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Use Micro Habits to Tackle Big Health and Productivity Goals

Try this trick to help you tackle everything from learning a new skill to kicking a bad habit like overeating or smoking.

Image: A hand arranges wood blocks :: TanawatPontchour / TanawatPontchour
A micro-habit is basically just a really small step on how you can start doing pretty much anything you want to do. TanawatPontchour / Getty Images/iStockphoto
A micro-habit is basically just a really small step on how you can start doing pretty much anything you want to do. TanawatPontchour / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Wisconsinite Peter Schroeder is transforming small habits into daily routines.

A digital marketing specialist at SchoolKeep, Schroeder has used “micro-habits” to master reading, learning a new language and even web development.

“A micro-habit is basically just a really small step on how you can start doing pretty much anything you want to do,” Schroeder tells NBC NEWS BETTER.

For example, if you want to become a runner, start by taking a jog around your block once a day instead of attempting a full mile.

“It’s overcoming that first step of saying ‘Wow, this is a really incredible monumental thing that I need to do. How am I going to get there?’ As opposed to just taking one step at a time,” Schroeder explains.

Why micro-habits work

Micro-habits are effective because they are easy and prevent you from making excuses, according to the 23-year-old.

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“When I wanted to start reading more, I started reading just a page before bed just to get the habit down and doing it over and over, just getting a page a night,” says Schroeder. “I couldn’t say no to a page a night because it takes you a minute to do.”

Over time, Schroeder’s reading habit evolved from 5 minutes a night to over 30 minutes.

“Once a habit becomes part of your routine you can do it without thinking about it. It’s like brushing your teeth,” he explains.

How to incorporate micro-habits into your day: the “trigger, craving, reward” cycle

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To develop new habits, incorporate them into a current routine. For example, Schroeder learns French on the language learning app Duolingo while he eats breakfast every morning.

“In the mornings when I’m having breakfast it’s just a habit to do 10 minutes of Duolingo,” he says.

He said breakfast triggers him to get into the routine of doing his lessons, which leads to a craving for the reward that comes with completing the task.

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“It goes from trigger to craving to the reward,” he says.

Micro-habits also come in handy for kicking bad habits, said Schroeder.

“Maybe just having one less cigarette a day, or one less drink a day if you’re a heavy drinker,” he says.

Using micro-habits to develop professional skills

When Schroeder was an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, he needed to learn programming for a class. He took 5-10 minutes out of his day to teach himself how to code through Codecademy.

It’s overcoming that first step of saying ‘Wow, this is a really incredible monumental thing that I need to do. How am I going to get there?’ As opposed to just taking one step at a time.

It’s overcoming that first step of saying ‘Wow, this is a really incredible monumental thing that I need to do. How am I going to get there?’ As opposed to just taking one step at a time.

“Whether it’s people just trying to improve professionally or people just trying to learn new things, it all just starts with baby steps and once it’s ingrained in the process then it can grow from there,” says Schroeder.

Schroeder believes anyone can use micro-habits to form new habits they wouldn’t typical attempt otherwise.

“It can make them open their eyes to a whole new world of things that they can do and possibilities they can achieve,” Schroeder concludes.

How to use micro-habits

  • A micro-habit is a small step to starting something new.
  • Micro-habits work because they are easy: it’s hard to make excuses not to do them.
  • You can also use micro-habits to kick bad habits, like smoking. For example, instead of forsaking cigarettes altogether, smoke one less a day.
  • To develop a micro-habit, pick something you want to learn and incorporate it into a current routine, like eating breakfast. This sets the “trigger, craving, reward” cycle.
  • Once it becomes part of your routine, you’ll start doing it without thinking about it.

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