I’ve been trying lately to gain some small wins in my life. I’ve got that problem with having too many things I want to achieve, and so more often than not end up doing nothing. I tend to think about how great it will be to write more for instance, or to do more workout. But I don’t have a plan for how to get this thing going. I don’t know how much would be enough.
In tending to only fantasizing about what the outcome would look like I avoid doing something to get to it. That’s why I’ve instead started thinking in terms of "just enough". “What can I do about this consistently that is just enough to keep me going?” Instead of imagining myself writing a book (which is nice to daydream about) I can put down a few words right now.
Forming the habit
I’ve been doing some journaling experiments in the past. It usually ended with me giving up on it altogether after a few weeks. I didn’t have a well defined structure for how to keep doing it. So, what would be the least amount of effort to get myself writing regularly? What would be just enough? I settled on 100 words. To write a 100 words free form every day is something I can do. It’s not much, but if I do it constantly over a longer period of time it will amount to something. The trick is to set the barrier of entry so low that there’s no excuse for not doing it.
I’ve found it easier to keep going with a habit if I form a small ritual around it. I could set up an internal rule that “journaling should happen first thing in the morning” for instance, or it should happen directly after breakfast.
To set up a minimum barrier doesn’t mean that I’m not allowed to exceed beyond it. The minimum barrier is simply an incentive to get started. Once I start, I always feel a small sense of satisfaction and that gives me energy to keep going. Some days I put down 200 words in my journal, other times even 300 words. But no matter what, I should always have 100 words at the end of the day. That’s my rule. That’s just enough.
However well I carve out rituals for my habits, there will be days when those rituals simply don’t come around. I may be away over the weekend and so my routine looks different than usual. It will be easy then to slip and miss a few things I do at home. That’s where I’ve found lifelines to be extremely valuable. A lifeline to me is a small reminder at the end of the day, that asks me if I’ve done what I need. I use the reminder app Due that will pop up a notification at 9pm, and keep bugging me until I finish my task. The neat thing about Due, and the main reason why I’m using it, is that I can snooze the notification to a custom set time so that it will come back later. You don’t want to finish journaling if you’re in the middle of watching a movie for instance.
This mindset of finding the "just enough" amount of effort has led me to some great results.
- I’ve been jotting down my thinking, recording events in my life and noting down ideas I’ve had every day now for the last 153 days. That’s over 15 000 words.
- Last year I started going to the local swimming pool and I’ve been there 3 days a week for the last 8 months. The minimum barrier to entry here is to simply get myself to the swimming pool in the morning. I’ll try not to listen to that voice in my head pleading with me to stay in bed, I just need to grab my bag and get out the door. Improvements come automatically if I just show up.
- I’ve been doing functional training every day for the last 4 months. It’s only 7 minutes per day, that’s my "just enough" rule. But by doing it day in and day out I’ve worked out for 14 hours in total now. It starts to show.
- I’ve been drinking at least 2 litres of water every day for the last 112 days. I put a 1 litre water bottle on my desk in the morning and I only have to finish it until lunch. Then I do the same thing in the afternoon.
Here is a list of some tools and technology that I find useful to keep my habits going.
- Streaks. A simple way to mark the habits I have going as done. It’s such a joy to see those numbers go up.
- Due. A great little tool for reminding me about the small things in a day.
- Drafts. This is where I write down every thing I can think of. It’s liberating to get directly to a blank canvas and I don’t have to decide until later where I should file it.
- Day One. My journal repository. Here I keep everything that comes in from Drafts.