To Reach Your Goal, Start Smaller
I have a new habit of exercising every day that I’ve maintained for six months now! This is very exciting, but also more than a little confusing. During the same six months where I was super consistent about exercise, I wasn’t able to achieve my personal goals for writing and home improvement projects. I would have told you that writing is more fun, interesting and important to me than riding a stationary bike in my basement, but I struggled to actually sit down and do it. What gives?
Maybe you’ve tried this too – I put reminders in my calendar to work on my projects at specific times. I drew up charts of how I would spend my time outside of work to visually block off the time. I rearranged my commitments, to make sure I wasn’t giving my promises to myself last priority. But I couldn’t stick to my writing schedule, or even make a habit of keeping up with one weekly dreaded cleaning task. I started to feel defeated by my goals. I wondered if I just wasn’t the kind of person who could accomplish big things like writing a book.
Meanwhile, exercise didn’t go on the calendar at all, but I was clocking in thirty minutes on the stationary bike in my basement, rain or shine. The pandemic and lack of motivation on dark winter days didn’t stop me.
While I was working out on that good old stationary bike this week, I stumbled across the explanation in the book Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg.
It turned out that the main thing that I accidentally did to make exercise a habit was to make it easier to do. Exercise bike in the basement for the win! This was the essential thing – it was never about my motivation, it was about whether I set myself up for success. The environment around me made the change I wanted easy, and I also stumbled on a way to create positive feelings around that change.
Here’s a simplified version of Fogg’s recipe for creating new habits, and how it worked for me.
- Start so small it seems trivial – I’ll admit, I set the bike tension pretty low. I always break a sweat, but I’m not training for any hill rides anytime soon.
- Find a good prompt – After coffee, I workout, every day. I slept in my workout clothes, so I got up every morning, had some coffee, put on the workout shoes and rode. Making the plan to work out every meant that there was basically no thinking involved.
- Celebrate success – For my exercise habit, not only did I feel naturally successful, super virtuous and pretty relaxed after I worked out. I also celebrate all the additional books I am making time to read by posting on Goodreads when I finish one.
Now the path forward on my writing habit is looking clearer – and look, I already wrote a whole blog post today! That’s something to celebrate.