Forget “I need to quit my job and do yoga on the top of a mountain.” Research from Stanford University suggests ‘micro-actions’ are the best way to create lasting change. A micro-what-now? “An activity so small and simple that you can complete it almost instantly,” says Nelli Lähteenmäki, co-author of The Book Of YOU. “These small wins form new neural connections in your brain, which makes it easier to nail bigger goals.” So, what’s bothering you?
“I hate my job. I hate my job”
Do you, though? Or “perhaps you’re caught in the behavioural ‘moaning’ spiral of a 9-5 that makes every aspect of your job seem pessimistic,” says Caroline Arnold, author of Small Move, Big Change. “Each time you go to complain, do the opposite and be the first to say something good about a client, meeting or task.” She’s not saying to never grumble (impossible), but this tiny tinker can subconsciously shift your happier-at-work dial.
“Life would be way better if I was on a beach”
“Getting five more minutes of fresh air daily can improve your quality of life more than an annual holiday,” says Professor Paul Dolan, author of Happiness By Design. “Think about it: you feel the benefit 365 times, not just for two weeks,” he adds. “Nature grabs and retains your attention in positive ways because it’s constantly changing.”
“I wish I had a better body”
“Break that vicious thought by doing something physical in appreciation of your body, now,” says Lähteenmäki. “Dance for one minute or hug your best friend – both actions trigger serotonin, the happy hormone.” Still down on yourself? “Learn one thing about how your body works – it’s the key to appreciating it.” Did you know that tears of grief are structurally different to the ones we cry when chopping an onion? Mind. Blown.
“Argh! Why can’t I concentrate?”
“It’s hard to make progress on priorities when an email interrupts you every 30 seconds,” says Lähteenmäki. Scientists call this “switching cost” – every time you shift your attention, your brain has to reorient itself, screwing your concentration. The micro-remedy? “Turn off one or more alerts right now, then remove the alerting app that distracts you most (say, WhatsApp) from your smartphone homepage, so you don’t constantly see that red dot.”
“I’ll never meet a decent guy”
Here’s a prime example of how to slice an overall goal into manageable chunks. “First, break it down, bite-sized, like going on a night out where you’ll meet new people, then further down into a micro-action that might lead to a night out, like texting a friend who could be a good wingwoman,” says Dolan. “Your aim is to do something small right now which could bring you a step further towards meeting potential partners.”
“I’m rubbish at saving”
We hear you. Remember, think small. Take something you buy most days – a last-minute chocolate bar – and “cut it out slowly”, says Lähteenmäki. “Once a week, then twice, then every other day until it’s routine.” That can save you £25 a month. “It’s about getting a better handle on your purchasing habits and creating a positive ripple effect on your finances.”