We all have desires to fulfill, roles to become, qualities to acquire, and goals to reach, but we rarely pursue these things. Because of our fuzzy concept of time, we only hope and imagine, because hoping and imagining are more pleasurable than sweating and doing.
You’ll remember, if you read my piece on heroes, that we tend to overestimate what we can do in a lengthy span of time. We might have a shelf of 100 books that we figure we can plow through by the end of summer. The end of summer seems far away, so we don’t stop to think about the individual steps required to reach this goal (reading every single one of those 100 books – and summer is not even 100 days). We assume that, in this great, foggy mass of time, something magical will happen, namely that our future selves, unlike our current selves, will be superhumanly diligent and committed.
Nothing magical will happen to help you accomplish your gargantuan goals. But there is a way to achieve them.
The secret is to start by actively taking little steps.
Taking small steps is a fantastic way to harness both the pessimism and the optimism inside all of us. The optimism? Believing we can change ourselves for the better. The pessimism? Knowing that we fail unless we set the bar incredibly low for ourselves.
I can’t resist sharing a little-steps method that has worked wonders for me. This is an explanation of what I do – not a prescription for anyone else. I’m just some random guy online – you don’t have to follow anything I say.
I’ve used this method eight times to pick up various habits. I used it first in February of 2011, when I decided I wanted to form a writing habit. My goal was to write for an hour every day.
I set aside 28 days to form this habit and penciled it into my daily schedule. For the first seven days, I sat down at my computer and made myself write for 2 minutes. Yep, 2 minutes. No more, no less. After my two minutes expired, I always wanted to keep writing, but I didn’t. I stopped, because I wanted to frustrate my desires in order to build anticipation for the next time I wrote. I also wanted to establish the simple habit of sitting down to write rather than exert willpower in order to write for hours on end.
The second week, I wrote for 15 minutes. Not long. But I did it every day. Third week: 30 minutes. Fourth week: 60.
Finally, after these 28 days were over, I allowed myself to write longer than 60 minutes if I so chose. For the first time, writing longer than an hour felt liberating, not draining. Magical, even. And, better yet, a habit was born!
If you ever attempt or have already tried this, tell me. I would love to know if it works for anyone else.