Why "Micro-Decisions" are the secret to habit-building

Mar 3, 2024

This week, we’re talking all about the power of "micro-decisions."

A micro-decision is any of the small-seeming decisions we make — usually in less than a minute — that help us achieve our goals. Often they’re a small but mighty step in the right direction. They range from getting up at a certain time, to writing down one thing we’re grateful for, to taking the stairs instead of the elevator, and more. 

Research consistently shows that small decisions have a huge impact on our life and our goals. The science behind micro-decisions has been popularized by James Clear, who focuses on the power of seemingly small habits in achieving big goals, and BJ Fogg, a professor at Stanford University, who crafted the Tiny Habits method. 

So, why focus on tiny decisions? Firstly, they are more sustainable. In part, that is because they are less intimidating. The thought of meditating for an hour can be daunting, but taking a few deep breaths for a minute? That’s doable. 

Secondly, small actions reduce the risk of burnout. They require less effort and energy, making it easier to stay consistent. And as we’ve learned, consistency is key in habit formation. Over time, small actions compound, leading to significant changes that are both sustainable and impactful.

Here are 4 Benefits of Micro-Decisions:

💰 Incremental progress → transformative results (think compounding interest!)

💪🏽 Reduced resistance and fear of failure through positive feedback loops (and easy wins!)

🌤🌈 Flexibility, Adaptability, and Resilience (it’s easy to try again and start smaller)

🧘🏽‍♀️ Improved mental well-being (committing to tiny changes is way less stressful than making a huge change all at once!)

Start here: Choosing your first micro-decision

We want to start small. We invite you consider one micro-decision that you can make today that can support your day or week. The key is simplicity.

Maybe it’s writing down one thing you’re grateful for, taking three deep breaths right now, setting the timer for 5 minutes of stretching, or opening that google doc you’ve been avoiding (and closing Instagram…) 

Whatever you choose, make it a decision that feels manageable. By concentrating on one decision at a time, you ensure consistency and reduce the risk of feeling overwhelm. Easy does it!

Here are a few ideas for Micro-Decisions:

👟 Put your running shoes or workout clothes where they can’t be missed

💧 Drink a small glass of water first thing in the morning

👚 Lay out your clothes the night before

⏰ Set a bedtime timer (and make those devices difficult to use, by charging them away from your bed! 😅)

What Micro-Decision did you choose to try this week?

Try This: The Two-Minute Rule

The Two-Minute Rule was popularized by productivity expert James Clear, and states: if a task takes less than two minutes, do it immediately

This principle is perfect for Micro-Decisions. It can apply to things that come up in your day: messages you need to reply to, or putting a cup in the dishwasher, for example — but its real magic is in engaging for 2 minutes in something that is hard or new for you. Want to start flossing? Begin with just one tooth. The idea is to make the starting point so easy that you just can’t say no.

Here are some "Two-Minute Rule" examples for new habits:

📖 “Read before bed each night” becomes “Read one page.”

🧘🏽‍♀️ Do thirty minutes of yoga” becomes “Take out my yoga mat.”

📓 “Study for class” becomes “Open my notes.”

🧦 “Fold the laundry” becomes “Fold one pair of socks.”

👟 “Run three miles” becomes “Tie my running shoes.”

Do you have a new habit you're trying to build? Is there a way you can modify it with the "Two-Minute Rule"?

Bonus Tip: Habit Stacking!

Habit Stacking is one of our favorite strategies, and it's simple: Bundle the new habit you're trying to build with something you’re already doing.

For instance, if you’re trying to cultivate a reading habit, decide to read a page after your nightly toothbrushing ritual. The Habit Stacking technique creates a natural cue for your new habit, ensuring you don’t forget it. Even better, stack what’s not so fun with something you love — like folding laundry while watching your favorite show. Try it, and let us know how it goes!

Here are 3 tips to help you make Micro-Decisions and build tiny habits:

🕰 Choose a consistent time for your habit (e.g., when you wake up, at the same time as another habit, immediately after another habit, or when you go to bed)

🦅 Remind yourself of the bigger picture, and track progress towards your bigger vision or goal.

💗 If you miss a day of a new habit, offer yourself compassion and get back on it tomorrow!

🔍 Check in with yourself every few months — are your habits still serving you? Do you want to try something else? Do you need additional support?

Final thoughts on Micro Decisions

As we know here at focused, celebrating small wins reinforces what we’ve been doing well, and gives us more energy to continue. To celebrate, we have to first track our progress, which can be easy to forget.

Tracking our progress can look like ticking off days you do a new habit in a notebook and rewarding yourself to a dance party to your favorite song, favorite tasty treat, evening of a favorite show, or lunch out with yourself or a friend — whatever floats your boat!

Here are a few of my other tips on how to stay on track:

🥰 Find an accountability partner to share your intentions, or just to check in with occasionally.

⏰ Set reminders for your new habits and decisions — with sticky notes, on your phone, or whatever works for you.

🌱🌲 Visualize where you’re going, and how the steps you’re taking will get you there 🙂

Thanks for reading, and I'll see you in a session soon!

— Anna