ChristineComments Off on New Habit? Start Small…No, Smaller Than That, Please.
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.
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.
ChristineComments Off on Put It Aside – keeping a pop-up thought from distracting you from your work
Do you find that, when you sit down to work, your brain ‘helpfully’ churns up all kinds of other things you could (or should) be working on?
Or gives you answers to problems you were trying to solve earlier?
Or maybe it sends new ideas for projects? Reminders of things to do later? Cool things to investigate?
I’m sure there is a very good reason why brains do this.
Maybe they are protecting us from the intensity of the work we are about to do.
Or, perhaps it is afraid that the project won’t turn out the way you hope.
Or maybe your brain is just bored with having to focus at the moment.
No matter *why* it is happening, I want to make sure that you don’t tell yourself a negative story about it.
Let’s just take the facts of the matter.
When we sit down to work, our minds fill up with distracting thoughts.
We need a way to stay on task.
We *could* expend a lot of energy fighting off the churning thoughts or we could surrender a little bit.
Oddly, I was setting this up just to take a photo but, in the process, a distracting thought occurred to me so I flipped the card and wrote it down.
I’m not advising letting your brain lead you off into the various rabbit holes of the internet, I’m suggesting a way for you to get the thought out of your brain and quickly return to the task at hand.
WRITE IT DOWN.
Yep, that’s it.
Keep a little notebook, a piece of paper, or an index card, next to your work and whenever a distracting thought pops up, write it down and promise your brain you will return to it later.
You could even set a reminder to check the paper later – just so your brain really trusts that you will return to the list of ideas.
Taking this approach means that you can learn to focus on your work while during your work time. That focus will keep your work from spilling over into your play time and your rest time – and more rest and play is VERY good for you.
Be Kind to Yourself
Yes, it will take some practice to get used writing things down like this.
You will be better at it on some days than on others.
Sometimes you will be annoyed when you emerge out of the rabbit hole and you’ll ask yourself why the hell you didn’t write things down instead.
Those things are all okay. They don’t MEAN anything about who you are or what you are capable of – they just give you information about where you are at the moment, the struggles you are facing, or (maybe) changes you may need to make. That’s totally fine – that’s just information, not a reason to be hard on yourself.
NOTE: Being hard on yourself never works. It seems like it is going to but it just ends up making you feel bad. You don’t need that.
You don’t have to be ‘disciplined’, you don’t have to beat yourself up about it, you don’t need to tell yourself a story about why it happens and what it means, you just need to work on a solution.
Even if it takes lots of practice, it’s worth finding a way to focus on your work.
You have important things to say and to do in this world and a little bit of notepaper might just help you get to it.
By the way, this ‘Put It Aside’ approach also helps you keep your inner editor quiet when you’re writing. When a ‘fix this’ thought or a ‘you shouldn’t be writing that’ thought pops up – write it down and come back to it later.
I am definitely not one of those people who is all caught up in ‘Just think POSITIVELY, it will all work out.”
I do think that finding the positives in almost any situation will help…eventually. But I think it is a terrible idea to tell someone in pain or in crisis to just look on the bright side!
However, there often reaches a point in a stressful situation where a perspective shift, or a useful action to complete, can help you to feel a bit better about the whole thing.
An Small Example, with rain
Even though I didn’t have any stressful feelings about this, I did notice a distinct perspective shift on my feelings towards the rain when it woke me up at 5:50am today.
My friend G absolutely LOVES the rain and her love for it has changed my view on it a bit. I’m not a rain-hater but until I heard about her love for it, it didn’t occur to me that you could really ENJOY it. Because of her, when it rains, I take an extra minute to think about how it might be GOOD.
When the intense rain jolted me out of sleep yesterday morning, at first I was annoyed and then I thought ‘G would be so happy to hear this.’ Imagining her lovely smile brought a smile to my face, and I immediately grabbed my phone to capture the video below so I could share it with her.
Taking the video make the rain seem less annoying, and thinking of sharing it with G actually made it feel a bit positive.
Take from that what you will but I like having found a way to enjoy the rain a bit more.
I’m going to try to apply the lesson of the rain in other contexts, too. (I know, I know, I can hear you saying, “Of COURSE, you will, Christine.”)
ChristineComments Off on My Creativity Coaching on CBC NL!
Some of my writing is on the CBC N.L. website right now and I could not be more thrilled about it.
Many thanks to Sarah Smellie for the GIFs and for reaching out to me to write about how to get your creativity flowing again.
Thanks to John Gushue, too. 🙂
Blocks are part of the process of work, no matter how creative you are. They’re a signal that you need to stop thinking and start doing. They’re a call to be kinder to yourself. They’re a reminder to not get caught up in doing it “right.”
ChristineComments Off on Getting Nothing Done? Your Experiment is a Success!
When you set out your plan for the week, you are guaranteed success…at least in my books.
Either you are going to get your list done or you are going to find a method that doesn’t work. Either way, you have moved forward.
I can hear the voice in your head saying “But how can I have success if I didn’t finish my work?”
I completely get that, but I think you have misunderstood the experiment.
The Nature of the Experiment
I like to think of each day or week as an opportunity to figure out what works for us. We need to know if we need a long list or short one, or if we think we can get more done on a given day than we can. Or if our schedule is too crowded.
The only way to find out if something works for us is for us to try the plan.
So, if your list for the day has twenty items on it and you only got three done, that’s not a failure. That’s an indication that your list was too long, that you had too many interruptions, or that your working conditions were less than ideal.
There is no point in being hard on yourself about what you did get done. And there is definitely no point in being hard on yourself about what you didn’t get done. You need to find out what’s going on and then change your approach.
The Rest of the Procedure
Your next step is to reevaluate the parameters of the experiment.
You know one approach that doesn’t work – so ask yourself, what got in the way of the plan?
Do you need to have a shorter list?
Do you need to delegate some things?
Was something ‘off’ about your work environment?
Did you underestimate the time you would need for your projects?
Do you understand what your various projects entail? Do you have the resources you need to do them?
Once you figure out what wrench got thrown into your work, you can adjust your approach and expectations for your next list.
If you don’t clear your to do list, it is never a sign of failure on your part. It’s a sign that some part of your work system needs tweaking.
Have a look at the factors that prevented you from working, and adjust as necessary.
What factor is most likely to affect your work schedule and how could you adjust for it?