What Are Tiny Habits?
Most of us are curious to know the habits of the creatives, entrepreneurs, and leaders we admire so we can incorporate them into our own lives. But finding out what those habits are can sometimes feel daunting. How am I supposed to practice meditation for an hour every morning? What do you mean I should check my email only once a day?
"We can't do a 180-degree overhaul of our life overnight, but we can make small, incremental changes...and build toward an overall healthier lifestyle." —Dr. Ellen Vora
We're all looking to be healthier, more creative, less stressed—really, just the best version of ourselves. But drastic, radical changes are generally not the way to get there. It's all about starting small, says Dr. Ellen Vora, a psychiatrist specializing in holistic health at New York City's Eleven Eleven Wellness Center. "We can't do a 180-degree overhaul of our life overnight," she says, "but we can make small, incremental changes to our keystone habits and build toward an overall healthier lifestyle."
Dr. Vora recommends breaking up the aspects of your life—from sleep to eating to your movements throughout the day—into daily rituals with the power to create major changes. Usually within a few months, she says, you can build new habits and feel much better.
Here, Dr. Vora shares her top picks for achievable daily practices that pack the most punch.
Tiny Ritual No. 1: Go to Bed Early
We've always been told to get our eight hours of sleep, but according to Dr. Vora, sleep should really be our number one priority. Make a habit of going to bed early, around 10pm or 11pm at the latest, and make sure to shut down all electronics one hour before bedtime.
Tiny Ritual No. 2: Make Your Bedroom a Sleep Chamber
Do your best to transform your bedroom into a total cave. Aim for a pitch-black, cool, and quiet environment with no electronics. That's right—no electronics. If you absolutely can't fall asleep without the soothing sounds of Netflix in the background, try out a sound machine, with white noise or nature sounds, to lull you into your slumber.
Tiny Ritual No. 3: Lower Your Standards for Exercise
OK, so the benefits of exercise are not debatable—fine, fine. But instead of feeling guilty about skipping the gym, Dr. Vora suggests rethinking how you get your daily burn. Start by lowering your standards. Consider doing a mini workout routine at home: for 5 to 20 minutes a day, clear space in your living room to do some sit-ups, hold plank pose, bust out a few jumping jacks or burpees, or just dance to your favorite song.
Tiny Ritual No. 4: Walk Once in a While
If you have the option to walk somewhere, always, always take it! Take it even if it'll take up to an hour (plan accordingly!). Take it even if it's just a short distance. Get off your bus or train a stop before yours; take the stairs instead of the elevator; park far away from the store. It doesn't have to be a big, capital-W walk.
Tiny Ritual No. 5: Stand Up!
It's so easy to become sedentary without realizing it. Make a habit of standing up at least once an hour. Your productivity will benefit from the quick escape from your desk, and if it's the couch that you're glued to, then standing up will energize you (and snap you out of your binge-watching/internet/social media daze).
Tiny Ritual No. 6: Switch to Healthy Cooking Oils
While a healthy diet looks different for everyone, a few steadfast rules are universal, says Dr. Vora. One easy one is to cook with healthier fats: swap out inflammation-producing vegetable oils, like canola and corn oils, for coconut oil, ghee, and olive oil.
Tiny Ritual No. 7: Make Your Food
Start taking baby steps towards cooking (or assembling) meals at home. Even the worst cook can cobble together a healthy breakfast in lieu of snacking on a bagel on the way to work. Keep the cupboards stocked so you can quickly put simple dishes together: anything you do with whole foods is going to be better than eating something processed.
Tiny Ritual No. 8: Eat Balanced Meals
Whether you're eating out or cooking up wholesome meals like a champ, you can make tiny menu choices that will make a big difference in how you feel. Make your meals a balance of a well-sourced pastured meat or poultry or wild fish, veggies prepared with olive oil or ghee, and a starchy tuber such as sweet potato or plantain.
Tiny Ritual No. 9: Try a Tiny Meditation
Small rituals are especially effective in helping us manage stress and stay resilient. Does meditation seem overwhelming? Instead of thinking you need to be the Dalai Lama, try meditating for three minutes every morning. You definitely have three minutes. It may not seem like the fast track to enlightenment, but you'll notice the difference!
Tiny Ritual No. 10: Develop Mindfulness Skills
Dr. Vora recommends exploring mindfulness practices so you can navigate the stressors of the day without having a hair trigger. Rather than being reactive, you want to cultivate the ability to breathe and choose how to respond when faced with a stressor. Take deep breaths, practice feeling the stress in your body when it arises, and check in with yourself during the day.
Tiny Ritual No. 11: Practice Gratitude
You've heard this one before—but that's because it works. At night before you go to sleep, list three things you're grateful for. You don't have to feel waves of gratitude and love for all humanity; remember, start small! Grateful for how good that skirt looked on you today? Good enough! Grateful for a nice dinner with a friend? Perfect. Over time, you'll start to notice how many good things you have going on, which will in turn make for a happier you.