“Stupid small” steps work better for me than larger goals. Be the person with embarrassing goals and impressive results instead of one of the many people with impressive goals and embarrassing results.” Stephen Guise, Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results
We all have a reluctant Elephant. Whenever we step outside our comfort zone, it can be difficult to convince our Elephant to begin. The First Rule of Behavior Change, Shrink the Habit, helps us overcome our Elephant’s resistance. The further we plan to step outside our comfort zone, the stronger the resistance.
Fortunately, we can reduce this resistance by reducing the commitment. When we plan to step just a little bit outside of our comfort zone, no alarms are triggered. Once you get started, you’ll discover it requires a lot less effort to keep going. At this point, we have already overcome the strongest resistance, which is to begin. Once in motion, momentum is working for us. Learn more about the Elephant and the Rider analogy.
We can help our Rider to overcome our Elephant’s reluctance by reducing the commitment to silly small proportions. For example, we could convince our Elephant to clean a messy room by saying, “All I am asking for is a five-minute commitment. After that, we can stop.” Of course, after starting, it is much easier to keep going. The same strategy can be applied to working out when you just are not motivated. Tell your Elephant, “let’s get changed, grab a cup of coffee, and warm up for five minutes, and if we still are not feeling it, we can quit.” Once you get started, it is unlikely your Rider won’t be capable of motivating your Elephant to keep going. Even if you stop after five minutes, you have reinforced the habit.
One of the greatest dancers and choreographers of the modern era, Twyla Tharp, has spent decades performing to the delight of audiences worldwide. She attributes her phenomenal longevity to one simple daily habit. “I begin each day of my life with a ritual,” she writes. “I wake up at 5:30 A.M., put on my workout clothes, my leg warmers, my sweatshirt, and my hat. I walk outside my Manhattan home, hail a taxi, and tell the driver to take me to the Pumping Iron gym at 91st Street and First Avenue, where I work out for two hours. The ritual is not the stretching and weight training I put my body through each morning at the gym; the ritual is the cab. The moment I tell the driver where to go, I have completed the ritual. It’s a simple act, but doing it the same way each morning habituates it—makes it repeatable, easy to do. It reduces the chance that I would skip it or do it differently. It is one more item in my arsenal of routines, and one less thing to think about.”[i] She shrinks the commitment to getting into the cab. Once she is in the cab, this gateway habit shapes her next two hours.
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[i] Twyla Tharp and Mark Reiter, The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life: A Practical Guide (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2006).