“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
Shrinking the commitment reduces our Elephant’s reluctance. We avoid becoming paralyzed by subjective fatigue. Chances are you will do more than the minimum requirement but never do less. Small commitments aren’t going to cause you to do less. It is counterintuitive, but these small commitments cause you to do more by making you more consistent. This commitment is a floor and not a ceiling. If you feel motivated to do more, that’s great. Willpower is going to get you going. Motivation will determine how far you go. Learn more about the Elephant & Rider Analogy.
I suggest you schedule most of your willpower challenges in the morning. The second best time is immediately after eating lunch. That is because our willpower is highest at these times. Going to bed early, so you can schedule some time to exercise has enormous benefits. You’ll get more sleep, which boosts willpower, and you’ll reduce the time window when you are most susceptible to bad habits. Waking up before the rest of the world gives you a big advantage over the people that stay-up-late, wake up late, stubble through their morning, and haphazardly begin their day. Waking up before everyone else allows you to focus your peak physical and mental energies on your top priorities without distraction.
Beginning your day with exercise sets a positive tone for your day. It enhances your mood for up to 12-hours and improves your cognitive performance. The most consistent exercisers work out first thing in the morning. We want to keep our commitment small and make exercise as enjoyable as possible. Huge commitments might work for Gary Vee and a small minority of extraordinarily determined individuals, but it probably won’t work for you and me. Keep your morning priming session small enough that you will not need much willpower to do it. A short practice you do every day is better than a longer one that you do intermittently.
It isn’t what we occasionally do that shapes our lives – it is our habits. Small efforts aggregate to produce fabulous results. What works for me, and I suspect it will work for you, is working with your Elephant, not against him. We don’t want to try to overpower our Elephant. When we attempt to overcome our Elephant, we will quickly become exhausted. This is as unfortunate as it is avoidable. We could have coaxed our Elephant into taking one small step and perhaps a few more, but instead, our bullying caused the Elephant to refuse to do anything.
Only eight percent of New Year’s resolutions are successful. It is easy to blame peoples’ failures on a lack of willpower or motivation because if they had an extraordinary amount of either, they could have powered through. Still, the real culprit was their poor strategy. Anything that is outside of our comfort zone is going to trigger resistance. We want to shrink the commitment to only take a tiny step outside our comfort zone – expanding it slightly. Willpower is much more reliable than motivation. It is the reason we will use it as our starting strategy. And by shrinking our commitment, we will always have enough.
We should look at motivation like the commitment of an unreliable friend; it’s great when he shows up, but we shouldn’t count on him. The First Rule of Behavior Change, Shrink the Commitment, is the most effective way to create a good habit. Shrink the new commitment down so small that you could keep your habit streak alive even on your absolute worst day. We don’t rise to the level of our ambitions; we sink to the level of our standards. Set the bar so low, you cannot fail, but that bar is just a minimum.
You can always do more when you feel motivated to do so, but you never want to do less. You cannot build on a habit until you have established it. Habits are conditioned through repetition. Set the bar too high, and you’ll never develop the habit; moreover, you’ll become discouraged and erode your self-esteem. Set the bar low, build self-confidence, willpower, and motivation. You’ll be much further along in five months than the inconsistent person with lofty goals.
Being overly ambitious with your daily commitments is the best way to kill a habit. Our habits must be able to survive our bad days. If our commitment is too big to do on our bad days when willpower and motivation are almost non-existent, we won’t form a habit. No one is going to stop you from doing more. I just don’t want you to make the mistake of being too ambitious. These small commitments are a starting line – not a finish line. Once you get started, you can always do more. After the habit is established, you can incrementally increase it, but not before. You’ll know when you have a habit when it feels like something is wrong when you don’t do it. When it truly feels like your default behavior and not something that requires any willpower or motivation.
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