by Susan McCarthy
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Everyday practice: What is the smallest, routine action you could take to work toward a goal?
I struggle developing habits. Part of my problem is that I set in my mind what a new habit should look like and go for this result right away. For example, I’m determined to do an hour of aerobics five times a week. However, if my schedule is tight and I realize that I’ll be able to fit in, say, 30 minutes of aerobics, I won’t do any exercise because I can’t hit my goal of 60-minutes. (Crazy, huh?)
I’ve got a not very productive mindset of all-or-nothing.
Go for Small Wins
Small wins a just what they sound like. You decide on the smallest, easiest goal that your mind offers absolutely no resistance to … and, you go for it.
So, when I think that I must exercise for 60 minutes but the resistant corner of my brain is shooting off excuses, I can knock down that goal. Forty-five minutes? Thirty minutes? Fifteen minutes? Hmm, I do have a workout video with 10-minute routines.
Ten-minutes of exercise doesn’t sound like a lot. And, it isn’t. However, once I get used to doing a 10-minute exercise routine, chances are that I’ll think, “Hey, I’ve got my sneakers on, so why don’t I do another ten minutes?”
In a month, I’ll likely be at, or near, my goal of 60-minutes of aerobics. And, if at some point during the month I realize that I don’t have time for a full workout, it will be easier to convince myself to exercise for 30-minutes because a week or so earlier, that was my goal.
I’ll get out of that all-or-nothing mindset because developing the habit was a more fluid process.
Build New Habits
What are some habits that you’d like to develop? I wouldn’t recommend developing all of them at once, however, if you have a morning habit that you’d like to develop and another habit as part of your evening routine, you could give it a try to work on both.
Maybe you’re tired of waking up tired and you realize that you should go to bed earlier than 11 p.m. If you decide to go to bed 30-minutes early, 10:30 p.m., chances are your body and mind will protest like a toddler and you may even find yourself staying up later as a backlash against this sudden and dramatic change.
So, instead, go to bed five minutes earlier – 10:55 p.m. This won’t seem like a significant difference … and, that’s the point. After a few days, this will become your normal bedtime. Tweak it another five minutes. If you’re thinking, “Wait, go to bed ten minutes early?” Then, stick with going to bed five minutes early until going to bed five minutes earlier than that is “just” five minutes earlier than your normal bedtime.
Chances are that you’re thinking that these tiny tweaks are ridiculous and that you should just exercise for 60 minutes or go to bed 30 minutes early. How’s that working for you? Yeah, me either.
Maybe it takes a month or two to tweak a habit until you’re at you goal. During that time, you’ve been benefiting from the partial goal and in a month or two, you’ll be going to be bed earlier and exercising at your goals.
On the other hand, if you keep thinking all-or-nothing, chances are, you’ll hit your goal a few times but, in a month or two, the habit will be nonexistent.
Small Wins that Can Become Habits
Turn Small Wins into Habits
So, why do incremental changes seem worthless? Because, we don’t want to think about the process … we just want the result.
Remember, once a small habit becomes a natural part of your day, stretch it a bit more until over time you have the habit you want.
If all at once works for you, fantastic! Every so often, you may discover that you can make a spontaneous change to your habits. Don’t dissect your behavior, shout “woo-hoo” and go on with your day. Otherwise, go for the small wins.
Working on habits connect with being organized? I've written a brief book, Why Can't You Stay Organized? that focuses on the habits and mindsets that will help you stay organized while you declutter.
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Susan, chief (and only) organized squirrel at A Less Cluttered Life, pursues learning, practicing, and sharing information about the everyday habits that can lead to living a better life.