Shaping new habits and routines using mini habits

I’m reading an interesting little book that was recommended to me recently by a friend. It’s not about animal training, but it is about changing behavior. I’m only about halfway through the book, but I’m finding it quite thought-provoking so far. You might find it interesting as well! The book is by Stephen Guise and is called “Mini Habits: Smaller habits, bigger results.”

The book is about what Guise calls “mini habits.” A mini habit is “a very small positive behavior that you force yourself to do every day.” Basically, it is something that you commit to doing every single day and is something that is so stupidly small that you actually will be able to do it every single day.

Guise discusses in the book how he started with a mini habit of doing one push-up per day. After he established this as a mini habit, he slowly grew it into what is now a very well-established habit of going to the gym three times per week to work out.

Some other examples of daily mini habits might be:
1) Read two pages in a book
2) Learn one new word
3) Get up three minutes earlier
4) Drink one glass of water
5) Floss one tooth

Guise’s argument is that we often try to do way too much at first when changing our own behavior and we end up failing miserably as a result. We overestimate how much self-control and motivation we have, as well as our ability to change deeply ingrained habits and routines.

Instead, mini habits work well because you pick goals that are “too small to fail.” If your goal is something you might not be able to do quite every day, then it’s still too big of a goal to be a mini habit. By having goals that are achievable every single day (even when you are super busy or tired), you start inserting the mini habit as part of your daily routine and start establishing the new behavior as a habit. Also, if the requirement is very small, you’ll often be able to do more on a given day. But, you won’t feel guilty if you do have a busy day and you are able to do just one push-up.

Often when we want to build new habits, we focus on the final behavior – such as exercising for an hour a day. Trying to motivate yourself to do this can be difficult, if not impossible, especially if you are out of shape, way too busy, and don’t have a well-established habit of exercising daily.

Guise’s idea of mini habits works because he focuses first on inserting the mini habit into your daily routine using a tiny slice of behavior instead of the final behavior. This is doable, because the effort required to perform the behavior is so minimal. Then, once this tiny behavior has been established as habit, it can be gradually expanded (one push-up becomes two push-ups, then five push-ups, then ten push-ups, and so on) until you arrive at your final goal. This approach (build the habit, then scale it up) is opposite to many approaches, which focus instead on trying to do the whole behavior from the start and then working to establish it as a habit.

Can you see some parallels here to animal training and shaping??

And a wonderful trip to St. Louis

In other news, as some of you know, I recently (June 13-14) spent the weekend in St. Louis giving a two day workshop with Dr. Jesus Rosales-Ruiz for a group called HALO (Human-Animal Learning Opportunities).

JRR lecturing at HALO seminar in St. LouisWe had a fantastic time and the weekend was filled with great lectures (about functional analysis, animal welfare, PORTL and shaping, concept formation, and errorless learning), fascinating hands-on activities using the game PORTL (including topics such as differential reinforcement, extinction, schedules of reinforcement and different types of concepts), and many thought-provoking discussions. I got to see lots of old friends and meet quite a few new ones. We had attendees from Missouri, California, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Illinois, and more, including one woman who came all the way from Austria. If you missed it, plan to join us next year!

Here are some of my tweets from the weekend, which will give you a taste of some of the things we discussed.

Any behavior that has been reinforced can come back later under certain conditions.

Interconnections between repertoires form the basis for creativity. ~Robert Epstein

A trainer’s focus should be on building appropriate behavior, rather than just eliminating unwanted behavior.

Animals can learn how to ask for what they want. We are watching & discussing the video of Amy’s elevator.

Our goal should be higher than just tolerance. We want the animals to be happy, content, and enjoy what we are doing with them.

What does the animal need to be happy & healthy?
Have to look at each animal as an individual, rather than just breed or species.

Errors are not necessary for learning.

The animal’s behavior is your reinforcer.
Seeing the behavior change is very reinforcing.
Is your animal shaping you?

The learner is always right!

Functional relations are cause and effect relations – the relationships between behavior & environment.

Functional definitions — Defining behavior in terms of consequences.

Functional definitions: Running to catch the bus would be a different behavior than running from a bear! Different consequences.

Emotions are not separate from behavior, they always happen together. When we behave, we are always emotional.

Behavior is orderly, we just need to find the order!

Dr. Rosales and I are now starting the planning process for a two-day workshop that we will be giving in Novemeber in Stuttgart, Germany. Here’s the link with more information about the seminar, for any of you who are in Germany.

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