Let’s say that you have decided to start going walking outside your house in order to exercise but for some reasons you aren’t starting it. What if I tell you to go and walk the least minutes possible. Let’s say for one quarter. I guess there won’t be any reasons that you can’t even do that, right? It’s extremely simple, you won’t get tired and you won’t waste any time. I am not sure that you are even going to sweat. But this very simple thing you should be doing it every day consistently. I guess this isn’t difficult, too. How much overall commitment does this activity require? Almost nothing. Imagine you want to write a book but for some reasons (which are actually rationalizations) you don’t apply your wonderful ideas. Would you be able to write 1 page per day? Just 1 but you won’t leave any day pass without you having written this page. You may think that the above two examples of light lifestyle changes are insignificant?
I was speaking with a friend the previous days. After being influenced by a friend of hers she had decided to start going walking in order to get into light exercise and improve her health. What her friend recommended was to start walking for one hour per day else it would have been like not having trained at all. To make the long story short, she never started walking. Not even a minute per day. She found several reasons such as lack of time, dogs, darkness and others but it was clear that all these were just excuses. In fact she was just afraid of the thought of going from 0 to 60 minutes of walking. This was a huge leap that was so scary and was freezing her.
Maybe you have personal experience but I think it suits it to mention here. Why do most diets fail? Most of the cases have clearly to do with the fact that were so strict that the individual either was quitting the diet in the middle (vast majority) or after reaching the goal was starting to eat a lot again after all this sudden and extended change in his/her caloric intake. Keep the issue of sudden in mind.
There exist fundamentals in all the closed systems in the universe. And their natural change takes place over time. In case they are vastly stimulated by an external factor they tend towards chaos in the beginning. A closed system can be earth, your body, a forest or your brain. Of course all these systems are not typically closed but this is how we observe them. So when your brain is stimulated by a vast external factor reacts with feelings of stress. An example of a vast external factor is people having great expectations about our performance in something. In that case the 1 hour walk. Stress in science is called fight, flight or freeze response. One reason we procrastinate, which means we freeze is this specific response.
Let’s make now a calculation. In case this friend of mine was disobeying her friend (which was what she was already doing anyway) and was walking 15 minutes per day. This is almost nothing as we said, OK? 15 minutes per day is 30*15=450 min/month=7,5 hours/month. This is a little less than 2 hours per week. Not bad, huh? It’s even better than going twice per week for 1 hour because she would have spread her training making it a daily habit. And all this would be coming out of nothing, out of thin air! And of course you can understand that in case someone makes exercise a daily habit is very difficult to remain in the one quarter of walking but will soon increase it. For several reasons which actually apply to any new knowledge or habit. Be it progressing in the skill, getting comfortable with the new situation, wanting to enjoy more the fantastic feeling of something we like, becoming more tolerant etc. And even if this doesn’t happen in the first month, it will for sure happen on the second.
So I actually proposed that to my friend and the happy news are that indeed she went walking. It was all in her head, as I was explaining. I just now hope that she will continue with the new habit. Else it will all be worthless. And this is the most important thing, where most people stop. You need to do it consistently. You should blow this thin air every day even if it rains, even if it snows, even if an attractive man or woman is waiting for you for drinks. And if you don’t hurry, you will see change.
It seems that when we set goals to us or to others we forget the steps and we look only at the results. We have a tendency to forget the in between steps and just wait impassionately for the result. But what matters is the journey. As common as it may sound what you will do, where you will end in your life depends on these small every day disciplines that you practice every moment. You are only the present, the now. Everything else is imagination or memories. These habits are not difficult to do. In fact they are very easy. But we either forget them or we find insignificant. We don’t walk 15 minutes per day because we believe that won’t improve us but we don’t take into account that having done 7.5 hours per month of walking is much more than the 0 that we do when we aim high immediately and freeze. When we believe that we can reach our goal instantly. That the level we aim can be reached immediately. This my friends is the fundamental mentality of a perfectionist.
And all the above don’t mean that we shouldn’t be setting great goals. On the contrary we should. The unrealistic goals are the ones that many times are more realistic. Realistic goals are easy, they don’t put us in healthy stress. Instead the unrealistic goals are the ones that will lead us to maximum performance because their nature demands nothing less than our best. However, putting great goals is different from expecting unrealistic things from yourselves. Intelligent people are aware that aiming high is attached to the understanding that the difficult thing in success is to remain consistent in your disciplines. Not to manage to have some outbreaks of exceptional performance.
I am not saying all these as obligatory. Of course you may feel that you have the courage and the conscientiousness to do great steps from the very beginning. If that works for you that’s alright. But you need to look back in your past sincerely and see how many times this mentality lead you to positive results? I know that there are many people in the mentality of all or nothing. Either they do the best or nothing at all. So this best is most of the times something unrealistic which is difficult to practice. And then they lose all. They are the ones that want to stay away from all of the sweets but when they lose themselves a little and eat a small one, then they ruin everything. I used to have that mentality, too, and in fact I am still struggling to totally remove it. When you are used to that mindset, you may not recognize when it occurs, you accept it as normal and behave accordingly. Well, as I said, if you can progress instantly then that’s even better for you.
Now please look back in your lives and try to remember how you were behaving in goals that you later succeeded. If you look clearly you’ll see that the main reason was that whatever was happening you were practicing some specific small every day disciplines. All these small standard things that needed to be done every day were done. You may haven’t even been recognising that only the fact that you were following your disciplines even the days that you had less energy, you were emotionally down or have been blown up by man things was your reason to reach the point you reached. You were always there performing the scheduled task even with average performance. And on the contrary, when your level of your results fell maybe this happened because you ignored many small things that on first sight were looking insignificant.
We the people fall victims of our tendency to crave for money, goals, mates etc and simultaneously to minimize the energy costs. We want to avoid the steps and reach the end. Whereas this end is actually all that we have become through these steps. All the personality and mindset that we have built by practicing consistently these every day disciplines. Our achievements are our attitudes that lead to behavior that lead to them. If we want to reach a point we need to change and become the way our goal deserves. And this change happens over time. It’s a chipping away.
All these ideas were put into place in my mind from the excellent book the The Slight Edge: Turning Simple Disciplines into Massive Success and Happiness. Jeff Olson there explains that people have a tendency to behave like a roller coaster according to their needs. So we become more careful and disciplined when we tend towards failure but by the time we get away from it we set ourselves free, they tend to overlook and ignore all these small things that put them in progress in the first place because they look meaningless so we get closer to failure again and the roller coaster goes on and on. We need to change that. By the time we are on the level of survival to keep doing our positive habits.
At the same time the correct choice of every day disciplines is important in building progress. By doing specific correct things we gradually progress, by doing over time small mistaken actions over time they add up and lead to failure.
Jeff Olson also talked about the power of the time. He used the excellent example of Grand Canyon. Think also of a small rivulet of water running down your backward. Well, the Grand Canyon is the result of the same substance running along the ground in the same way, only for some six million years. His theory of the slight edge is gracious. It doesn’t require much of you. You give it a penny and it gives you back a million. You give it 15 minutes of walking and it makes you a frequent walker.
The previous days I learnt that in 2010, Dave Brailsford as the new General Manager and Performance Director for Team Sky (Great Britain’s professional cycling team) faced the tough job to change the fact that no British cyclist had ever won the Tour de France. He believed that if they could successfully execute the slight edge principles, then Team Sky would be in a position to win the Tour de France in five years time. He was wrong. They won it in three years.