Start tiny – the secret to making changes that stick

“I was listening to your podcast flying from Ireland to Spain. Kelly was talking about habits and she said start small, like push-ups: start with one, increase each day until you get to 30. That was 17 August last year and I reached 30 during that holiday. I haven’t missed a day since then and every morning I do 31. The extra 1 is the exclamation mark!!!! It is a great way to start the day and it has become so easy.” ~ Valerie Williams

Anyone who’s read this blog or listened to either of my podcasts knows I’m obsessed with ‘change’. Specifically, helping people make positive change in their lives.

I’ve written about:

Valerie’s comment above, however? I just wanted to die with happiness because it perfectly sums up my favourite tactic for making changes that stick:

Start with something so small, it would be ridiculous NOT to do it.

Carly (my Straight and Curly podcast co-host) laughs that I always give this example:

If you want to start flossing your teeth every night, commit to flossing just one tooth a night. Yes, ridiculous! Who flosses only one tooth?! But that’s the point. If we tell ourselves “I’m going to start flossing every night”, we don’t do it. In our heads it’s ‘too hard’. We decide we’ll start tomorrow night. When we commit to flossing just one tooth, however, it’s the easiest thing in the world. So, we do it.

Want to develop the habit of doing 30 push ups a day like Valerie and me? Commit to doing just one push up on day 1, two push ups on day 2 … and so on and so forth. In 30 days, you’ll have developed both the strength to do 30 push ups, and a new habit. If you try to do 30 push ups from day 1, you won’t even get past day 1.

Want to start waking up 30 minutes earlier each morning? Use the same principle: one minute earlier on day 1, two minutes earlier on day 2 etc.

The best thing about making these micro-changes over a long period of time is the thing we’re doing becomes a habit rather than a chore. When something is a habit:

  • It doesn’t require willpower to execute.
  • If you fall off the wagon, it’s much easier to get back on.

What else assists with the creation of lasting change?

Keystone habits. These are habits that spark “chain reactions that help other good habits take hold.”

For example, developing an exercise habit makes it easier for better nutrition habits to take hold. It also makes it easier to create sound sleep habits. Creating a sound sleep habit allows for better habits around productivity, communication and self-care.

Better than Yesterday

Towards the end of last year, you may have filled in a survey for me that asked this: What’s the one thing you wish you were better at in life? Or the one quality you wish you had more of?

I was planning to use the answers to those questions to write a series of posts under the banner of ‘Better than Yesterday’ – the overarching message being that if we all aim to be slightly better than yesterday, no matter what our ‘thing’ is that we’re trying to improve, then we’d get there faster and make changes that stick.

As I mentioned last week, however, when I started outlining my Better than Yesterday posts, I quickly realised there was a lot of overlap. Why? Because all the changes people wanted to make, no matter how slow and micro they were willing to go, would be infinitely easier to do if there were sound keystone habits in place first.

So, I changed tack. I decided that the best way to help people create the changes they wanted was to help them build good keystone habits first.

A little problem

My readers don’t have time for challenges.

Also, obsessed as I am with Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies, I know that different personalities approach change in different ways:

  • Upholders will make the change simply by telling themselves they will do it.
  • Questioners will only make a change if they’ve researched the need for it, and bought into the why of it.
  • Obligers will make a change if someone is holding them accountable.
  • Rebels will make a change if it appeals to them at an identity level, and no one is telling them they have to do it.

How on earth does one create a challenge that:

  • Operates at the level of ‘so small/easy it would be ridiculous not to do it’ (so that even my very time-poor readers can do it).
  • Appeals to anyone wanting to make a lasting change, regardless of whether they are Upholder, Questioner, Obliger or Rebel.

Well – I’m hoping I’ve developed such a challenge. If you read my post last week, then you know how the first Better than Yesterday challenge – one focusing on sleep – is going to work.

If not, head here.

What I want to share with you today is my plan for the next few months.

  • The sleep challenge will run for 21 days – from Monday 30 January to Sunday 19 February.
  • There will be a week’s break, followed by a 21-day nutrition challenge.
  • A week after that one finishes, there’ll be a 21-day ‘move’ challenge.

Please note, the word ‘challenge’ for all of these is a bit of a misnomer. What you’ll need to do each day is not all that challenging because all you’ll be doing each day is setting an intention.

Why?

Because research has shown that stating how you are going to make something happen is a powerful driver for making that thing actually happen. And it’s a driver that works equally well for all of Gretchen’s tendencies – yes, even you Rebels (because at no stage will I be telling you that you ‘have’ to do anything.)

The sleep challenge has been priced at $10. (I thought about making it free because, frankly, 50 people doing a $10 challenge isn’t paying too many of my bills, so why not just make it free? But, again, research has shown paying for something – even a very nominal amount – means you’re more likely to do it. I want people to be invested in this process.)

  • Everyone who joins in at the sleep challenge stage will get all remaining challenges for the year at no cost.
  • If you join in at the nutrition challenge, the cost will be $20 – and you’ll be in for the whole year.
  • If you join in at the ‘move’ challenge, the cost will be $30.

Once these three challenges are finished, that will be it for new signups because I don’t want to spend all year marketing to you all! Plus, I really want anyone doing the Better than Yesterday challenges that follow to have done at least one of the three ‘keystone’ challenges first.

I hope you’ll join in

2017 is the year I want to play a more tangible and proactive part in helping my readers make lasting, positive changes in their lives. I have great confidence in the power of tiny changes, made daily, adding up to something really big.

All the changes I’ve made in my life over the past few years:

  • Reducing overthinking
  • Excellent mental health
  • Excellent physical health
  • Abundant whitespace
  • Increased productivity
  • Better ability to be present when around my family.
  • Peace and acceptance of the world for how it is (as opposed being frustrated that it’s not what I feel it ‘should’ be).

have come about through setting intentions and making tiny changes on a daily basis. I want to help you achieve all of the above and more.

So, are you in?

If so, you can join in with the Better than Before challenges, starting with ‘sleep’, here.

Comments 8

  1. I’m in! Since signing up 2 days ago I’ve even managed to get to bed at a decent time both nights… don’t know if it’s just on my mind or my overachiever tendencies but either way, I’ve had two good days so I’ll take it. I think you’re onto something here!

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  2. I previously competed in long distance races so when you mentioned in a previous article how, in your mind, a 20 min walk was pointless I understood. But being the Upholder that I am, I made it into a goal and that is I have to exercise for a minimum of 20 mins no matter what, for a year. (I even have coloured dots to stick on each day!) I set the bar so ridiculously low that I will be able to complete it (I hope!) even with a migraine and it means I do more most days. So thanks for that.
    Now, a question…I heard you mention that you have a Rebel in your daughter, my Rebel is now 16 and I was wondering if you have an article in you about HOW TO DEAL WITH THEM! We bump heads all the time about when stuff should be done, me – now!, him – ahhhh, maybe when he thinks it is a better time. They do have good qualities though, I like that he isn’t influenced by anyone and when he does do the required task, it is done in an excellent way, often he has better ideas and ways to do something, it’s just the waiting until he thinks it is his idea! And how to suggest the idea to make him think it is his? Oh, and my husband is a Questioner so I know where you are coming from!

    1. Yes! I used that 20 minute thing too a few years ago when I wanted to get back to exercising every day. As you said, it felt a little ‘pointless’ but it regenerated the habit!

      Re my Rebel daughter! So hard for us Upholders!

      I don’t have an article about dealing with her as I am still figuring it out! But you’ve got your son figured out. It’s all about planting seeds gently … and then letting them feel they’ve come to a conclusion on their own. It also helps to appeal to them on an identity level. Saying ‘Son, you’re the kind of person who’s respectful of people’s time so I’m bewildered by the fact that you’re always late.’

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