Start small. To build any habit, the number one tip for success is to start small. Nobody becomes a pack-a-day smoker by puffing down 20 cigarettes one day and saying, “Gee, that was fun. I think I’ll do that again tomorrow.” We don’t become overweight by waking up one morning and deciding to; we just make choices that, over time, add up to larger pant sizes and an unwavering love of elastic waistbands.
In an earlier post, “February Commitment: My Loyalty Cocktail,” I discussed different types of loyalty we all have to one degree or another, and shared with you my commitment to stretching for 15 minutes every day of the month. The goal was threefold:
- To participate in a challenge with a friend and serve as her accountability partner;
- To improve my health; and
- To flex my commitment muscles and reinforce my loyalty to my own intentions.
“Loyalty to my own intentions?” you may ask. “What’s so hard about that?” Well, I’ve got drawers full of art supplies, half a dozen unfinished blog posts, a closet that hasn’t been cleaned since 2009, a car that hasn’t seen the business end of a vacuum hose since 2012, and a good 40 extra pounds of fat on my body that tell me there is something hard about it. We all have our own lists of good but unmet intentions. The reason for this is simple: we don’t start small.
We declare in grand gestures and novel-length to-do lists that we will accomplish everything, and we will do it by the end of the weekend. The trouble with that, of course, is life, other people, lethargy, and distractions — Look! A squirrel! — take priority so our intentions go unmet, and our habit of not meeting our goals gets stronger.
That’s why this February challenge was important to me. In small ways, I wanted to start breaking the cycle of telling myself I would do something, and then just not getting around to it that day. I wanted to break the habit of letting myself down and build a new one of staying true to course. This challenge was perfect. I’m happy to report that I have indeed met my goal of stretching for 15 minutes every-single-day this month. There were days when I didn’t feel like doing it, days when I itched to do anything else after the first two minutes, but I stuck it out for the full fifteen. Having the goal small enough that I’d be ashamed to say I couldn’t manage it helped. Surely, I could do 15 minutes, I told myself. Well, some days, I didn’t feel so sure.
Having an accountability partner played a critical role in the success of this challenge. My friend (who has also succeeded in her goal – woo!) wrote to me this morning, “I almost blew it off today, but decided to do two yoga sessions tonight instead, as I knew I’d feel way out of integrity if I didn’t.” That summed it up perfectly for me. I didn’t want to feel out of integrity by blowing this off. We were there to keep each other true.
Another thing that helped me was automating the process. I used an interval timer app on my Kindle so I didn’t have to think about it. I pushed a button and kept stretching until the intervals (20 of 45 seconds each) had counted down. The app then gave me a congratulatory whistle at the end to say “job well done.”
I’ve heard some writers use timers as well to help build their habit and perfect their craft. Perhaps I’ll build up to that. For March, however, I’m taking on a new challenge. February helped me to build consistency. March will continue that trend, with another ridiculously small goal that I can do every day, regardless of mood, life, and any squirrels that cross my path.
If you struggle with consistency, whether it be your intention to write every day, exercise, give your loved ones compliments, give them purple nurples, whatever… enlist an accountability partner and join us in March for another commitment challenge. You choose the commitment, life will give you the challenge. And squirrels… there will probably be squirrels.