Minimum Action

The quality of your life is a reflection of the quality of your habitual thoughts and actions. So having good habits is extremely important for living well and achieving your goals. The three core elements of habits are: cue, action, and reward. Here, let’s consider action.

Your key actions, if done habitually, will help you meet your milestones, goals, and aspirations. How do we make an action a habit? We start small, with a “minimum action”, and build to the ideal action.

Previously, we saw that a habit could be of three types: an action habit (e.g., read for 30 minutes every morning), a replacement habit (e.g., eat an apple instead of chips) or a project habit (a complex activity or routine with multiple steps). We also saw that your habit needs to be specific and, ideally, something you either enjoy or can learn to enjoy. Then we selected a cue for each habit. Now we will consider the action itself, looking at ideal and minimum versions of the new habit. 

The ideal action is what you aim for. The minimum action is the very least that you will perform no matter what

Ideal ActionMinimum Action
Write a thousand wordsWrite two hundred words
Run for an hourRun for twenty minutes
Follow up with twenty prospectsFollow up with three prospects
Do the technical analysis on five positionsDo the technical analysis on one position
Meditate for half an hourMeditate for five minutes
Practice my five best songs on the guitarPractice my favorite song on the guitar
Take a ten-minute break every two hoursTake a five-minute break every two hours
Clean up the whole housePut the dishes in the dishwasher
Do fifty pushupsDo five pushups

As you can see in all these examples, in both cases the action items are really specific. Also, notice that the commitment is to the action itself (e.g., running), not to the outcome (e.g., losing 15 pounds). The the minimum action is an easy starting point for a Never Zero commitment. If you do at least the minimum action, you’ve kept your commitment, and your habit chain is still intact. You can feel good! You are building momentum.

It’s better to start small and grow your habit gradually than to be too ambitious, get frustrated, and give up. Start really small. Make it easy on yourself in the beginning, so that you can get the habit going. In the first three to four weeks of building your new habit, your priority is to just get it going and not to be amazing at it. Only when the new habit is already solid should you begin to increase the requirements.

Once you are consistently doing your ideal action and have not missed a day on your minimum action, then you can expand the habit, if desired. You could increase either the ideal or the minimum, but don’t make it such that even the minimum action is something that makes you feel like skipping or procrastinating.

I coach new meditators to start with a daily three-minute session, growing gradually, and within five weeks everybody is meditating for 15 minutes daily. People with greater ambitions—perhaps because they were already meditating for 30 minutes, but not daily—resist this approach in the beginning. After a while they understand the value, as they establish a solid daily discipline they didn’t have before.

What is going to be the minimum action for the habit you want to create?

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