Whether it’s the New Academic Year or the New (Calendar) Year, you probably have some New Year’s Resolutions!
It is tempting to set big goals. However, every big goal is achieved by a set of very small steps. Small steps are much less overwhelming than big changes.
A post from Peter Shankman on Why Inspirational Quotes Don’t Work sets out the basic principal though I would summarize it another way: Why Taking Small Steps Yields Big Results.
Do today, what you know you can do again tomorrow.
That’s it. Whatever you want in six months, whether it’s a flat ass or a flat stomach, whether it’s more confidence to speak in public or more knowledge of Medieval architecture, you’ll get it by repetition. So do today what you know you can do tomorrow.
See, here’s why this works better than an inspirational quote: Repetition, in a shorter amount of time than you think, will make you want to do MORE today because you’ll know you’ve reached a point where you CAN do more tomorrow. And so on, and so on. And before you know it, it actually WILL be six months, and you’ll really be where you wanted to be six months ago!
Example: Want to do 100 pushups each morning? An inspirational quote will rev you up the first day, and you’ll do 20, maybe 25. Awesome! But the next day, and the day after that, you’ll be sore and hurting like hell, and the quote won’t have that same inspirational power it did three days ago, if it’s even remembered at all. Two weeks later, your goal, along with that quote, is a bad memory. BUT: Let’s say you KNOW you can do seven pushups tomorrow morning. Well then, that’s what you do today. And the next day, you’re not hurting, so you do seven again. And three days later, you’ll know you can do eight. Before you know it, it’s six months later, and you haven’t missed one day, and are doing 100 or more pushups each morning!
Nothing succeeds like success.
Let’s apply this to writing.
Everyone struggles to find time to write. Everyone struggles to find big enough chunks of time to write in.
If you start out your new year resolving to write for an hour a day, when you haven’t even managed an hour a week last term, I bet it will be like doing 20 pushups.
You do that hour today and then tomorrow you are even more overwhelmed by all the other demands so you skip it to get caught up. Maybe you do an hour on Day 3. Maybe you decide to deal with the other demands and then you’ll do the hour of writing. By the time you get to it you are tired and cranky and it’s hard to write.
How long does it take before you decide it is just impossible to write during term time and have given up even trying?
Do today what you know you can do again tomorrow?
At the end of your 15 minutes, take another minute to write down what you would do next if you could keep writing.
Repeat tomorrow, perhaps starting with the thing you noted at the end of your last session.
Once a week, take a minute to review your sense of what you can do again tomorrow. Does 15 minutes feel about right? Or do you think you could manage 20?
Resist the temptation to write for as long as you can keep going today.
Set a timer. Stop at the end of your time.
Your goal is to build a sustainable habit. That means that even if some days you can fit in a longer time, you need to get used to the idea of this small chunk of time first.
Just as 5 pushups will eventually lead to 100, 15 minutes will not stay 15 minutes for ever. (And even if it did, extensive research by Robert Boice has shown that 15 minutes a day is effective.)
Trust the process.
This post was originally published on January 11, 2013, and again on September 16. It has been edited, most recently on August 3, 2015.