Keep your decisions small

Here are some small decisions that have had a significant impact on my life:

– Publishing a new blog post every day here on Phronetic.
– Regularly taking cold showers.
– Cutting all caffeine from my diet.
– Creating a daily standard.
– Getting up at 0430 every morning.
– Training jiu-jitsu multiple times a week.
– Developing and implementing specific morning, evening and work rituals. 

I made another potentially significant change last week: every morning, I do fifty kettlebell swings and ten turkish get-ups. The idea came from a recent talk with strength coach Lyndon Lane. It only takes me ten or fifteen minutes to do, and it helps keep the inevitable wave of mid-morning anxiety at bay. That’s a big deal.

You might think that I made these decisions with much deliberation. That there was some reason behind me starting this blog on August 27th, 2015. That I had earmarked the day where I would begin to get up before the dawn. That fifty swings and ten get-ups was chosen as the result of a meticulous, carefully undertaken assessment period. If that’s what you think, you’re wrong.

At first by mistake, and now deliberately, I make these sort of decisions—decisions that change how I live my life—as small as possible. 

It’s hard enough to change already. You have to overcome precedent and ingrained habits. You have to fight against poke and prods from the environment you operate in. You have to make conscious decisions where before you could get by on autopilot, doing what you’ve always done. I don’t care who you are. Changing yourself and your behaviours is hard. Don’t make it harder.

The New Year is renowned as being the time where people make commitments they don’t keep. In my mind, the worst thing you can do is use the New Year as a mechanism for making change. On the surface, it makes sense. A new year means a new start, right? But a new year also means more pressure. Wouldn’t it be easier to choose an arbitrary date to make a meaningful change? And wouldn’t it be easier if you didn’t tell anyone in advance—or while the habit is becoming established, which takes around sixty days—what you’re doing? Staying in stealth mode until the new thing becomes the normal thing allows you to direct all your energy onto doing the thing and making it stick. 

When you’re making a change, however small, you’re disrupting your life. Have you ever tried to distract a dog with a toy whilst he’s on his way to eat his dinner? I have. It doesn’t work. The dog prioritises eating over playing with his favourite stuffed penguin. We do the same. We prefer to be who we’ve always been instead of changing. And when we put the pressure on ourselves, when we make ourselves anxious and uncomfortable, we cling harder than ever to established patterns. 

So if you want to change, make the decision as small as possible. Don’t set a date for starting. Don’t tell anyone what you’re going to do. Don’t spend months agonising over the details. Just start and pretend that this new thing, this new way, is the old way. Pretend that it’s completely normal, and eventually, it will be.