The Power of Micro Commitments
How many times have you told yourself that you need to stop eating so much sugar? How many times you have started sketching out ideas for your novel, only to abandon them a few months/weeks/days in?
Change is hard, even if it is for the better. Any goal that needs behavioral changes on your part will have to be hard-fought within your own mind. Bigger the goal, the bigger the change, and the harder it would be for you to incorporate that.
So should you let your dream novel be? Should you stop trying to make healthier food choices?
Of course not. You just need to trick your brain into accepting the changes it is going to experience in order for you to achieve this goal. You need to start practicing micro-commitments.
Why does the brain fear change?
Our brain handles a multitude of complex functions all day every day. The way it keeps itself sane throughout all this is by making habits. When you do the same behavior repeatedly, the neural pathways connected to that activity gets strengthened. The stronger neural connections an activity has, the less work and energy your brain has to invest in it. So your brain pushes you form habits.
Problem is, your brain does not differentiate between ‘good’ or ‘bad’ habits. For it, any change from the established pattern is a cause for threat.
So when you want to stop eating sugar after several years of indulging in it, your brain will resist you stiffly. Not eating sugar at all is a pretty big step, and your brain will be overwhelmed by the mere thought of it, and release a stress response. Your cortisol levels will rise, and to get out of that bad feeling you’ll overcompensate by going back to sugar consumption with renewed vigor.
The intense fear you feel when considering a future goal is your brain telling you it is not ready for such a big leap. Most of us let that fear take hold of us, sooner or later. This is why so many of our diets fail – because we cannot take the stress of unfamiliar habits anymore.
The way out – go micro with your goals
Cutting out sugar altogether is a big step; you will experience big cravings, and maybe even withdrawal symptoms. Worst case scenario, your brain will frighten you before you even begin. But going without sugar for a day every week doesn’t sound so bad, right?
And that’s exactly what micro-commitments are all about. Ask yourself, “What is the tiniest amount of change I can introduce without stretching too much out of my comfort zone?” Start with that. Keep doing it until it becomes part of your comfort zone, your habit. Then add another day. By the end of six months, you would have cut down an enormous amount of your regular sugar intake, all without stressing about it.
Why it works
It is rooted in positivity
What you are experiencing here is a gradual but steady widening of your comfort zone. If you did something drastically out of your comfort zone, your brain will respond negatively. But introducing small changes works as playful challenges to it. A micro-commitment is challenging enough to engage your brain, but not so much as to threaten it. You are working your way through the transformation by increasing your comfort, not taking it away altogether. Hence, focusing on micro-commitments makes your brain feel positive about change.
You experience more success with small wins
Its is tough to succeed on an elaborate and far-reaching goal like writing a novel. But succeeding in writing 200 words every day is pretty easy. If you set your goal with 200 words/day, you will be achieving a goal every day pretty easily. Every time we succeed, our brain gives us a little ‘high’ of feel-good hormones that makes us positive and motivated for more success. The more you experience that ‘high’, the better motivated you are for future successes.
So breaking up your final goal into multiple easy-to-succeed goals actually gives you the sense of success a lot more than if you had pursued that one monolithic goal. In turn, these little successes build up to give you a far better shot at actually achieving the bigger goal – writing that novel.
So whenever you need to make a big change in your life, don’t fret or stress about it. Instead, break it up in easily achievable units, and before you know it, you’ll have turned over a new leaf. Lofty dreams and bigger pictures are great for imagination. To get the work done, however, focus on the small scale. That’s where the magic lies!