Small Habit Revolution by Damon Zahariades is a book that teaches a simple yet powerful technique. That of using small actions to build new habits. According to Damon:
We can learn to speak new languages. We can learn to survive in the wilderness. We can learn to cook delicious, mouth-watering meals. We can learn to parallel park (no small feat for some of us!) And we can train ourselves to adopt new, life-enriching habits that improve our long-term health, wealth, and productivity. That’s the purpose of this action guide. I’m going to show you the best method for creating positive, healthy habits. And importantly, I’m going to show you how to make these habits stick.
This is not a big book, with just about 160 pages but it does teach a strategy which anyone can start using straight away to make changes to their life.
The book is divided into seven parts. Each of the parts are outlined below.
PART 1: HOW DEVELOPING HEALTHY HABITS IMPROVES YOUR QUALITY OF LIFE
In this section you will read about the benefits of developing new habits. Each of these benefits is discussed as a separate chapter. Here are the benefits:
- Lower stress levels
- Better focus
- Improved productivity
- Stronger relationships
- Greater sense of joy
- Better sleep quality
- Improved physical health
- Ability to take lightening fast decisions
- Increase creativity
- Greater self confidence
- Stronger commitment to your goals
PART 2: TRIGGERS, ROUTINES, REWARDS AND LOOPS
Damon starts this part of the book with this statement:
Every habit, good or bad, healthy or unhealthy, is prompted by a trigger. When the habit is performed, it is either rewarded or punished. When habits are rewarded, they become behavioural loops, which reinforces themselves over time.
This part of the book focuses on triggers, routines, rewards and loops. These four are crucial in helping us develop habits whether good or bad.
The first section in this part of the book is titled, FIRST THINGS FIRST: DEFINITIONS. Here some key definitions are discussed. The definitions discussed are:
- Trigger: A trigger is a cue or circumstance that spurs you to perform an action.
- Routine: A routine is an action performed over and over. It’s another way of referring to a habit or behavioural pattern.
- Reward: Rewards reinforce routines. They represent what you gain whenever you perform an action or series of actions.
- Loop: A loop encompasses the three previous definitions. Every behavioural loop consists of a trigger, a routine and a reward.
- Keystone Habit: A keystone habit is a routine that influences, and even triggers, other routines or behaviours.
According to Damon:
These five definitions will help to clarify the ideas found throughout the rest of this action guide. They’ll prove invaluable when we get to my simple 10-step plan for developing new habits that stick.
So, if you are reading the book, it’s important to get a good grasp of those five definitions.
The next section in this part is – THE FIVE DIFFERENT TYPES OF TRIGGERS. Here Damon discusses five triggers which are:
- Time: We all go through certain routines based on what time of the day it is. For example, waking up to brush our teeth or whatever it is you are used to doing when you wake up. Therefore, time is one of the most common issues. It’s a valuable tool for developing new routines because it’s easy to control.
- Location: Habits can be triggers based on settings. We may associate certain behaviours with some specific locations.
- State of mind: Our mind plays an important role in the way we behave. Our state of mind affects how we feel which can trigger certain behaviours.
- People: The people we are around can trigger us to behave in certain ways.
- Preceding event: Our routines are comprised by a series of actions, so preceding actions we take can be a trigger for the next actions we can take.
The other topics discussed in this section are:
- How triggers and routines lead to new habits
- How rewards reinforce newly-formed habits
- How to create strong habit loops
- Remember, you’re in control
PART 3: MOTIVATION VS WILLPOWER. WHICH ONE DICTATES YOUR SUCCESS?
This part of the book looks at motivation and willpower and answers the question of whether they can help us succeed in building good habits. The first section looks at why motivation is not enough for us to succeed and four reasons discussed are:
- Motivation is not constant. You don’t feel motivated all the time.
- Motivation is unpredictable. You can’t anticipate it.
- Motivation is short-lived.
- Motivation is often dependent on our internal messaging. If you don’t feel like doing something, it can be difficult to motivate yourself to do it.
What about willpower? While willpower can help us to take actions, it has it’s own shortcomings and is ultimately not the answer because:
- Willpower is a finite resource
- It has a short-term nature
Damon believes building small habits is a better solution than trying to find motivation or willpower
PART 4: 10 STEPS TO FORMING HEALTHY HABITS THAT LAST
This is a key part of the book as it outlines ten steps we can take to form healthy habits that last. Here are the ten steps:
- Clarify the goal you want to achieve with your new habit.
- Identify the habit you want to develop.
- Break down your new habit to its smallest iteration.
- Create a cue to trigger the habit.
- Establish a clear objective.
- Design a plan to slowly increase your new habit.
- Create a simple reward system.
- Perform the habit at the same time each day.
- Identify the stumbling blocks that can sabotage you.
- Monitor your progress once a week.
PART 5: SEVEN RULES FOR SETTING YOURSELF UP FOR SUCCESS
If you have followed the ten steps discussed in the previous section how do you set yourself up from success? Damon discusses another seven rules for setting yourself up to succeed. This rules are:
- Start small – big changes encounter greater personal resistance so starting with small changes is much easy and has a higher possibility of success.
- Commit to performing your new habit for 30 days – If you can do it continually and consistently for 30 days, it’s more likely to be a habit.
- Develop one habit at a time – Damon writes that, ‘one of the reasons so many people give up on their New Year’s resolutions is because they try to do too much at once.’ It’s better to try and develop one new habit at a time, at the most two.
- Disclose your new habit to others – Tell people who can hold you accountable about the habit.
- Perform your new habit early in the morning – Damon believes that performing a new habit early in the morning is easier because there is less personal resistance to it.
- Remind yourself of your reasons – Remind yourself of the purpose for your new habit.
- Be willing to forgive yourself if you fail – Occasional failures will happen as you try to develop your new habit. When they happen, forgive yourself, get up and get back on the habit trail.
PART 6: HOW TO GUARANTEE YOUR NEW HABIT WILL LAST
This part of the book has information similar to what has been discussed in previous sections but the information here is still worth reviewing because it gives us a way to guarantee the new habits we are developing lasts. The first question answered here is, why new habits fail to stick and some of the explanations Damon offers include:
- When the new desired behaviour or routine is too big of a change for the person.
- Many people beat themselves up when they make mistakes along the way. This can be a discouragement to continue.
- When people focus more on the outcome than the routine itself.
- When people lose track of the purpose for wanting the new habit.
- When people fail to create a supportive environment to support their new habit.
- When people try to adopt too many new habits at once.
In addition these are things that can help to maintain the habit:
- Leverage the power of accountability. This has been mentioned before.
- Use Seinfeld’s calendar strategy. If you are interested in this one then do some research to learn what the calendar is. Or better still, read the book.
- Link your new habit to a reliable cue. A cue is something that triggers the behaviour that leads to the habit.
- Insert your new routine into an existing habit stack.
- Put your new habit on your daily calendar or to-do list.
- Reflect on the positive effects of your new habit.
PART 7: EXAMPLE HABITS YOU CAN DEVELOP USING THE SMALL HABIT STRATEGY
This is the final part of the book where Damon suggests 23 small habits that we can develop to change our lives. These are the habits:
- Eat breakfast
- Practice active listening
- Do pushups, crunches and squats
- Master the art of conversation
- Drink more water
- Write in a personal journal
- Compliment strangers
- Take short walks
- Read non-fiction books
- Declutter your workspace
- Smile at people
- Wake up earlier
- Express your gratitude
- Keep in touch with friends
- Help people
- Track how you spend your time
- Learn new things
- Save money
- Use the time chunking method
- Start each day with a to-do list
- Learn to breathe properly
- Take immediate action
The concept in this book is simple and it works. I can say that because I have tried it personally in areas such as doing exercise for five days a week and writing a first draft of a 50-page eBook by writing for just 10-minutes a day. It’s a simple concept that can have very far reaching positive outcomes if we practice it.
So, I do recommend the book. You don’t have to read it start to finish but make sure you read enough of it to start building your own small habits.