Many of my coaching clients want to start exercising. One obstacle many of these clients encounter is that they have an “all or nothing” approach: Either they want to exercise an hour every single day or they don’t want to exercise at all. This obstacle comes up with many other goals, too: The goal to write for an hour a day, give up sugar cold turkey, meditate 30 minutes, seven days a week, and so on.
While these ambitious goals are admirable, they can set you up for failure. For example, if your goal is to exercise an hour a day and one day you don’t because it’s raining or you don’t feel well or an emergency comes up at work, the perfectionist in you will say, “I failed. I might as well give up for good.” If you harbor negative feelings about a task, you’re less likely to do it.
The trick to creating habits that last is to start small to set up little “wins” for yourself. For example, commit to exercising for just 10 minutes a day, or cut your sugar consumption by one quarter, journal 10 minutes daily, or meditate for 5 minutes per day.
There are two reasons this tactic is so effective:
- The goals are so ridiculously easy that they’re hard not to reach. And once you complete the small task, you feel good about yourself for doing so. And this positive feeling helps kick-start you the next time you go to do the task.
- If you promise to, say, meditate for just 5 minutes, and tell yourself that you can stop as soon as the timer goes off, you’ve overcome the main hurdle to completing a task: Getting started. Once you’re actually doing the task, you’ll often get on a roll and not want to stop. So 10 minutes of writing turns into an hour. A short meditation session turns into a long one. A quick walk becomes a couple of miles.
When I suggest that a client create small wins, she often balks because she says that the goal can’t possible benefit her health. Two counter-arguments:
- Doing 5 or 10 minutes of something has more of an impact on your health than doing nothing at all.
- The point of manufacturing small wins isn’t necessarily to create great gains in health — it’s to get you started with a habit that will grow over time. Then you’ll see the gains in health. Experts say it takes 21 days to create a habit. Even more important than doing a lot of something is doing it consistently.
Your challenge today: Create a small win for yourself for vowing to do something — self care, meditating, exercising, writing — for just 5 to 15 minutes per day. And let me know how it works!