In this popular video, I discuss how to shift from talking about doing, to actually doing. By breaking down the things you want to accomplish into the smallest units possible, it reduces the hurdle to actually taking action. In addition to that, it has become clear that it is not what you do on any particular day that matters. It is the small things you repeatedly do that become the big things you spend your life doing. My favorite quote says this well:
How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. – Annie Dillard
Annie Dillard’s writing reflects the consistency needed to make significant changes over time. If we try to run a marathon before we’re able to run a mile, it is unlikely we’ll run again the next day due to soreness and exhaustion. We may even be frustrated at our inability to run a marathon and, discouraged, give up completely. It’s the difference between jogging for 10 hours straight then not jogging for 19 days, and jogging for 30 minutes every day for 20 days in a row. While the same hours are spent, I’m sure you can imagine which scenario would be more beneficial.
Over the last eight weeks, I’ve been experimenting with this philosophy and truly putting the push-up theory in the video to the test. About two months ago, I started by doing ten push-ups twice per day. That’s about all that I could do comfortably without being too sore to complete them again the next day. Since then, I’ve done the two sets six days per week, taking a rest day on Sunday, then increasing by two repetitions each Monday. Now, about two months later, I’m doing two sets of 24 push-ups and will be moving up to 26 on Monday. This method of slowly ratcheting up and building a habit really does work.
A fascinating revelation has been this: instead of dreading it, I actually get a dopamine response from doing the push-ups. I now look forward to it each day and enjoy the challenge and progress. If you told me that would be the case when I started, I wouldn’t have believed you for a hot second. What’s really cool is that I’ve never tried to do more than 25 push-ups in a row before, so in a few days, I’ll be setting a new personal record.
Instead of starting with 50, start with one. Do one every day for a week, take Sunday off, then start with two every day the next week. It is as simple as it is effective. Once you reach your desired level, choose a new item to begin building and stack with the one you’ve established. With that in mind, here are 25 ideas for small daily actions you can begin building a habit with from scratch.
- Do one push-up or air squat
- Walk for one minute
- Stretch for one minute
- Step outside and breathe slowly for one minute
- One focused meal per day (sugar-free/meat-free/your choice)
- Learn one new word in a foreign language
- Read one page of a book
- Listen to one short podcast
- Practice 10 minutes of an instrument
- One lesson on Codeacademy
- Watch one instructional video
- Sketch for one minute
- Brainstorm ideas for one minute
- Listen to one song that inspires you
- Write 100 words in a journal or blog
- Meditate for one minute
- Think of one thing you’re grateful for
- 10 minutes of complete screen-free time
- Donate/Recycle/Trash one item
- Read a personal mission statement aloud
- Reach out to an old friend
- One random act of kindness
- Donate a small amount to a worthy cause
- Pay someone a compliment
- Offer to help someone without expectation
Whether you choose something from the list or use the list as inspiration, start on one small action today. There will be plenty of time to build additional habits as you go. Just remember to start small and build up from there, while letting go of the day-to-day results. When the action reflects the intention, the results will come over time.
If you’re interested simplifying your life and taking a long-term approach to changing things for the better, A Simple Year 2017 would likely be a great option for you. It’s a year-long course collaboration with Courtney Carver, Tammy Strobel, Brooke McAlary, Marc and Angel, The Minimalists, Colin Wright, Jules Clancy, Erin Somerville, Cait Flanders, and myself. It’s currently available at an early-bird price until November 13th, so feel free to check it out to take advantage.