It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.John Wooden
Change is often hard. We all have a habit that we want to pick up, or a bad one we want to leave behind.
These habits could include drinking more water, blogging every day, or listening to new music every week. You can list your own bad habits. 🙂
A habit is defined as a routine of behavior that is repeated regularly and tends to occur subconsciously. It is a learned process that generates automatic responses to contextual cues.
The challenge is that when we want to change our habits, we mistakenly focus on the habit itself. We focus on the habit of blogging every day, as opposed to the procedures and practices that inspire the writing of the post. Habits are rarely linked to behavioral change or maintenance.
We should instead focus on the little things, the practices that lead to the behaviors and build habits.
Habits and cues
Habit formation requires that people are motivated to adopt new behaviors, translate motivation into action, and repeat the behaviors in specific contexts so that automaticity develops.
Habits are actions triggered in response to contextual cues. As an example, we wash our hands (action) after flushing the toilet (contextual cue). We put on our seat belt (action) after getting into the car (contextual cue).
Research suggests the repetition of an action in a consistent context leads to the action being activated when exposed to contextual cues. Once the action is shifted to external cues, dependence on conscious attention is reduced.
Habits are likely to persist even after conscious motivation or interest dissipates. Habits are also cognitively efficient because the automation of common actions frees mental resources for other tasks.
Put simply, focus on the contextual cues and your actions. Focus on the procedural response to the contextual cues and your habits will follow.
Putting habit into practice, & practice into habit
In a recent podcast, the host was interviewing a martial arts expert to identify the key components to prepare for training. The expert spent a great amount of time and detail describing the necessary etiquette, protocols, and procedures.
The martial arts expert focused on having the uniform look perfect, with the belt is always tied correctly, and the shirt tucked in. The training mat needs to be positioned just correctly. When running laps around the mat, the expert focuses on the feeling of the toes as they turn the corner of the mat.
At no point did the individual discuss specific training routines or regimens. There was no focus on the specific offensive or defensive maneuvers. The most important part, the key details were small, seemingly insignificant, elements of the context.
Yet, to the expert, the little things add up to big things.
Habits & Procedures
Separate out the habits from the procedures.
Identify the four or five procedures that lead up to the habits.
Focus on the procedures and the contextual cues that accompany your actions. Focus on the procedural response to the contextual cues.
Aim small. Miss small.
While meditating, I focus on the sound and pressure of air as it enters my nasal cavity. I don’t focus on closing my eyes, sounds in the room, or clearing my mind. I focus on the feeling of air entering my nose. I focus on my breathing. Everything else takes care of itself.
Focus on the contextual cues and your actions. Your habits will follow and lead to automaticity of practices.
The little things add up to the big things.
Practice yourself, for heaven’s sake in little things, and then proceed to greater.Epictetus