Micro-commitments are a way to trick your brain into finally letting you become a better person.
Understanding how our children’s brains work benefits us greatly as parents.
You give your child love and leeway once you realize they have tantrums because they can’t control themselves. Because they’re dissipating emotional energy.
Instead of yelling, you help bring them back into equilibrium by providing calm and contact.
You stop being angry when you realize your 3-year-old has little self-control. Her brain just isn’t there yet. She keeps eating cookies even though you asked her not to because she can’t “choose” to stop.
Instead of yelling you set her up for success by moving the cookies out of reach.
When you realize that your baby is born with an evolutionary expectation for constant contact, you don’t feel victimized by your bad luck. You strap him on and go about your day.
Paying attention to what our children are wired for helps makes us more successful with them.
And we can do the same for ourselves through the use of micro-commitments.
Your Brain on Change
Think of a time your child has been in a new situation. Maybe those froze up. Screamed. Acted out. Hid.
You know what is happening.
This is the fight-flight-or-freeze response.
Your baby is unsure of what is going on around him. His amygdala is activated—and his brain tries to keep him safe.
You step in to help reassure him that he is loved and safe. You bring him back into equilibrium so that he can start exploring.
This is what change is like for all of us. We experience this at interview or applying for jobs. When you go on a first date or meet a new friend, you feel anxious.
Our brains like the familiar. When we step into the unknown, our brains alert us to danger. It doesn’t matter what the new thing this is. The lizard part of our brain doesn’t distinguish between “good new” and “bad new.”
So it could be the date.
Or a playground.
Or it could be a new habit like meditation, exercising, or connecting rather than yelling.
Instead of jumping in headfirst, you look at your yoga mat and say “I’ll do this later.”
Instead of sitting down to meditate, you say, “I can’t quiet my mind,”
This is your brains keeping-you-safe response. It makes sense.
You can say thank you.
“Thank you, brain.”
How to Use Micro-Commitments
Once you’ve thanked your brain for working hard to protect you, you need a way to overcome the status quo bias.
How can you keep your brain calm enough to let you make a move in the right direction?
Micro-commitments are tiny, insignificant steps you can take in the right direction. So small that your brain may not be alerted that you trying to change things at all.
If you want to start doing yoga, you make a rule to lay out a yoga mat in the morning.
If you want to start running, you make a rule to put on your running shoes.
If you want to stop yelling, you make a rule to take one breath before yelling.
There’s one major rule you have to observe if you are going to try these kinds of commitments though.
Give yourself permission to stop after your commitment is fulfilled.
Just lay out the yoga mat. Just take one breath.
For the first few days, you may even want to force yourself to stop there. Make sure your brain knows you really are not just trying to trick it. Because you will figure you out. And then you’ll be so mad at you that you won’t even start.
After you’ve really given yourself permission to go that far, you can start the work of going further.
How Micro-Commitments Work
Micro-commitments help you get moving in three big ways:
- Quieting Fears: Your sense of identity and safety is less threatened by smaller changes. Micro-commitments mean less dedication of your time and less uncertainty.
- Consistency Bias: When interacting with others, being consistent is a way to build trust. So we strive to be consistent. When you put on your shoes, the micro-commitment will force your mind to try and align your actions.
- Least Effort Bias: All living organisms like to take the path of least resistance. By taking a small step in the direction you wish to go, you decrease the amount of friction between not doing X and doing X.
Whether you want to dedicate yourself to picking up the ukulele that’s been sitting in the corner and plucking one chord, or to spending more time outside so sitting on the porch for one minute, you can use micro-commitments to build yourself into the person you want to be.