The Power of Micro-Habits for Artists and More

Below is an article I wrote in February. It feels like a lifetime ago, with everything that’s happened globally and personally, but at the time I was excited about a new way of looking at habits.

Video accompaniment, not exact reading

I’ve recently heard a lot about Micro-habits, or Atomic habits if you’re following James Clear’s book. What are they, how are they different to regular habits, and why are they beneficial? Bear in mind this is a combination of recycled information and my own experience, so read the book if you want the full picture, but here’s my filtered summary.

The premise of a Micro-habit is in reducing a task to something almost insultingly easy. Instead of running a kilometre every day, reduce it down to putting your running shoes on and walking out of the house. With such a low mental barrier it’s easy to get started, and once you’re started it’s a lot easier to continue. But if you don’t, no sweat, you didn’t “fail” as long as you did that small incredibly easy part, and you can try again tomorrow. This builds a chain of successes, generating positive feelings about your habit and encouraging you to do more.

Establishing consistency is priority one, with quantity having no bearing on it. You build up slowly to bring about long term results, rather than trying for big change immediately and getting overwhelmed or burning out. 1% better every day is 37 better over a year. It doesn’t have to be a struggle if your goal is always within your capabilities.

There’s also 3 other parts of a habit to make effective, I won’t go into here to avoid bogging down the article, but here’s a graphic.

Effective habits explanation. Wasn’t that far faster to digest than text? /s

Here are some of my New Year’s resolutions as examples of habits and how they’re going so far, which shows the effectiveness of making your habits micro (for me at least.)

Make 100 videos this year: Failure

Photo by Wahid Khene on Unsplash

I’ve only made 5 so far and it’s mid-February, so just a behind. Fortunately I can use it as an excellent example of a bad goal: It’s a perfect formula for procrastination. It doesn’t require immediate action — I could wait until September if I made daily videos — but the longer it’s left, the more condensed the work gets, and the harder it will be to do. It’s a big mental hurdle without processing it into smaller parts. Any progress I make is just a small step up the mountain, so isn’t as rewarding. It’s a hard slog to the top with no mental checkpoints, and I don’t wanna do it!

Here’s how I’d turn this goal into a micro-habit.

  • Instil a craving. Remind myself what I get out of it. For me that’s feeling like I’m helping people, so I could visualise having a finished, helpful resource when I feel that mental pushback about starting.
  • Making it Easy. Set a much more manageable, attainable, daily Routine. Either write one sentence of a script, record myself for 1 minute, or make one cut or asset in an edit. Insultingly easy, but flexible depending on what.
  • Set a Cue. Having it a part of the morning routine would ensure I do it every day, like after breakfast, but it might get in the way of other things I have to do, so perhaps a set time in the evening would be better. Having a day dedicated to video creation might also ensure I’m not pressured by anything else, like Saturday morning is video day. Will have to experiment to find what’s comfortable.
  • A Reward that’s within my control. A big part of the success in my other resolution I feel was a habit tracker, so I’m going to start using it for this as well.

Drawing every day: Success

Photo by Ahmad Ossayli on Unsplash

…because I made it only 2 minutes. It would be insulting to my self-image if I couldn’t even manage that. As a result of the low barrier to entry, I usually did way more once started, but that was by “choice”. I had already won by doing my 2 minutes.

Even if I forget, I can quickly smash it out before bed to not break the streak, which avoids getting down on myself and falling into a negative spiral. I used a habit tracker as my Reward, printed and pinned somewhere visible. Every day I complete one, I get to colour in a little circle, and I get a little dopamine bump from the feeling of accomplishment.

The funny thing is now, after two-and-a-bit months I often don’t need the reward to remind me to do it because it’s just something I do now, it’s become automatic. Or habitual, you might say.

I could still improve this habit by setting a proper cue, at the moment I do it anytime throughout the day I remember which has led to more last-minute technical completions than I’d like, so that’s something to work on.

Wrapping up

Hopefully these tips help you to make better habits, achieve your goals and improve your craft. When I was looking around for a habit tracker sheet, I found a lot but none that ticked all the boxes I wanted: showing a whole year for one habit, showing all the days linearly, and being calendar-agnostic, so I made my own.

If you like the look of it, want to save some work making one for yourself and would like to support my future endeavours, I’ve put the file up on Gumroad for a dollar. It’s in a few different formats so should find one that fits you.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next time 🙂

NZ-based designer, illustrator and writer now too I guess?