Missing once is no big deal...
Missing twice is the start of a new habit.
The title of the post came from an interview vegan super-athlete Rich Roll did with James Clear on the Rich Roll podcast. They were talking about how habits change your identity – and that’s part of what keeps the momentum going. You become “a runner” or “a writer” in your mind, so you keep running, or writing.
It’s also why little tiny consistent habits are typically the best and most sustainable way to bring about long-term change. For most of us the idea of starting tiny goes against all of our big inspired emotions and “logical” thoughts about what will bring change – whether in our personal lives or in relation to the bigger issues that we care about.
But the resistance we feel to starting very, very small is just one of many tricky ways that we keep ourselves stuck. It’s a version of perfectionism that helps us to avoid doing something uncomfortable and scary. Or something that feels just to irritatingly dull and uninspiring that we just don’t feel like doing it because we only want to do things that feel immediately amazing. Being unwilling to take tiny uninspiring steps keeps us on the up-and-down emotional roller coaster of start-stop—the run-fast-and-get-a-big-win-then-crash-and-burn cycle.
If you’ve tried it you know that some point that cycle gets exhausting and discouraging enough to make finding a new way pretty appealing. That’s how I got to the place where I’m willing to try the tiny, boring stuff. But it still doesn’t come easy to me.
If you’ve been around me much at all you’ve heard me talk about how Tara Mohr in her book Playing Big (which I use a lot in my coaching practice) talks about how we need to make it easy for ourselves to reach our big goals. I’ve written about this before but it bears repeating. The idea of “making it easy” doesn’t mean that you lower your standards or your sights. You don’t make the goal itself easier. Instead, you make it easier for yourself to TAKE the steps you want to take to reach your goal than NOT to take them.
One way to make it easy for yourself to reach a new goal is to tie it closely to something you do already every day – like brushing your teeth or drinking a cup of coffee or walking in the door after work. And to do the new action DAILY.
It seems counter-intuitive for those of us who hate to be boxed in by rigid rules, but for most actions, doing the thing every day, at the same time in pretty much the same way makes it EASY. It’s like how if you drive to work the same way everyday and one day you plan to take another route because you have an errand to run, but halfway there you realize you’re on your regular route and you’ve already missed the turn you meant to take. You’re on “auto-pilot” on your regular course. It’s easier to follow it than NOT to follow it.
AND, as James Clear pointed out in the interview I mentioned at the beginning, doing something regularly also changes your identity – once you’ve become “someone who works out” you’re less likely to become again “someone who hates exercise.” And that also makes it easier to stick with the new habit.
So, if you have a big dream or if you want to make a big, and lasting change —especially a lifestyle change, like regularly working out or writing or meditating or regularly reading works written by someone from a cultural background that’s different from your own—and you’re ready to get off of the start-stop-run-then-crash roller coaster . . . make it easy.
Pick something you already do every day and follow that activity with a tiny version of the new habit you want to build. You can make it even easier by getting support from BJ Fogg of Tiny Habits fame (try the free course.)
Do it daily – or (as is the case with several of my routines) – every weekday – or even every Saturday.
If you miss it once, don’t beat yourself up, just don’t miss it twice. Because that will make starting up again hard - and we're going for easy here!
And if you want a little extra inspiration check our Karen Walrond’s short Make Light podcast Episode 2, Season 4. February 10, 2019 In this 20 min episode she describes the joy she finds in routines and rituals. And highlights something I never thought about before - what a privilege it is to be able to create them: “Routine is a privilege…it can mean that you live in a home where you feel safe, or you and your family aren’t currently in crisis; sometimes it means that you have the financial means to be able to have routine or ritual like weekly massages, or a membership to a gym or even the disposable income to buy journaling supplies…routine is amazing!”
And for the rebellious among us – remember once you’ve established it you can throw out the routine every once in a while. Just for fun. I loved what Maira Kalman (who has walked daily in Central Park with a friend for decades) said when she was interviewed by Krista Tippet (On Being) in Jan 2019, “I love following the rituals—and I love breaking the rituals.”
Miss it once. No big deal. Miss it twice it’s the start of the new habit.
Change requires effort, but it doesn’t have to be so hard. Make it easy.
Here’s to thriving…and equity.