Establishing habits is easier with better than nothing behaviour.

Get in the Habit with Better-Than-Nothing Behaviour

When it comes to setting goals – establishing a morning routine, for example, or breaking a bad habit – we often underestimate the effort and time required.

Of course, once we define the full scope of work, it becomes obvious that lowballing the time frame leads to an inevitable end.

We panic, and then most of us quit. 

There’s too much work, and there’s too little time, so what’s the point of even starting? 

We’ve all stood at the same precipice, albeit for different reasons, questioning our purpose and looking for an excuse to let ourselves off the hook. At that moment, all we’re really looking for is justification to give up. To give into fear and not feel guilty for doing so. 

Establishing new habits, whether that’s writing a book, creating a daily fitness routine or eating healthier, is hard work – and we make it more challenging by setting unrealistic goals with unreasonable timelines. 

Let’s not forget about patience, too. Studies show it can take up to 254 days to form a new habit. Moments of frustration come and go, with your progress hitting peaks and valleys along the way.

So, it’s important to remain consistent in your daily behaviour, especially when motivation wanes and energy wavers.

Establishing habits is easier with better than nothing behaviour.
Photo by S O C I A L . C U T

What is better-than-nothing behaviour? 

Christine Carter, sociologist and author of the book The Sweet Spot: How to Accomplish More by Doing Less, offers “the one-minute secret to forming a new habit” in a short video on TED. In it, she shares a simple tip to help keep you on track to achieving your most monumental aspirations. 

The trick is to shift your mindset and focus on developing better-than-nothing behaviours or simple habits that move you incrementally towards your larger goals. 

Carter uses running as an example, and how the goal of completing a half marathon prevented her from establishing a daily jogging routine.

She envisioned running several miles each day and being in peak condition within a few short months. And after valiantly giving it the old college try, she did what any of us would do: she gave up. 

We perceive the effort required to achieve a goal as being relevant to its importance – meaning, the greater the ambition, the more motivation and energy needed to reach that objective. 

But what if the solution was a lot easier? Laughably easier, as a matter of fact. 

With better-than-nothing behaviours, we’re able to shorten the curve and remove obstacles from our path. As long as we abandon grand plans (temporarily) and allow ourselves to be bad at something in the beginning (patience, young padawan). 🐢🐇

The key is repetition over high achievement, and making it easier than ever to show up each day.

In Carter’s case, rather than focusing on finishing a half marathon, she shifted her ambitions to running for one measly minute each day. That’s it. Just one minute a day. 

Ridiculously easy, right? 

And most days, once the first 60 seconds was up, she would continue to run for several minutes longer. Overtime, one minute became five, then ten, then twenty, and so on. 

Now, she runs several miles every day and for a lot longer than just one minute, and while she might not become a marathon runner, she successfully adopted the habit of jogging daily – which is a marathon in itself. 

Here’s the point: 👉 results compound with better-than-nothing behaviours and tiny habits.

Adopting Tiny Habits

Along the same vein of better than-nothing behaviours are tiny habits. 

In January 2020, BJ Fogg, social scientist and founder of the Behavior Design Lab at Stanford University, published the book Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything.

Fogg has studied human behaviour for over 20 years, and in the book he offers a practical guide to creating or changing habits quickly and effectively.  

👣 Again, baby steps in behaviour and small shifts in environment have the biggest impact on our ability to successfully adopt new routines, learn new skills, and ultimately, achieve our goals. 

Another book with the same message is Atomic Habits: Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results by James Clear.

Clear describes habits as being the compound interest of self-improvement, and teaches us how to overcome a lack of willpower and motivation with practical systems and simple processes. 

In Atomic Habits, Clear presents “an easy and proven way to build good habits and break old ones.” The concept is to encourage productivity and progress by establishing tiny routines that become automatic with little effort.

Consider writing a book: the better-than-nothing behaviour is to write one paragraph a day. To make it even easier to do such a small task, put a few tiny habits in place, like leaving your Google Doc along with your research documents open on your computer before going to bed. 

When you wake up, the transition to getting down to business is a lot smoother. You don’t have to wait for your computer to boot up, launch your internet browser, open the document you’re working in, or look for your supporting research. 

Doing so reduces the likelihood of procrastinating or becoming sidetracked by email, social media, or any other of the distractions found on the web. 

Did you know there are productivity apps which limit your access to social media during pre-established time periods?

What about environmental factors? Here’s what I do to help me stick with my daily writing habit:

  • I preemptively remove distractions from my workspace to facilitate success—my cell phone is out of reach, the television is off, and instrumental music is often playing in the background.

  • I free write in 30-minutes chunks and work under focused constraints—similar to the Pomodoro Technique or the method used by copywriting legend Eugene Schwartz, it’s a repetitive race against the clock, or a quick writing sprint until the timer goes off.

  • I take conscious breaks when writer’s block kicks in or inspiration falters—rather than butting my head against the wall, I recalibrate by stepping outside for a breath of fresh air or shift gears to another WIP.

Long story short – set the stage for an easy start, embrace being bad at the beginning, and aim for small wins that add up over time. 

Did you set a goal for 2021 that isn’t going as planned? Maybe you’re just about ready to give up on that New Year’s resolution? 

🗣 Let’s chat about how we can get you back on track by breaking it down into tiny habits and better-than-nothing behaviours – hit me up at or slide in DMs on Twitter or Facebook.

There are three pencils, each with a broken tip.

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