If you’re like most people, there are activities you want to be doing more often—running? writing? relaxing? cleaning?—but you’re unsure how to get yourself to do them consistently. Maybe you feel undisciplined or wish you were “the kind of person” who could be good at habits or routines. Well, as it turns out, it isn’t really about how good or bad you are at something. It’s just about training your brain. Which is good news, I think, since there are tricks we can learn and use to get the results we want.
So this guy Aaron runs a site called Freedom and Fulfillment, and it looks like he has a book out too. He uses some disappointing language—like using “pussy” as a slur, when really, shouldn’t we stop criminalizing the female body? But he has some great ideas. In case we find ourselves dragging our feet over something we want to accomplish (we don’t exactly want to do it so much as we think we should, or maybe we want to have done it, and we know we’ll feel better once we have), Aaron gives us two methods: either build it up to be A HUGE BIG DEAL that’s a matter of LIFE AND DEATH!!! to feel the (overemphasized) importance and weight of it, or minimize it into THE TINIEST DEAL EVAR until it seems like the easiest thing to do.
The first trick reminds me of when my sister and I were little and we were told to clean our room. It felt completely insurmountable, so we made up games to make it feel possible. One was to pretend the world was going to end if we didn’t finish before five minutes was up. Suddenly, there was tension and pressure and we had to do it, because the world was depending on us to save them! We would use countdowns, but the time never actually ran out because we’d just start it over at another arbitrary point. We knew the stakes were imaginary, but they created real fun and real motivation. When one of us stood still for too long we’d goad the other, “Come on, the planet needs us!!!” (The buddy system is the best for accountability). I think you should try it some time. It might feel silly… or you might surprise yourself by what you can get done.
The second trick reminds me of two things. Personally, I try to get up early and have a 45 minute run (jog) on my treadmill while watching a tv show, first thing. When I accomplish this, I feel better all day. The hard part isn’t getting on the treadmill. I’m still half-asleep, too out of it to argue with myself. The hardest part is getting out of bed, not snoozing the alarm.
Once I’m on the treadmill, the hardest part is continuing to run, instead of decide to walk instead. I try to minimize through the momentary pain by reminding myself that this is just 45 minutes out of 24 whole hours of my time. That makes it less than 1/24, or 4%, of my time. “It’s just a few more minutes,” I remind myself. And a few more, and a few more, until it’s done.
My favorite zen blogger, Leo Babauta, is one of the guys on the wide web who said “floss one tooth.” Make the task so impossibly small that you literally cannot talk yourself out of it. Seriously, who can’t floss one tooth? It’s laughable. Yet it is also empowering. Once you pick up the floss, who’s to say you can’t floss a few more once you’re there? Up to you. The important part, the hardest part, is winning the argument with your brain. DO THE THING.
For more from Leo and Zen Habits, check him out here. And I’m not sure, but this philosophy may have originated from Dr. BJ Fogg, creator of Tiny Habits, who now has a Tiny Habits Academy.
When you start searching the Wide Web for information on habit forming and sustaining, you might get swamped or drowned in all the information. I feel like this is a really important topic, so I’m going to do series with it. Stay tuned for more spectacular and crazy ideas to try.