New Habit? Start Small…No, Smaller Than That, Please.

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I realized yesterday that I have a bit of a flaw in my approach to something. 

I often tell my clients (and myself) to start small when building a habit. 

Then, almost invariably, the ‘small’ thing we pick as step one ends up being too large to be sustainable. 

A large rusted old-fashioned key and a small silver key sit on a patterned dark green fabric.
So, it seems like the one on the left is the one to pick but really the one on the right is the key to change. Ha!
PS – even though it isn’t the key to change, I appreciate the one on the left for its own sake – a gift from my friend, Colleen.

I think that’s because we are thinking of the size of the step relative to the goal as opposed to relative to where we are now. So, in comparison to the huge goal, the step might seem small but compared to doing nothing, the step is huge. 

Let me give you an example.

Imagine you want to make reading a daily habit and you pick a 250 page book to start. 

If you decide to read a page a day, it seems like a very small part of that 250 page book.

However, when you are going from not reading at all to trying to fit some reading into your day, a page might be ambitious. The difference between no reading and reading a whole page might feel HUGE.

And you might try it for a few days, with varying success, and then end up dropping the project.

But, what about if you decided to read one SENTENCE per day?

Sure, that feels impossibly small, ridiculous even, but the point here is to build the habit. You want to put a placeholder in your day where you will, at some point, do a fair bit of reading. 

But today is not that ‘fair bit of reading’ day, today is the ‘start to build a habit’ day. 

So even though it feels like it will take you FOREVER to read a book at that pace, that’s not the point. The PRACTICE is the point. 

Returning, over and over, to reading on a daily basis will help you establish the habit. 

But returning to that practice relies on you choosing a small enough first step.

That means looking at a small step from HERE not looking at a relatively small part of the big project.

What’s something that you want to achieve but you haven’t been able to fit into your schedule?

If you are like me, you were probably trying to save a huge space for it to happen instead of creating (and later expanding) a small space for it.. 

So, instead of looking at a percentage of the big project from the end point, can you see what a small part looks like from the starting line?

Can you identify what is one tiny bit better than doing nothing?

And then, can you make a tiny space for that tiny thing for the next few days?

PS – If you pick a tiny step, you get to cross it off your list fairly quickly for the day. However, some days you will be able to do more than that tiny step and that’s okay, as long as you remember that all you MUST do is that tiny thing. Whether you read a line or a chapter, it counts, so you can go easy on yourself.  I do suggest, though, that you start with the tiny step for a few days before letting yourself forge ahead beyond that step – I want you to feel encouraged by your progress!

PPS – This post was inspired by reading an advance review copy of Daphne Gray-Grant’s new book Your Happy First Draft. The book hasn’t been released yet but I will be sharing a review once it is out (short spoiler – it’s fantastically helpful.) She discusses the importance of starting with very small steps, how to pick those steps, and how that helps build a habit. I wanted to share my ideas about *why* I always end up picking such big first steps but I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you how I came to be thinking about the subject right now in the first place.