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Changing Habits With Small Wins


Explanations > Behaviors > Habit > Changing Habits With Small Wins

Description | Example | Discussion | So what?



If you are trying to build useful or good habits, then an effective method is to do it one small and easy step at a time, looking for the simplest way to increment forward.

Small wins can also be used to help get rid of bad habits. As with building good habits, look for small and easy things to do that will make a bit of difference.

At any time, think 'What can I do now? What is quick and easy and will move me along the route.'  Also look further ahead for things that are lower effort and higher gain.

A secret in this is to use incremental thinking, such as seeking 'less' or 'more' rather than 'start' or 'stop'. Any change in the right direction can hence be claimed as a win.


A person trying to become tidier makes a simple rule of folding their clothes before going to bed rather than leaving them on the floor. This takes only a few seconds. They also make sure they also take a few seconds more to look at the tidy clothes and feel good. The good feeling spreads as they later start automatically tidying up elsewhere as well.

I want to spend more time listening rather than interrupting in conversations. I start on the telephone, on which I have put a bright sticker that says 'LISTEN!' This helps remind me and my listening improves. It turns out to be very helpful in getting people to collaborate so I start trying it elsewhere.


The biggest problem in motivating yourself to do work is if it looks hard. This is the gateway to procrastination and the enemy of good habits. Starting good habits or kicking bad habits looks hard and the thought of this can put us off making any effort at all.

Something easy is better than something hard, even if the gains are small. Small wins hence can be an effective method for making real progress.

Small wins also give evidence. A common problem in changing habits is that people believe they cannot change, with the result that they do not try or make half-hearted efforts that have no visible result. It is hence important when planning small wins to ensure there is visible proof of something changing for the better.

So what?

Look for ways to build small wins into your life in all kinds of places. Do this for building good habits and kicking bad habits. You can also use the approach just to get individual things done and combat procrastination. 

See also

How to Build Good Habits, How to Stop Bad Habits


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