Stretch More: Building a Healthy Tiny Habit
Last updated: March 2022
My first attempt at Move More, Sit Less had mixed results. Yes, I took more walks than I would have otherwise. But I didn’t feel any better physically and I hadn’t established a new habit.
It was time to regroup.
I went back and reviewed what BJ Fogg has to say about establishing tiny habits and I tried again. Working step-by-step (no pun intended) through his process I came up with a new healthy tiny habit.
Step 1: Make the tiny habit something you want
Making the habit something you want, and not something you should, is key.
Honestly, life with diabetes is filled with more than enough shoulds. You should eat only this. You should lose 10, 20, 50, 100 lbs. You should always wear shoes. You should exercise for 30 minutes or more every day. It’s enough to make you scream.
So, what is it that I want?
I want to improve my health through physical activity. That’s an awfully big an idea. In fact, it’s overwhelming.
What I really want is to physically feel better. Moving more is the way I’m going to get at this. I don’t want to feel the pain that comes from exertion, but rather the warmth and relaxation that comes from movement flexing.
This understanding was missing from my walking challenge. I was so focused on just getting up and doing something that I didn’t think about what it was that I really wanted to experience. As a result, I don’t have any desire to keep walking.
Step 2: Identify a tiny behavior
To keep it a tiny habit, the behavior needs to:
- Take less than 30 seconds to complete
- Require no real effort
- Not create any physical or emotional pain
What to do? I thought of push ups and jumping jacks. Neither seemed very appealing or pain-free.
Then I thought of stretching.
Tilting my head to one side and then the other. Hunching my shoulders and then releasing them into circles. Extending my arms out to their full reach. Bending at the spine. Lightly touching my toes. Each movement increasing blood flow and releasing endorphins. At the end having a warm, relaxed feeling.
Yeah, stretching looked like a good candidate for a mini-habit.
Step 3: Find an anchor to trigger the tiny habit
Part of making the tiny habit seamless is using something you already do as a trigger.
An anchor needs to be something you do regularly and without thought. Get that first cup of coffee. Grab your car keys. Check your blood sugar.
Yeah, check my blood sugar.
I check my blood sugar at least four times a day. And there’s a point between putting the testing strip in the slot and when the meter is ready for my blood drop that would be perfect for a stretch. You see that moment in between, when I’m standing there with a blood drop on my finger, really annoys me. It’s actually less than 10 seconds. I timed it once. But for some reason when I’m standing there it seems much longer and I hate the wait.
Just after putting the testing strip in the meter and before I prick my finger is the perfect time for me to take a stretch.
In fact, it seems kind of diabolically cunning. I’m taking something that annoys me and turning it into something that helps me feel good.
Step 4: Write a recipe for your tiny habit
The recipe describes the tiny habit as a simple, direct command.
A common format for a tiny habit recipe is “After I [existing anchor behavior], I will [new tiny behavior].”
Here are a couple of examples of tiny habit recipes
- After I pour my first cup of coffee I will open the jar of vitamins
- After I brush my teeth, I will floss one tooth
- After putting the test strip in the meter, I will reach for the sky
You may be thinking what good does opening a jar or flossing one tooth do? Remember, at this point, you’re keeping the behavior really small so that there’s no resistance. Over time you can build on it to get to pulling the vitamin out of the jar and eating it, or flossing two teeth!
Step 5: Practice your tiny habit
Every time you do the anchor behavior, follow up with the new tiny behavior.
That’s just what I did. Put the strip in the meter and reach for the sky. Every day. Four times a day. After about a week of practice reaching for the sky was Pavlovian. I did it every time without consciously thinking about it. It was like my body had learned a dance move.
So then I added the next step. Put the strip in the meter, reach for the sky then touch my toes.
When I started touching my toes I felt a popping sensation in my back and neck. After a couple of weeks, the popping mostly went away. Every time I stood back up my back felt relaxed.
Put the strip in the meter, reach for the sky then touch my toes.
This is now my routine. At the end of each stretch, I feel the pleasant sensation of tension released and flexible muscles.
Throughout the day I find myself sitting with a better posture. Without any prompting I find myself stretching my neck and shoulders while I work at the keyboard. Overall, physically I just feel better.
What’s the next step?
I’m very happy with the results I’ve gotten from my stretching mini-habit and will keep it as part of my daily routine. Now, I want to see how I can build on it.
What’s your next step? How will you move more and sit less? Will you try using a mini-habit to do that? Let us know in the comments below.
How often do you find yourself craving sweet snacks?