather than doing one big thing once, do small things lots of times. This gives us lots of small opportunities for success, which is actually more important than one single opportunity for larger success.

“It’s the frequency of success, not the size of success, that matters.” – Dr BJ Fogg

Real-Life Results

5-30 seconds a day using the Tiny Habits method have resulted in some massive changes.

I’ve reduced my body fat by 12%.

I’ve reduced my weight by 25lb and kept it off (approx 100-200g fat loss per week.)

Last December I could only lift a broomstick, and now I can Olympic lift.

I’ve used the Tiny Habits Method to stop taking all medication. I’ve now been medication-free for 12-months.

I’ve used Tiny Habit Recipes to assist with overwhelm, anxiety, and PTSD flashbacks. 

I couldn’t jump around at all when I began with Tiny Habits. I was so scared my spine would collapse. I started skipping in 2020, and now I dance every day.

I move my body 12,000 steps (10-15km) every day, even without going to the gym, by using Tiny Habits Recipes. I’ve consistently averaged 13,000 steps per day for two years now (I track this using Oura.)

Want to learn more

The Contributor

Kristy B

kristybertenshaw.com

igI write things & stuff on Medium

DANIELLE Rusk