By Justin David Carl
Daily nanohabits was the missing keystone that finally led me to unlock my aesthetic fitness potential (transformation pictured below). More importantly, the same simple process can be used to unlock latent potential in any area of life.
The following two quotes capture the essence of the concept of daily nanohabits and their capacity to radically unlock latent potential in anyone:
“The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.” -Confucius
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” -Aristotle
Throughout life I have set incredible lofty goals. Goals that would change my life if achieved. Noble goals born from true dreams. At times these goals and dreams were achieved. Getting myself into Stanford was one of those. Getting myself back to Stanford and graduating after a 7-year leave of absence was another. But more often than I would like to admit many of my dreams and goals remained unmet, unachieved, and often I never even got around to actually starting. I’ve always been frustrated with unlocking my own latent potential. Potential I know I have, but have yet to actually develop and manifest in my physical life. What do I mean by latent potential? This is all untapped talent that I have that just sits unused and stored within but never actually gets put into action in my daily life.
Usually, these are the things “I wish” I would do or accomplish. They are my precious dreams, desires, and habits I yearn to embody. All of them could be possible in this physical reality if I truly strived for them regularly. However, since they aren’t essential to my day-to-day life and means of living most of them have sat by on the sideline. Patiently waiting, but never truly being put into play. My dream body was always one of those goals that seemed forever elusive. Starting a blog and writing was another. Others things I always wanted to do have included daily journaling, affirmations, meditating, etc. Within the realm of my latent potential is big and small goals, dreams, habits and more. Essentially, latent potential is all things that would make my life better and make me more effective and happy in life, but have yet to become fully realized and maintained in any consistent manner. Sound familiar? Read on to find out how I finally overcame this common hurdle that so many people seem to struggle with. Ultimately, I discovered a fairly simple way to develop and manifest latent potential. It led me to achieve the body always I wanted, actually start writing, keep up a blog, and much more.
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Through personal study, introspection, and discussion with some incredibly intelligent and successful people I have come to realize that for me goal setting is not enough to bring out latent potential. In fact, it is usually too much. Or rather it is the wrong focus for me when it comes to unlocking this ever-elusive chi that lies dormant within. It places so much energy around a goal, dream, or habit that it becomes down right daunting. The dream, goal, or habit seems so far away, unrealistic, or energetically distant that instead of working towards it I spend more energy and time avoiding it. If it is directly related to my current work/profession it seems to be fairly easy for me to accomplish, but if it’s one of those things that I wish I would or could do, but it isn’t directly required of me then it usually stays in the magical land of tomorrow. I talk about it with close friends and family. I think about it. I fantasize about it. But, in reality, I don’t actually “do” anything about it. Achieving the physique I always dreamed of and starting this blog and actually writing regularly were some of those fantasies I could only seem to think and talk about, but not actually “do.” My dream physique was such a long-time goal always just barely out of grasp. I’ve strived for the body I have now for nearly two decades, but it wasn’t until I discovered an extremely simple process that it finally manifested in physical reality. Having a blog and writing has been such a big dream for so long that it became too intimidating to even get started. I spent over 5 years dreaming of starting a blog and writing, but it all finally came together in very short order once I discovered and implemented a simple concept.
In reality, we all have the ability to achieve just about anything we put our minds to. But how do you overcome that initial inertia and the fear of starting? And then when you finally do start on that dream or goal how do you keep yourself from quickly giving up? And what about habits? I cannot count how many times I have decided to start on a new habit that would change my life if I could stick to it. But of course, if I am going to start a new habit it’s going to be HUGE and immediately life-changing. And it’s going to be hard. Because if it’s not hard it’s not worth it, right?! But I can do it! My willpower is infinite! That’s how it starts… Then I get stressed or overwhelmed with work or with something else in life or don’t get enough rest one night and the new habit is quickly abandoned. Like big dreams and goals this habit is such a mentally/energetically huge insurmountable task that took such incredible courage and willpower to start the first time around I find myself unable to stir up the same level of enthusiasm to begin again and it remains abandoned. I see this happen regularly with people starting new healthier exercise and eating habits. For me, it usually stays abandoned until I randomly find that incredible burst of willpower again. Sometimes that happens a few weeks or months later. Sometimes I never get up the courage to begin again. On special days I will find that courage and energy to finally start making some good progress again. Nonetheless, something else always happens at some point and I am distracted, discouraged, or sidelined by life and give up again. Then, of course, guilt and shame poison the whole thing making it even harder to start over. Why can’t I stick to my habit that could forever change my life?! Why can’t I continuously and steadily pursue my dream?! I must not be cut out for it, it must not be right for me, or I must be weak, inept, unworthy, and so on and so forth goes my inner self-talk.
This was the general case for me for many of my dreams, goals, and habits for most of my life. Thankfully, this was interrupted by random spurts of inspiration, courage, and willpower that did lead me to doing and achieving some amazing stuff and building some lasting habits that have led me to live a fairly effective and abundant life. Even so, how awesome could it be to turn random, intermittent, unpredictable goal-achievement, dream-attainment, and habit-building into regular and consistent growth, transformation, and realization? I believe I have finally discovered a process that works. And the best part is that it’s fairly simple and straightforward. Furthermore, I firmly hold to the idea that it is one of the most essential keys to developing and manifesting latent potential. In fact, it is so simple I am embarrassed to admit that it took me so long to recognize it. But maybe, just maybe, I can save others some time, energy, and frustration by sharing what I discovered. This key principle has radically changed my ability to manifest my dreams, achieve some pretty big long-term goals, and systematically improve just about every area of my life through lasting habits. The key is a principle I call daily nanohabits.
NANOHABITS: These are microscopic habits that are so small that they are not intimidating and can be almost effortlessly accomplished on a regular basis. Like nanotechnology they are so small you hardly notice them, if at all. They are so small that you would almost laugh at yourself for not doing them. They will be different for everyone. Something that is super simple and easy for one person will be incredibly hard for another person. The first part of the core concept of a nanohabit is that they must be small and undaunting habits that are easily accomplished repeatedly. The second and equally important part of the core concept of nanohabits is that though they are small, with the compounding of time, they become mighty.
When I explain this concept to people in person I often use the analogy of jumping over a building like a superhero. The jumping over the building is the proverbial action that must be taken to realize the dream, goal, habit, or change. Like most people (especially type A overachievers like myself), when I commit to starting something new whether it be a dream, goal, habit, change, etc. I choose something that is going to be amazing and truly life-changing. And of course it’s going to be hard. Because if it isn’t hard what’s the point, right? On rare occasions, I can figuratively jump over a building like a superhero and accomplish something big. But could I do that every day? Definitely not. How about every week or month? Maybe once or twice a year is more likely. And for the truly life-altering stuff, maybe a few times during this particular existence. As much as I would love to claim that I have superhero-level willpower on never-ending demand, that is not reality. And it isn’t reality for most people. But what if I asked you to jump over a crack or line in the sidewalk? Just a tiny hop over a line. Could you do that? I could. Could you do that every day? Surely you could. It’s just a tiny line on the ground that anyone could jump, step, crawl or even roll over. Getting over that line is your nanohabit. In one day, the superhero jump over the building would get you much further. But what if you could only do that superhero jump once every few years, but you could hop over that line every day? Which would get you farther in a year? How about 2-3 years? How about a life time? At some point the nanohabit line-crossing turtle would be much farther along than the superhero building-jumping hare. The longer the time period the farther the turtle gets ahead. This is the secret of nanohabits. They are so easy and small they can be done every day and in the end will get you much further than you ever thought possible.
I always wanted to be in incredible aesthetic shape. I am well aware that it is a fairly vain goal and freely admit that it stems from body relationship issues I have spent a lifetime healing, but more on that in another article. For most of my life I have been in pretty good shape, but never aesthetic fitness model level. I worked out pretty much every day for 1-2 hours, ate clean, took all the right supplements, and on and on, but still those abs and shredded body I dreamed of remained just barely out of grasp. I tried just about every type of exercise and diet known to man as well–P90X, kettlebell training, Insanity, spinning, hiking with a weight-pack, low-carb, slow-carb, paleo, blood-type diet, geno-type diet, and the list goes on. Then in September of 2013 I began a simple daily nanohabit that radically changed my life from an aesthetic fitness perspective. The new daily nanohabit was daily food and weight logging. To an outsider this may sound hard, but I found a smartphone app, MyFitnessPal, that makes this incredibly easy for me. I can literally scan barcodes and the food shows up in the program and then I select a serving size and voila! The food and macro calories (grams of fat, carbs, and protein) are logged. There is also a place to log your weight.
I started small. I didn’t try to stay under a certain number of calories or reach specific macro targets. I didn’t care what I weighed. I just weighed myself. At first, it maybe took me an extra 2-5 minutes per meal to weigh out my food if cooking at home or to estimate it while eating out. Now it maybe takes me an extra 30-60 seconds at home and an extra 1-2 minutes to estimate while eating out. Weighing myself takes 30 seconds or less. Food and weight logging became a “keystone” habit for me. Author Charles Duhigg explains in his book The Power of Habit that “keystone” habits are catalysts that create a ripple effect of positive transformation in multiple ways and areas in one’s life. For me, the domino effect of my daily food and weight tracking has been amazing in retrospect. It did take months before I even realized it though.
Without even trying I began eating better just because I was taking that tiny bit of extra time to actually pay attention to what and how much I ate. Ultimately, it led to more consistency in my eating patterns. And since I wasn’t forbidding myself any food I began to stop binge eating. I have always been good about working out, but my eating/diet has been somewhat all over the place. I have a long history of being in famine or feast mode. I would eat super “clean” for six out of seven days, then go ballistic on a “cheat” day. I didn’t realize it at the time but that “cheat day” literally destroyed any progress I made the rest of the week. Yes, I have no problem destroying six days of good eating when I let my inner alpha-eater out. That’s how big my appetite is.
Over time this simple nanohabit led to me realizing how much I could eat on a daily basis and still lose body fat. Since I was weighing myself daily I saw exactly what my eating did to my body day-in and day-out. This led to even further consistency in my eating. And before I knew it I was consistently dropping the right kind of weight (aka body fat). Just weighing yourself daily is actually a pretty influential keystone habit. For most people, myself included, it causes an almost subconscious effect on one’s daily decisions when it comes to food and exercise. Getting constant feedback on how your body is responding to your lifestyle and daily choices is powerful stuff.
On a side note, I thoroughly realize that weighing oneself is often personally charged with shame, guilt, stress, and whole host of other ill feelings. I also admit that it isn’t for everybody. Plenty of people have great relationships with their body and are accurately able to listen to what their body is telling them. Because of my issues with my body image and abusing food and exercise like a drug, weighing myself has been essential to clearing the lines of communication with myself. Initially, I had to get over all the negative and weird energy I held around weighing myself. It was a very confusing emotional space for me in the beginning. Partially, this was because for my entire life I had been trying to get in amazing shape, but hadn’t ever clearly defined what getting into amazing shape meant to me. Was I bulking, getting jacked, getting shredded, getting stronger, leaning out, increasing physical performance, or something else? By weighing myself every day I was forced to get very clear what my true fitness goal was. It cleared up my own communication and led to me clearly defining my true personal fitness aspirations. By having this daily conversation with the scale and asking myself what am I trying to do with this weight data I was collecting I finally realized that I didn’t really care how much weight I could lift and I didn’t want to bulk or get bigger. I just wanted to look aesthetically fit and look great in a slim fit suit — well defined and muscular (think Hugh Jackman in Wolverine), but not too meat-heady (I got lots of love for meat-heads, just not the look I desire). Once that was defined the scale became a simple feedback tool to help guide myself towards that aim. As the months of daily weight logging went by it became easier and the weird energy I held around the scale cleared up. Eventually, it did just turn into a feedback tool that kept me honest with myself. In reality, humans decide what their experiences mean to them. Weight is riddled with a lot of shameful, confusing, dark and fearful stuff, but one of the easiest ways to clear that is to face that fear daily. Eventually, you will likely come to the same conclusion and find out that it isn’t that scary after all. And what’s really cool is if you stick with it you realize you have control over what the scale does, whether you are trying to bulk up and put on mass or lean out and lose fat. It’s 100% within your power to control if you choose to. And by practicing facing fear in one area in life it makes you that much better at facing it in other areas of life. Weighing myself daily was what allowed me to see just how dysfunctional I was with my “cheat days”. I would literally be up 5-8 pounds in a day after one of my infamous feedings and then spend the rest of the week getting my weight back down only to repeat the same process after each week’s “cheat day.” It was a vicious mental/emotional cycle. Nonetheless, by no means do I recommend weighing oneself or tracking calories. For many people neither is a good idea and only you can decide if it makes sense for you. Now back to the idea of food and weight logging as a nanohabit.
I built this daily nanohabit one meal or snack at a time and one weigh-in a day. I did not stress about what or how much I ate. I just logged my food and weight every day. It was my small line I had to hop over daily. I didn’t set some crazy goal of getting an 8-pack or losing 20 pounds of fat. I did not meal prep or plan what I was going to eat for the day. I just focused on tracking each item of food I put into my mouth. This is a KEY point of daily nanohabits. They must be so small that they are not intimidating. So small that you can very, I mean VERY, easily do them. I realize I am beating a dead horse here, but I know that if I were trying to teach this concept of nanohabits to a younger version of myself I would have to emphasize this repeatedly otherwise my younger self would set the bar too high and end up not sticking to it long term. And long term is where the true pay-off comes. Additionally, by keeping the nanohabit so small one can keep to it indefinitely.
The tricksy thing about fitness changes and nanohabits is that you don’t notice the changes day-to-day. You don’t even necessarily notice them from week-to-week, although sometimes you will luckily start to see it even at this time interval. The change truly becomes noticeable after time, but since you see yourself and are yourself every day you don’t notice the micro-incremental changes. This is the case with most areas of life in which you apply nanohabits. It will almost seem like nothing is changing and nothing is happening. However, if you start a nanohabit and then stick to it for a month or more then look back to right before you started something magical happens. Often you will be struck with epiphany. One or more areas of your life will have significantly improved. In my case with fitness and food I thought I had discovered magic. I looked back over the first month and realized I had lost 8 pounds. I had also taken photos of myself in my skivvies when I started and compared them to photos each week. Suddenly I could visually see the change and the change was huge!
“Follow the process not the prize.” Ryan Holiday, The Obstacle Is The Way
By focusing on the tiny process of just recording what I ate and weighing myself dramatic changes occurred without any strategic calorie/food manipulation or major changes in exercise. This is another KEY element to finding success with daily nanohabits. You keep just about all of your attention on the micro-process of the nanohabit. The process is completing the nanohabit each day. This is where you keep your energy and thoughts. Then as the weeks and months go by you will one day suddenly realized that you have achieved something much bigger than you ever thought possible. The power behind daily nanohabits is that they are like daily savings and compound interest. Each day you are putting just a few dollars into developing your “potential” bank account. In a month you may not notice much change in your bank account, but if you keep investing a tiny bit every day it begins to add up, compound, and create major momentum and transformation. As you look back after time passes you will be amazed with the potential-fortune you have amassed and can literally see it manifested physically in your life in an abundance of ways.
Over months, as I continued with my nanohabit of food and weight logging I figured out exactly how many total calories I could eat daily and still continue to drop body fat. Let me emphasize that it wasn’t until the nanohabit of food and weight logging was drilled into my core being and became something I did without I fail that I began to play with calorie manipulation to further enhance the achievement of my fitness goals. Through personal testing I eventually figured out how many grams of fat, carbs, and protein I can have daily and continue to achieve my fitness aspirations. By learning my macro maintenance levels for fat, carbs, and protein I was able to eat anything I wanted. Nothing was off limits as long as I stayed within my macros. Still to this day I eat anything I want. I have burgers, pizza, ice-cream, cookies, and desert daily. I have literally turned it into a game to see just what kind of crazy stuff I can eat and still maintain my feel-good shreddie-status (to see pictures of my crazy food and fitness check out @fitnessrake on Instagram). It still seems crazy to me that I now eat worse stuff more often than I ever have since starting college in 2002 yet I am in such better shape then when I was eating “clean” most of the time. Please note that I do eat fairly healthy from a macro perspective. My general rule is 80% of what I eat is fairly healthy and 20% I can go buck wild. By not restricting myself to only eating certain things it makes eating well most of the time much less mentally and emotionally draining. Again, this is a demonstration of how food and weight logging acted as “keystone” habit. The habit’s effect led to many positive changes including more balanced eating, highly customizable fitness goal achievement, and most importantly–more enjoyment of food and life. I could eat anything I desired and eat out with friends and family without having to sacrifice my fitness goals. The flexibility over my eating and power over my personal fitness has been truly life-changing. I am so much happier in so many ways just because of this sense of flexibility and conscious control over my body’s physicality.
Fundamentally, macro calorie tracking led me to lose over 20 pounds of body fat in less than a year. At the time of this writing I am down over 30 pounds of body fat. And let me just reiterate, I was never overweight or out of shape. I have been in better than average shape for most of my life, but definitely no where near the level I lay claim to currently. Daily food and weight logging is one of two daily nanohabits that led me to achieving the body I had always dreamed of (abs year round and sub 10% body fat). The other habit is naked affirmations, but I’ll save that story for another time.
HOW TO INTRODUCE DAILY NANOHABITS INTO YOUR LIFE
1. Start very small. Something that you would almost feel ridiculous about if you didn’t complete it each day. It has to be so small and simple that you won’t avoid it. If I immediately decided to only eat x-amount of calories per day I probably would have given up much sooner. Instead, all I did was record everything I ate without judgement and recorded my weight no matter how I ate or felt. I did this for quite awhile before I started playing around with calorie manipulation to achieve fitness goals. I built the habit of just recording what I ate and what I weighed first. Plain and simple. I did the same with writing. Though I always dreamed of writing and sharing, I never wrote creatively outside of work or school until very recently. Up until a few months ago I had never truly journaled. So, I started with this super simple journal called The Five Minute Journal. It made things incredibly easy. It is broken into 1-3 minutes upon waking and 1-3 minutes before going to bed. I kept it next to my bed with a pencil. It is even layed out in an easy to-do structure (three things you are grateful for, three things that would make today great, etc.). It was so simple and quick that even if I forgot to do it first thing in the day I would go back and pretend like I hadn’t and just do it (mentally trying to trick myself into forming the habit even when I missed a day). I spent many months just using this simple book. Then I started keeping a regular journal along with my handy pre-set 5-minute journal. I started small here too. All I had to do was write 3 pages longhand. This was inspired by Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way and her prescription of daily morning journaling. There was no requirement for what I could write. I could write the same sentence over and over until I reached 3 pages. I could write about what I ate yesterday. I could write about a dream I had. I could write about a feeling. I could write about all the things I wanted to do or not do. I wrote in huge cursive writing too. In my first journal I wrote on every other line to allow me to write big and reach three pages even faster. My second journal had unlined paper so if I was feeling particularly avoidant I could write even bigger to get it over with quicker. I believe my first journal entry I wrote about how avoidant I was feeling about the journaling. Over weeks and months that journal morphed into average of 5+ pages per day. I now journal upwards of 5 pages (in my own handwritten cursive writing). Sometimes I write well over 10 pages before I realize it. If I had set 5 pages as my daily goal/habit I would have never even started. Once this nanohabit was built I added another daily nanohabit that has revolutionized my writing production — 5-minutes of creative writing for www.lifesrake.com. That tiny nanohabit is the reason this ridiculously long essay got written and that I even have anything up on my blog.
The Five Minute Journal blossomed into much more…
2. Start with one thing. Two at the most. Build this into an automatic daily habit. Keep your focus tight. If you try to make too many changes at once you will become overwhelmed and end up not doing anything. Once the habit becomes effortless (and it will if you start small enough) then you can start to refine the nanohabit and add in further strategy or add other related or unrelated nanohabits. I spent months just practicing logging my food and weight without any other goal than to record it. Once that became effortless I started playing with calorie manipulation to see how I could use food to get leaner. In the past I tried to exercise my way to my dream body. Through calorie tracking I finally came to realize that you cannot out-train your eating. It doesn’t matter how many hours you train. If you don’t get your eating strategy in place you will be fighting a never-ending battle that will never be won. I spent years learning that the hard way. I now implicitly understand that your aesthetic fitness is governed by 70-80% or more by the way you eat. Exercise accounts for maybe 20%. And supplements account for 1-3%. Your eating strategy is the true magic pill. My daily nanohabit of food and weight logging is what led to this discovery and the incredible power I now have to sculpt my body in any manner I wish. The daily nanohabit of The Five Minute Journal lead to the discovery of one of the most joyful and therapeutic activities I have yet to discover, free-form/free-thought journaling. And those nanohabits led me to my this creative writing and blog.
3. Set yourself up to succeed. By this I mean make it easy for yourself and create trigger systems, reminder systems, and momentum systems. If you want to do 1-push-up before every shower write a reminder with a dry erase marker on your mirror. If you want to journal for 3 minutes a day, place your journal next to where you sleep and make it the first thing you do in the morning. Put your walking shoes by the front door. Want to record everything you eat in MyFitnessPal (set a reminder in your phones calendar for 3 or more different times that you would normally eat). I eat a piece of the same flavor of gum immediately before and during my gym workout. I light a candle and put on ocean waves music before I start writing (yes, I am a weirdo spiritual hipster). By combining sensory action with your nanohabits it makes it more powerful. These small sensory cues become physiological triggers that prime your brain for the desired action. As you build the nanohabit, all of these mental, emotional, and physiological things all start to connect and link up in your mind. By pairing physical senses with your desired actions you build the nanohabit path faster and deeper. Just by lighting the candle and chewing the gum my brain, body, and emotions are triggered and primed for what is to come next. The momentum has already begun and that makes it that much easier to do.
4. Do it first. Whatever new daily nanohabit you are choosing for yourself make it one of the very first things that you do upon waking for the day. We only have so much willpower per day. It is like a muscle and it fatigues. If you try to do it at the end of the day you will be setting yourself up for failure as your willpower muscle will be exhausted. Not to mention all the distractions and fires of the day will surely keep you from doing it if you put it off in the first part of your day. I discovered the importance of this with my journaling and creative writing. Whenever I didn’t do it first thing upon waking the chances of it actually happening went down drastically. Even though I would promise myself I would do it later. When later came I was either too busy or too tired. For nanohabits to survive and thrive they must be prioritized. Once they are built you can become a little more flexible about when you do them as long as they are small enough, but play with the timing at your own risk after you have deeply ingrained the nanohabit over many days of doing it first.
5. Keep the daily nanohabit small. After a year of focus upon the simple nanohabit your willpower muscles will be noticeably stronger compared to the previous year. Again, this doesn’t happen over night. Willpower and habits are skills that take daily exercise for them to get stronger and stay strong. If you suddenly give up on a daily nanohabit the effect it has on your life will begin to fade. Just like when you stop regularly working out a particular muscle it begins to weaken. The way to avoid sabotaging yourself is to keep the nanohabit small. That way when you have a rough day, week, or month you don’t suddenly give it up. On those hard days you can just do the minimum and maintain the habit-potential muscle. Then when you are back in power you can go above and beyond and build that habit-potential muscle bigger and stronger.
6. Remember it is a practice. A practice is meant to be done regularly, repeatedly, and often. That doesn’t mean every day will be an amazing practice. Some days will flow, feel awesome, and energize you. Other days you will have to use some of your own grit and personal willpower to get through it. And despite the low bar you set for nanohabits some days will be damn near impossible, but if you have appropriately set your bar at an achievable nano-level, even on these days you will be able to maintain your practice. Nonetheless, sometimes you will completely miss doing a nanohabit practice due to various things that come up life. We are all human after all. The key is to focus on completing the practice daily while understanding and acknowledging that even the most well-kept intent can be destroyed by the unexpected from time to time.
HOW TO MAXIMIZE DAILY NANOHABITS
1. Stretch yourself and go with the flow when you are feeling in power. With daily nanohabits you will soon realize that you can go much further than the small daily objective you have set for yourself. Keep the daily requirement small, but if you have the time run with it. I set aside 5-minutes of creative writing per day, but if I am in flow and have the time I will keep on writing. Sometimes for just another 5 minutes. Sometimes for another few hours. This same idea can be applied to any nanohabit you decide to incorporate into your life — journaling, exercise, meditation, work, relationships, etc. Allow 1 minute to turn into 30 minutes (or much more) if you are in the flow. Embrace your energy and power if one rep turns into 30 or one set turns into 5 sets.
2. Choose keystone daily nanohabits that over a year could radically change your life. A good way to methodically come up with one of these is to think about where you would want to be in a year in any given area of your life — health & fitness, career, creativity, relationship, etc. By logging my food and weight daily I lost an average of 15 pounds per of body fat per year and now steadily stay around 7-10% body fat year round. This simple daily nanohabit of logging food and weighing myself radically changed my fitness. Up until 2014 I thought achieving my dream body was pipe-dream. Now it is a reality.
A current keystone nanohabit I am in the process of instilling is writing. I put this off for over half a decade. Then I chose two daily nanohabits that have rapidly changed that. The first one was “The Five Minute Journal” which eventually translated into 3-5+ pages of handwritten journaling a day. The second was my easily achieved 5-minutes of creative writing. Now I write a fair amount every day. Sometimes I write upwards of 2,000 words a day. I don’t do this every day, but just maybe if I keep my focus on the process of my daily nanohabits I will settle into a rhythm of something as awesome as 500-1,000 words a day. In truth, it doesn’t really matter. I am infinitely further along than I was during the 5+ years I “thought” about writing. I’ve learned that what is most important is just keeping my energy and focus on the small incremental process of nano-habits and remain open to whatever those bloom into. Every day I practice embodying my vision of myself as a writer and blogger by committing to a minuscule daily nano-habit of 5-minutes. That doesn’t scare me. And since I am not overwhelmed by my dream by keeping my focus on the nano-habit I am sticking with it. I now look back on how much I’ve written and cannot even believe it. I have gone through multiple journals and now the articles and essays I am writing for LifesRake.com are beginning to add up.
GOING FURTHER WITH NANOHABITS: EXPLORING VARIOUS AREAS OF LIFE
Daily nanohabits can be applied to virtually any area of your life. Again, these are microscopic habits that are not too big or too scary but easily done each and every day without fail.
Work & Career
For your work and career what daily nanohabits could you start today? Pick something super small. I.E. one business development email per day to a potential new customer or partner. Even if only 5% of those convert into new opportunities that is 13 new clients or partners per year (math based on 260 working days per year). What if one of those 13 clients/partners was the juggernaut that blessed your company’s yearly revenue by 10 fold? What other daily nanohabits could you come up with to add to your daily business that may not change your bottom line in a week or two, but could change the face of your company if done every working day for a year?
How about your relationship with your significant other? I’ll share my daily relationship nanohabit. One short written sentence of appreciation delivered in any form I feel inclined to — on the back of an envelop left for her to find, on a sticky note, written in dry erase marker on the bathroom mirror so she sees it when she first gets up, a Facebook or Instagram post, etc. Anything counts as long as I put it in writing. Most of the time it is one simple sentence and takes me less than 30 seconds. It’s nano-level small, but think about how it would feel if you were acknowledged and loved in writing by your favorite person in the world every single day. How would that make you feel? Would you feel appreciated? And what about those days you point out exactly the thing they needed to hear most and forever change the course of their entire day? That is a great deed to do for someone you truly care about. Furthermore, like any good investment, relationship karma compounds over time. At the end of a year you have acknowledged, appreciated, and loved your significant other at least 365 times in writing. I guarantee it will increase the sense of happiness, love, and appreciation in your relationship. Don’t have a significant other? Apply this concept to your best friend or a family member. Good relationships of any form are one of the biggest keys to personal happiness. Again, a friendly reminder not to try do this with every single person in your life at once. Pick one person and spend several months doing it with just one person before thinking about doing it with another person.
Exercise & Fitness
Exercise is an obvious one but many people are reluctant to start any new habits in this area of life because they think they have to go big and hard or not go at all. You see this after every new year. People from all walks of life mustering up all their courage and willpower to start a new routine only to give up after a few weeks (or days) because they forced themselves to either do too much too soon or chose something they didn’t even like and instead did what they “should” do according to some external source (family, friends, media, etc.). Doing things from the emotional driver of “should” is dangerous in any area of life, but especially so in exercise. The key to building great exercise and fitness habits is to pick something that is fun for “YOU” and to start nano-scopically small. Like lifting weights? Commit to 5-minutes a day. Keep dumbbells or kettle bells at home. Set your countdown timer for 5 minutes and don’t stop until the bell rings. Or maybe commit to 5 minutes a day at the gym. I guarantee that by the time you take the effort to get to the gym you will often stay much longer than 5 minutes. Like running? Commit to one-block per day. Like stretching/yoga? Set your timer for 3-minutes and do it first thing in the morning. Or pick one pose to do every day. Again, the key is to pick something small and easy. And it’s best if it is something portable that can be done from anywhere so you don’t lose track when traveling or when your home routine gets interrupted in some way.
Creativity & Artistic Development
Want to unlock your inner artist. How about one creative sentence per day? Or one paint-stroke per day. Or one minute of guitar practice per day. Obviously you can set the bar slightly higher than one sentence, one paint stroke, or one minute, but only you can decide where that level of comfort is. If you haven’t picked up a paintbrush in years, maybe one paint-stroke is perfect. If writing comes easy to you maybe you commit to 5-minutes a day. And if you already know how to play an instrument maybe you commit to playing through one song a day.
Food & Wellness
Want to eat healthier? Again, the power lies in starting super small. Eat something naturally green at every meal. Commit to getting enough daily fiber–see my hacking cinnamon toast crunch article or video for a fun and easy way to get your fiber and discover why it’s an essential part of my eating strategy. Drink one glass of water before each meal. Commit to not drinking anything with calories in it. Again, you choose what is an appropriate level for you since we all find different things easier and other things more difficult.
How about personal growth and personal peace? Could you commit to 5-minutes a day to reading something that will inspire you to grow and transform? Or if you don’t like reading how about 5-minutes of listening to an audiobook? How about personal affirmations? Could you pick one affirmation to repeat to yourself daily? Instead of trying to suddenly become a master meditator why not commit to one minute per day? Even if you pick just one tiny personal growth nanohabit it could alter your life significantly over a period of years.
TAILORING DAILY NANOHABITS & MAKING THEM FIRE-PROOF
Discover YOUR Optimal Nanohabit Level
It is important to find that perfect amount and stick there. It is a delicate balance and you will only find it by testing it out. Everyone is different. Keep trying different amounts until you find your balance. Be gentle with yourself. I tend to beat myself up when I don’t achieve the initial nanohabit bar I set for myself. Then I realize it’s pointless to beat myself up, I let go of my ego, and I pick an easier level to achieve. You want to be right under your easy-to-accomplish tipping point. Though I stress making it ridiculously easy you also want to keep it at the top end of ridiculously easy. You still want to maximize your ability and transformation. I am arguing very fine points here, but the concept I am trying to solidify is that if doing 5-minutes of something is super easy for you don’t go down to 2-minutes just because that’s what someone else is doing. Stick with your version of easy is, whatever that may be.
Embracing Refinement, Iteration, & Planning For Life’s Fires
If any of these amounts, distances, or time intervals are intimidating or you find yourself avoiding them you are starting with too much. Keep starting with less until you get to the point where you are not skipping or avoiding your daily nanohabits. Keep making it easier and smaller until you literally laugh at the thought of not being able to accomplish it. When you reach that laughing-point stop and start from there. Another way to think about it is to pick a level that even on your hardest day you could stick to. I am talking crazy bad day when everything goes wrong. You get fired, you lose a friend or family member, you get a ticket, etc. If you can’t see yourself accomplishing it on your worst day then the chances of you accomplishing true transformation on a consistent basis go down significantly. We all have bad days. In time you will find that these nanohabits become easier and easier, but don’t add more to your daily required amount you overachievers! Keep your daily required amount infinitesimal. You can always choose to do more the day of. Just keep your minimum laughable so you don’t shy away from it. When I first started creatively writing (I.E. writing for this blog) I set my bar too high. I started with 20 minutes per day. I kept avoiding it. I would maybe get lucky once or twice a week and follow through, but a majority of the time I just kept putting it off. Then I cut it to 10 minutes and suddenly I jumped up to accomplishing this daily nanohabit 4-5 times a week. Then I got busy and stressed with work and life and fell off once again. Finally, I moved it down to 5 minutes and that has been working even on tough days. The point is that you can always do more than whatever the minimum is and often times you will do quite a bit more. Sometimes it will turn into hours. The key is to build the habit muscle and set yourself up for year-round success. Keep the minimum requirement so small you never completely abandon the habit.
Closing Concepts For Overachievers & Humans
In closing, I want to review a few important ideas. These are core concepts that I know I struggled with for a long time. I cannot stress enough how important it is to build only one or two daily nanohabit at a time. I have spent incredible amounts of energy and time trying to change everything at once only to fall back to where I started. Then I would waste even more time and energy by avoiding all these life-enhancing changes because I was upset to discover once again that I don’t have God-like powers to fundamentally change every single area of my life in one fell swoop. By hyper-focusing on one nanohabit you can become truly great at it and instill it into the core of your being. Once you feel a particular daily nanohabit is fundamentally ingrained in your DNA then you can add more. The beautiful thing about nanohabits is that once they are built they actually take virtually no extra willpower. So once your nanohabit is built you get your willpower energy back and you can invest it into something else like starting another life-changing nano-habit!
By focusing on simple daily nanohabits one at a time a lot can change in a year. You will literally be a new person by the same time next year if you focus on the super simple process of sticking to a daily nanohabit. The other awesome thing about willpower that I want to mention is that just like a muscle it can be trained to get stronger. Your willpower endurance will increase with each daily nanohabit you successfully implement. The next one you start will be easier to achieve and you will be able to set the skill level slightly higher each time. So even though these daily nanohabits aren’t huge by themselves, they add up quick. By conscious design, you can incrementally transform yourself in radical ways.
To all my fellow humans, there will be days that even the most minuscule daily nanohabit will get skipped. Life isn’t perfect and chaos visits everyone from time to time. When you do fall off the first thing to do is forgive yourself. This is paramount to beginning again. In retrospect, I believe it is one of the key factors to maintaining the compounding effect of nanohabits that occurs over the long-haul. You will fail from time to time and this is okay. You are human. Failure is natural and everyone experiences it. Yet, for some reason most of us often treat any failure, big or small, like it is a direct refection of our personal self-worth. In my own life I have spent so much wasted time and energy beating myself up over not sticking to habit, losing momentum on a goal or dream, or even feeling like progress isn’t happening fast enough. Not meeting self-imposed time constraints and schedules often seems to mean I am failing too. That is usually the case until I take a quick pause and realize that it in fact doesn’t mean anything. I am just choosing to create that particular meaning around an experience of time. I believe this is a huge struggle for most humans. We are our own worst enemy. The way we talk to ourselves is often incredibly harsh and abusive. So when life happens and your daily nanohabit falls to the way-side practice self-forgiveness. Even if you only think of letting go of self-flagration from the analytical and logical standpoint of seeing it as a further waste of time and energy. Energy and time that you that can put towards something much more useful like beginning again. In the long-run, the best thing to do is to just get back up every time you fall. There is a great Japanese proverb that captures this idea:
“Fall down seven times, get up eight.” -Japanese Proverb
If you fall off your nanohabit horse you want to make sure you have no problem getting right back on. The key is to keep it as easy as possible to begin again and to do it as soon as you can. You are building pathways in your mind and in your routines. So when you skip a nanohabit that you normally do in the morning and find yourself thinking about it in the evening do it then and there. Most, if not all, of your daily nanohabits should be small enough and portable enough to do anywhere at any time. So as soon as you find yourself thinking about it, just do it. Keep conditioning that habit path in your mind and body. You are already expending energy thinking about it. Even if it’s the day after, gently release the guilt and begin again. If you correctly sized your nanohabit it won’t be too intimidating to get back on the horse. The ultimate key is to just keep building that habit muscle one nano-fiber at a time. It compounds over time. And over time you will be truly amazed at how far you have come just by sticking to something so small and easy.
A PARTING PORTABLE THEORY ON NANOHABITS
I realize that this almost seems too small to be so impactful but look at the areas of your life where you are already excelling consistently. Take a good look, do some personal analysis, and see if there is something you do regularly, possibly daily, that is one of the greater or greatest contributing factors to your success in that particular area. We are all good at something. Often, a large part of this is due to regular habits that we do at an almost subconscious level. They are so ingrained that we aren’t even aware of them anymore. Pretend that you are trying to teach this area of excellence to a younger version of yourself that hasn’t yet reached the level you are at currently. If you could only give him or her one piece of advice what would that be? Look at what you are good at and break it down into tiny parts. Keep breaking it down until you come to one or two key tiny processes that you believe contribute to 80% or more of the success in this area. Then once you have found it think about how you built that particular success-generating process? If it’s large and complex how would you begin to teach it to your younger self? What one thing would you have him or her do daily? That is your daily nanohabit. Now, pick another area of life you want to be great at and go through the same theoretical engineering and come up with a consciously self-designed nanohabit that just may lead you to unlock your next level of potential in your chosen area of life.
There is an infinite number of areas where you can implement a life-changing nanohabit. Pick one that has significant and personal meaning to you. Remember to pick only one daily nanohabit and truly stick to it for a few months. Take note of where you are before you start then compare that to where you are a few months later. Look for the compounding effect and the ripple effects it has had throughout your life. For me, daily nanohabits have been absolutely crucial to tapping all the latent potential within. It is my sincere hope that they lead you to the same discovery.
I would love to hear about your own experience with old, current, or new daily nanohabits. Reach out to me via Facebook or Twitter and please share your story with me.
In Alchemy & Service,
Justin David Carl | LifesRake 🌒
P.S. A huge part of building nanohabits or any habits for that matter is CONSISTENCY. Want an easy way to stay consistent? Get a partner in ongoing, ever-evolving fitness, human potential, & transformation by joining me!
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SOURCES THAT INSPIRED THIS ESSAY:
1. Special thanks to one of my best friends and huge bodybuilding mentor, Waylon, for patiently convincing me to give food and weight logging a shot. Check him out on Instagram for some bodybuilding and food inspiration. It only took me a year or so to finally give it a chance. For the longest time it sounded like way too much work. Turns out that with today’s technology it’s pretty damn easy.
2. The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
3. The Five-Minute Journal by Alex Ikonn & UJ Ramdas
4. The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin
5. Willpower by Roy F. Baumeister & John Tierney
6. The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
7. The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday