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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

Living in Integrity through Tiny Habits

Name: Chandni Sawlani

One of the biggest sources of pain and anxiety in my life, and perhaps the lives of most of us, is witnessing and knowing all that I can be but not being able to close the gap. For years like most people, I’d go through cycles of being highly motivated. Inspired by experiences that moved me deeply, I’d set powerful new intentions, take massive action, and then have all of these new behaviors fizzle away.

I first came across Tiny Habits in the middle of the pandemic in 2020. I remember going through the 5-day program, and beginning to get a sense of how it worked. My first round wasn’t too successful, but something stuck, something clicked into place, and so I gave it another shot. And BOOM…I got it! The first layer of understanding of this simple and powerful method locked in.

  1. Showing up consistently as my best self

The first piece I started to work on was my morning routine. For years I’d had fleeting phases of success with my morning routine and had experienced how this impacted the version of me I’d show up as through the day.

I started with this Tiny Habit: ‘After I open my bedroom door, I will roll out my yoga mat’ (and celebrate!). And lo and behold, there I was, rolling out my yoga mat, day after day, feeling absolute delight go through me. Soon enough, rolling out my yoga mat turned into a 20-minute yoga practice. In time, this was complemented by a meditation routine and other pieces.

Now, about a year and a half later, I wake up to my dream morning routine without fail, almost every day, even when I am travelling, even after a late night. I wake up, sip some hot herbal tea with a book to read, roll out my yoga mat and stretch, meditate for 20 minutes, send my loved ones morning messages, eat a bowl of fruit, and have a hot shower. It is my default now, and I couldn’t imagine more than a day or two of not living this routine! What’s amazing is that this routine has evolved and gone through many iterations. It’s flexible and I tweak it whenever I feel inspired to. It feels so simple to add and delete pieces, to move things around.

The returns from locking this in are priceless. I start each day feeling deeply centered and in integrity with myself. I’m able to show up to the day with stillness and with a smile. And more consistently, I have productive and successful days!

  1. Responding and no longer reacting

The second most important piece that my Tiny Habits have helped me with is responding to challenging situations, especially ones that are emotionally triggering. 

For the last few years, I have been trying really hard to navigate a certain challenging relationship with integrity. What kept me stuck was my disappointment with who I had been in this relationship. My behavior was out of alignment with the person I know I am. Intentions failed me in moments of being deeply triggered, and I’d find myself reacting with frustration and helplessness. 

When I read Amy’s story of Pearl Habits in the Tiny Habits book, it moved me to tears. I finally felt there was hope in this situation, and I had a new approach I could try. I started with the Tiny Habit: ‘After I feel emotionally triggered in a conversation, I will stand up and get into a power pose’. 

This Tiny Habit was a game-changer. It allowed me to change my physiology in a moment of stress and create a moment of pause, the space to choose my response. Over time I found myself reacting less and responding more deeply to my authentic self.

This Tiny Habit then rippled to other Tiny Habits designed specifically to navigate the nuances of this challenging relationship. Now, about 10 months from when I first started this experiment, I have managed to close and complete this relationship. There is not as much mutual acceptance as I had hoped for, but I have a sense of inner peace that comes with being in integrity with myself.

  1. Growing and evolving consistently

The third piece that my Tiny Habits have really helped with is the confidence to pursue learning and growth consistently. 

The massive gap between information and action has been a serious cause of anxiety for me. Learning was stressful because the weight of not implementing things was painful and overwhelming. 

Through Tiny Habits and the overall mindset of keeping things tiny, simple, and sustainable, I have grown confident in my ability to integrate new learnings into my life, be it professionally or personally. For instance, now whenever I complete a session of absorbing any new content or information, I have a Tiny Habit recipe: ‘After I finish reading/watching/listening to something, I will ask myself ‘What is the one thing that is most relevant for me to remember/integrate from this right now?’ This has definitely brought ease into my life, and I find myself growing and evolving more rapidly than I ever thought possible!

Tiny Habits has been the single most important framework in my toolkit for living in integrity with who I am. With my current understanding of Tiny Habits, I am confident that I can bring any change that I desire into my life, and that gives me such a sense of freedom and joy! 

I sincerely hope that you find this freedom too 🙂 Here’s a link to sign up for the free 5-day program that got me started on this journey.
Through my business Moonlight Accelerators, I support young game-changers step deeply into integrity with themselves and do their greatest work in the world! Tiny Habits is an important part of our toolkit. You can learn more here.

Change Your Relationships in Two Minutes A Day

A gratitude habit can create a seismic shift in the way you view the world. If you’re already listing the things you are grateful for each day, allow that habit to change the lives of others as well by taking the next step and expressng your gratitude for the ones you love. William Arthur Ward stated it well, “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”

There are many ways to express our gratitude to others. You might choose to simply tell them. Your habit might be, “When my spouse comes home from work I’ll tell her one reason I am thankful for her.” or “When I call my father on Sunday I’ll tell him one reason I appreciate him.”

Writing is another wonderful way of expressing gratitude to others, and can be as simple or complex as you’d like. For a while my habit was that after I dried off after a shower, I would text a family member and express my gratitude for them. A text, email or Facebook message can be a quick and easy way to reach out to a loved one.

In time my habit expanded to writing an actual note. I wanted to write a physical note to one person a day. This habit isn’t so tiny – it’s more of a bush, so I had to be sure to find a time in my day where my tiny habit would have room to grow, a time where I would typically have five minutes available to write. So my tiny habit was, “When I sit down at my desk for the first time each morning I will take out my notecards.”

There were some days when I didn’t actually write the note, when I pulled out my notecards but I didn’t have time because I had more pressing issues, but it would still trigger me to think of somebody and to think of my appreciation and gratitude for that person, and I found that it helped my mindset for the entire day. I was more appreciative of all of my family members and in general more aware.

Consider the following when expressing your gratitude:

  • Be spontaneous. This might come as a surprise in a blog about forming habits, but what I mean is to express gratitude at unexpected moments as well as expected ones. I sent my aunt a card after she organized our family reunion, but I have also sent cards simply because I was thinking of someone and wanted them to know.
  • Be specific. Thank them for their actions, but also explain why those actions meant so much to you. For example, you might say, “I wanted to thank you for the beautiful musical number you shared in church. My grandmother was a violinist and your song brought back fond memories of her.”
  • Be prepared. One way I prepared for success with this habit was by planting it in the right soil, where it would have room to grow. I also kept everything I needed on hand – my notecards and a pen were there in my desk when I sat down. I also created a second habit that supported the first; each Sunday when I sat at my desk I pulled out my cards and wrote down the names of the people I wanted to thank that week on the envelopes, so I had already decided who I wanted to write to each week and could begin thinking about what I would say to each person.

One reason I think this tiny habit is really important is that unfortunately, there are tragedies that happen in our lives and we don’t know if the individual is going to be around when we do finally decide to show our love and appreciation for them. I’ve had a number of loved ones who have taken unexpected exits, and I look back and I think, I wish I could have been able to tell them one last time how much I love them and how much I appreciate them.

Expressing your gratitude can have such a transformative effect on your life, your relationships, and the lives of others. My aunt still comments on how much that note meant to her. When you express gratitude to somebody else it creates a ripple effect for you and the person you have thanked. You’ll be more aware of the good things others bring to your life, and in turn they’ll be more aware as well, and more likely to see the positive things in their own lives.

Taking a Moment for Gratitude

In the United States, November is the month for focusing on gratitude as we prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday. Celebrating an abundant fall harvest is a common practice in many cultures, and with good reason. There are many documented benefits to approaching your life with gratitude. Those who do:

  • Experience fewer aches and pains.
  • Exercise more often and are more physically fit.
  • Sleep more soundly. 
  • Expand their life expectancy by up to 7 years. 
  • Are more physically and mentally resilient.
  • Have reduced rates of depression.
  • Have greater empathy for others. 
  • Have increased self-esteem. 
  • Are more appreciative of others’ accomplishments. 
  • Have stronger and more satisfying relationships. 

Taking a moment to reflect on the positive can have far-reaching effects on many facets of our lives. As Eckhart Tolle stated, “Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance.”

Cultivating Gratitude

When you’re working to cultivate a habit of gratitude, it’s important to formulate a recipe tiny enough that you will feel capable of completing it even when your motivation is low. The simplest version might be: 

“When my head hits the pillow, I will think of something that I’m grateful for.” 

Consider, also, the timing of the habit. Beginning your day with gratitude can be a powerful way of adjusting your mindset so you are more aware and appreciative of the good things that happen as you go through your day. Gratitude at night is good for reflecting on your day and the positive things you’ve experienced, and can set the stage for contentment and restful sleep. 

Expanding Your Habit

In our next blog post we’ll explore some ways to take your internal gratitude habit and make it external. For now, here are some suggestions on ways you can make an internal habit more powerful. 

  1. Say it aloud. Thinking of something you are grateful for is an excellent start, and for some people it may be enough, but speaking a thought aloud makes it more concrete and more emotionally resonant. When I sit down to a meal, I will say one thing I am grateful for.
  2. Write it down. Like speaking the thought aloud, writing it down requires you to make the thought more defined. In addition, adding the physical movement of writing activates more of the brain and makes the thought more “sticky”. Writing also provides the added benefit of creating a log that you can look back on over time and reflect on the richness of your life. However, it does require a bit more time and available materials than a thought or spoken gratitude. When I get into bed, I will open my gratitude journal. 
  3. Make it specific. Consider why you are grateful for each person or thing. Instead of simply listing that you are thankful for your spouse, expand the thought by including that you are thankful for your spouse because he made your favorite dinner or because she always puts her phone down when you’re talking. If you are grateful for the things in your life, consider what those things allow you to do, be, accomplish or experience. For example, you might be grateful for your car because it allows you to get to work or for your new tennis shoes because they enable you to run without pain. 

Taking a moment to acknowledge the positive things in your life can color your entire day. When you choose to view your life through a lens of gratitude, you create a mindset that enables you to see the opportunity in a challenge and the many small blessings that are present in every day.