Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


4 Micro-Habits That'll Make Life a Little Less Stressful

2. Build in habit disruptions.

Jake Nackos/Unsplash
Source: Jake Nackos/Unsplash

This article is part of a series about micro-habits that deliver outsized benefits for the effort involved. The prior posts in the series are here and here.

1. Solve Pain Points.

Some pain points are hard to solve, but some are easy. Pick these low-hanging fruit. Here's an example:

I live in Las Vegas and it's already very hot here. Every morning this week I've been making my kid a fruit smoothie to help get some hydration into her. This has meant wrestling with a 5-pound bag of frozen mango chunks, then stuffing it back into the freezer. All to get our 4-5 pieces of mango for her smoothie (that also has other fruits in it).

Instead, today I filled a smaller container with mango chunks so now I don't have to handle the huge bag daily.

We often get so over-focused on tasks with short, imminent deadlines that we don't habitually solve pain points. We endure them longer than we have to.

Try forming a habit about how long you endure a pain point before addressing it e.g., if the problem occurs 3 times, then you'll address it.

Alternatively, designate a regular time in your day or week to problem-solve pain points.

2. Build in habit disruptions.

This tip is a little meta.... establish a habit of disrupting your habits. People talk a lot about the benefits of habit consistency but don't talk as much about the benefits of habit disruption. What is it? Say your car has broken down. You dust off your bike and bike to work instead of driving. The experience makes you remember you enjoy cycling. You then do it more, either recreationally or for transportation. Driving your car to work had become so automatic you no longer considered alternatives. When that habit was disrupted, you couldn't act on autopilot and you expanded your behavioral repertoire.

Habit disruptions can happen accidentally like this, but you can also build them into your life. For example, my spouse works overseas for part of the year. Her absence changes my routines because I become solely responsible for our child and home care. It's a regular habit disruptor.

How could you build in regular habit disruptions? Try taking advance of natural circumstances where you can (like changes of seasons, school breaks, or travel).

3. Create a rule, "I'll always use my maps app in X circumstance."

Research has shown that humans find commuting and traffic delays especially stressful.

When we know how to get somewhere we often don't use a maps app. However, using it can prevent unnecessarily getting stuck in traffic or delayed because of accidents or construction.

My personal rule is that whenever I'm traveling on a particular highway (that has lots of accidents), I'll use Google Maps. Often, it'll tell me to exit early and take a street parallel to the highway to avoid traffic or accidents.

4. Pause before making a "bad" decision.

We can often see our bad decisions like they're oncoming trains. For example, you hand your kid a spill-able drink while they're using your phone. Or, you choose to purchase a food item in bulk that you've got a history of overeating. A micro-habit is to pause whenever you feel that sense. Create a little space. For example, instead of putting that giant bag of snacks in your Costco cart immediately, you decide to keep moving around the store and you'll circle back if you still want them.

A friend told me that, due to clutter in their home, instead of her husband ordering from Amazon on impulse, he now fills up his Amazon cart throughout the month. Then, once a month, scans through the cart and removes what they don't really need before doing his monthly order.

You can establish any version of this habit that suits you. You can adopt a generalized habit of always pausing when you sense a potentially bad decision, or a more specific version like the online shopping example.

Which of these micro-habits most appealed to you? Did they spur any of your own ideas? Pick one idea to implement.

And, check out the other articles in this series if you haven't already, here and here.

More from Alice Boyes Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today