A few days ago, I read a book called One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way by Robert Maurer. I can honestly say this book has changed my life.
The book has a very simple message – if you find large changes difficult to implement, take steps so ridiculously small that you have no problems achieving them. An example that he gives is – if you find it hard to maintain the habit of flossing, just floss one tooth a day.
But what is the point of doing something so small?
The reason the subconscious mind fears large tasks is because it doesn’t like to break a habit or allow sudden change. What you have been doing so far in your life has worked to keep you alive, so your subconscious mind is programmed to avoid any activity that might cause big change. Anytime it senses that something you do might cause it to change, it manipulates your feelings so you lose your motivation for the task.
When the task is so small that it seems almost meaningless, the subconscious mind offers almost no resistance to it, since it doesn’t consider it a threat, and you find it easy to do.
After a few days of achieving little successes, the subconscious mind starts enjoying the task so much, it automatically starts wanting more. While before one minute of the task seemed like enough, you now find yourself doing the task for longer periods of time – first five minutes, then ten minutes and then eventually hours.
I applied this idea to my life by making a list of several very small one-minute activities for my life based on things I wanted to do but had been putting off for too long –
1. Washing dishes or cleaning the apartment for one minute
2. Practicing the piano for one minute
3. Practicing billiards for one minute
4. Learning about website development for one minute
5. One minute of drawing practice
6. Putting on my shoes and just walking up to my gym (no exercise necessary).
My expectations and criteria for success were incredibly low, making it easy to succeed. For example, as long as I showed up at the gym, I was allowed to go back without exercising. Which meant, even on days when I was too tired to exercise, I didn’t mind showing up at the gym. And as long as I showed up at the gym, or washed two dishes, I was happy that I had achieved my goal.
What I wasn’t expecting was how startling the results would be.
In the last two weeks since I started this experiment, my apartment is super clean and stays that way, I have gone out to practice pool for several long four hour sessions, I created this website, have run over 20 miles in the gym and started playing the Fur Elise. Big tasks for me? Yes. Easy and Effortless? Yes.
Now days, I never get bored. Anytime I have a few minutes free, I can always find something to do from my list of one minute activities. What usually happens once I start is that I start enjoying myself and keep going on past the minute without even realizing it. On any day I don’t feel like doing much, I can always stop after the minute, feel successful, and continue to maintain the habit.
An other side effect of having started this is that I now feel happy and excited all day long because I know that I am moving towards all my goals (one step at a time).