Recently, I was reading a quick little article by Robert Locke, published over on Lifehack, entitled 10 Reasons Why Some People Are Always Unmotivated. Though all ten were valid points, I particularly liked #4, They do not know about mini habits, and wanted to address that idea here.

From Locke’s article:

4. They do not know about mini habits. “There’s a great book I love Stephen Guise’s called Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results. The concept is a simple one to help with demotivation. The idea is to start with one mini habit at a time and gradually progress. This could be walking up a flight of stairs a day, eating one less doughnut, or writing a paragraph – if you have writer’s block. The idea is to leverage the power of personal habits in reaching lifestyle goals.” ~ Robert Locke

The technique of breaking things down into small steps in order to get started is one I’ve been working to develop in my own life. I believe it was in one of James Altucher‘s many excellent books that I read of the idea of flossing a single tooth; it’s so easy, anyone can do it. Just one tooth, every morning. Then, since you’re at it, you figure you might as well do two teeth. Then three. As the habit develops, before long you’re flossing all your teeth every morning, and it was no big deal to get started.

Seizing on this idea, I began to break down daunting tasks, projects, chores, whatever I need to do, as far as I need to break them down in order to feel comfortable getting started. Sometimes it’s so small it seems ridiculous—like flossing a single tooth, or writing a single sentence—but it works!

I watch people in my life never get started on things they need to get done—the important things, even things they actually want to do—because they let all the details, all the tasks involved, overwhelm them—so many unknowns, so many steps in the process—and so they avoid it, procrastinate, find something else to distract them, to escape into…and the important things never get done.

So I try to get my stuff done by starting micro-small, and building on that; yes, sometimes it seems ridiculous, or even childish—but which is the better technique? Starting with seemingly ridiculously small steps, tiny baby steps, and actually building it into something finished or accomplished over time? Or not breaking it down, and instead letting it overwhelm you to the point of never getting started at all, and thus never finishing either, never seeming to get anything important done?

Chuckle all you want, but the idea of enlisting mini-habits, or starting with tiny baby steps, works.

The key to finishing anything, accomplishing anything, is to get started. And a good key to getting yourself to get started is to break the tasks down, down, down, until they are so small anyone could do them, at any time. And don’t worry if it seems foolish, or looks childish or even embarrassing—break them down as far as you need to, as minuscule as you need to, until you’re able to pick one and get started.

Then start.

And breaking things down can be done in different ways: a single big project reduced to tiny steps, or multiple projects reduced to just one. For example, If I have a dozen things I want to get done on a given weekend, and am feeling overwhelmed, I choose ONE. Just one. Doesn’t matter, I pick one, something easy, and get started on it, putting the rest of them out of my mind. The inertia is amazing, before I know it I’m knocking things out left and right! Same thing with one big project. I’m overwhelmed, don’t know how I’m going to get it done, so I just pick one tiny part of it, something simple and easy, and get started. Soon the “snowball effect” kicks in, and couple hours later I find I’ve lost myself in the project and gotten tons of work done on it.

Imagine a jigsaw puzzle, comprising several thousand tiny pieces. If you just dumped it out on a table, you’d immediately become overwhelmed, and likely avoid even starting on it, let alone finishing it. But what if you set it up on a table, someplace out of the way, and committed to simply placing one piece each time you walked by? Or, breaking it down even further: one piece each day? 

What would happen? That’s right—eventually, the puzzle would be finished, and it would seem like nothing, no big deal, because you broke it down into tiny steps, just a piece here and there, placed effortlessly, over time. Your friends might be impressed when they see such a massive project that you’ve completed—but it’ll seem to you like it was so easy to do! You might even be asking yourself: How did I do that?

Now apply the same technique to other big projects in your life—writing a book, building something, going to school or learning anything new, embarking on a new exercise and/or diet program—and you’ll see the same results: tiny steps, easy to get started, develop the habit, progress over time….and finally, completion! Victory!

And this isn’t a new idea; throughout history, philosophers and thinkers have pointed out the importance of simply getting started:

“You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.” ~ Zig Ziglar

“Do not wait to strike till the iron is hot; but make it hot by striking.” ~ William Butler Yeats

“Step by step and the thing is done.” ~ Charles Atlas

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” ~ Mark Twain

“What you do today can improve all your tomorrows.” ~ Ralph Marston

“You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.” ~ Henry Ford

“Small deeds done are better than great deeds planned.” ~ Peter Marshall

“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” ~ Arthur Ashe

And in author and Dilbert creator Scott Adams‘s latest book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, he discusses the idea of just getting started in the context of his gym routine. No matter how much he doesn’t feel like working out, he made a deal with himself: he goes. He drives to the gym, and goes inside. If, once inside, he looks around and STILL can’t make himself do it, that’s okay; he goes home. But this only happens a few times a year—rest of the time, once he’s there (started), the inertia kicks in and he goes ahead and works out. By simply driving to the gym (breaking down the tasks, then getting started) more often than not he’s able to continue, and to finish.

So above all else, get started. Simply start. Just start!

And another thing: I’ve come to the realization that my “magnificent magnifying mind” typically predicts the process to be much more difficult, and entail many more problems, than what turns out to be true in reality, once I begin the work; so again, I put the likely exaggerated “pain in the ass” speculations aside, choose one tiny part I feel I can do easily, and begin. I’m finding more and more often that the whole project goes much more smoothly, without nearly as many problems or hassles, than what I had anticipated.

A good example of simply making myself start is when I’m writing one of my more in-depth blog articles. Approaching the project, I feel totally overwhelmed, I have no idea how I’m going to craft it, or how I’m going to tie it all together, or whether or not it’ll even make any sense when it’s done, or whether I’ll come up with anything of merit to write about the topic, or whether I’ll find enough material on it, or whether it’ll be interesting or informative or entertaining to readers once it’s finished.

Thinking that way, I’ll more likely end up convulsing in fetal position on the floor than writing the article!

So instead, I put it all out of my mind, and sit down, open WordPress, and start tinkering on it. Write just one sentence. Insert just one link to a relevant source, or to something that prompted me to write the article in the first place. Before I know it, I’m completely absorbed in it, the research goes down the Internet rabbit hole, usually offering up more than enough material, and the article begins to grow and take shape, begins directing itself, and eventually I have something publishable.

Usually.

But sometimes not. But that’s okay, it sits there collecting dust in my draft folder, and I can always come back to it later, when I stumble across that rogue article that adds another element, a different but relevant point of view, strengthens my piece, helps bring it to fruition. Go back, open it back up, brush the dust off, and once again, start.

Point of all of this is to START, to break it down to the point you CAN start.

Approaching your projects in this way is much like cresting the very top of that first big hill on a roller coster, hitching and jerking and reaching the summit ever so slowly, and you’re wondering what the hell you were even thinking, getting on this thing in the first place….then BAM, you’re on the downhill side and it all takes off, and you have a blast, feeling a tad bit of accomplishment at the end—if only in your survival of the ride!

You did it! All you had to do was get started, get on the ride! The rest is history…

So, you wanna get more stuff done? Break it down into bits and pieces that seem doable—no matter how small; and if it still seems overwhelming, or you are still avoiding or procrastinating, break it down even further—down to one single, tiny, minuscule, nothing of a step, and…

START.

(Additional Tips: There are other simple techniques you can implement to help increase your productivity, such as negotiating with yourself, and using lists, both of which I’ve implemented in my own life, and highly recommend!)


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