How to change your habits by taking ridiculously small steps

Confucius was right: “It does not matter how slow you go as long as you do not stop”

Wow. I have been away for a while. The past couple of months have been pretty busy for me. Mostly, I’ve been working on getting my two pet projects up and running:

  • Stories Unspun – where I’ve been publishing my story “The Extraordinary Reality of Ella Rove” one post at a time alongside narration by Elena, aged 11. Have a look and leave me a comment about what you think 
  • Times Like Ours – this is a venture I’m trying out with my friend Harriet. We were looking for a space to discuss what it’s like to live and work in times like ours, and not finding it, we decided to create our own. We’ve been holding evenings in Edinburgh on all sorts of topics like the place of art in everyday life and the upcoming “are we obsessed by the pursuit of happiness?” But we’re just as keen to hear your thoughts wherever you are in the world so have a look at our FB page.

Back in January, I decided to change one habit a month for 2014.  In January I wanted to change how I used technology. While I managed to implement something like inbox zero, I still spend far too much time on social media. In February, I simply wanted to drink more water. How hard can that be? Pretty darn hard as it turns out.  So, true to what I said in that post, after failing for the second month (out of two!) in a row, I reviewed my goals and approach.  As I reviewed the things I wanted to achieve this year, the majority of my goals were health/fitness related. I have been suffering from low energy levels for too long now and it wasn’t going to be cured by popping multi-vitamins alone. I needed to look at my life in the round.  I discovered two books that have helped me figure out a new way forward which turned out to be a nice little combo.

In his book, Energise You, Oliver Gray sets out what you should be aiming for in seven areas of your life: mind management, nutrition and weight loss, sleep, exercise, re-energise, computer use and work-life balance. It is a really short book so quick to read and most useful as a kind of bible of what you “should” do.  I took his test and discovered to my horror that I scored just 9% on exercise, 12% on re-energising and 36% on computer use. I thought was quite active, so that first result was a particular shocker. However, I felt a little stranded as the book had little to say about how to go about changing my habits.

So I next read Surprisingly…Unstuck: The Power of Small Healthy Habits, In a World Addicted to Instant Results by Maria Brilaki. She states that we rely too much on motivation and will power to change our habits. These are particularly poor tools when we spend a lot of our day making decisions which depletes our willpower. This rang particularly true for me. The number of times I’ve got home and had a ridiculous meltdown when my husband asks me what I want for dinner… Maria suggests taking as many decisions out of the task to make it easier for you to do.

Result – Instead of getting two buses to work, I now get one and walk the rest of the way (1.5 mile). This has the added benefit of getting my exercise out of the way early and I feel pretty good for the rest of the day.  I now also line up all my running gear the night before so I just have to get dressed and go. In just two months, I have increased my exercise rating from that embarrassing 9% to 64%! Yes folks, you read that right.

The second important take-away from Maria’s book was the idea of ridiculously small steps. You want to exercise, or meditate, or eat more vegetables? Well, instead of going for a radical change (Maria also covers when a radical change might be the right move for you) start with a ridiculously small step – do two sit-ups a night. Meditate for two breaths. Eat one bite of carrot. If you keep this up, you are digging a channel for a new habit to form and before long, it will feel natural to start increasing these amounts to the point where they will begin to really make a difference.  In the words of Dory, “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming!”

Result – I started with two sit-ups and 3 mins meditation a night (got to do something about that abysmal re-energising score!). A couple of months on and to be honest, I’m still only on 3 repetitions of 6 situps but I’m still doing it which is something I’ve never managed to sustain before. I’m also meditating (my mind still wanders all over the place but again, I’m digging that channel!) around about three times a week for 10-15 mins (and my re-energising score has increased from 12% to 38%).

If you’re stuck, I would thoroughly recommend having a read at both these books, and particularly Maria’s if you want to change any kind of habit in your life.  I still have relapses but rather than chastising myself all over the place, I’ve found it easier to get back into the swing of my new habits.

Let me know what you think and how you get on if you decide to make some ridiculously small steps in the comments below!  Also, let me know what you think of Stories Unspun and Times Like Ours too!



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