When I first started to form the running habit, I had read the advice that it’s important to exercise 30 minutes a day, and so I aimed for 30 minutes of running. This turned out to be a big mistake for two reasons.
First, I couldn’t run that far, as I was very out of shape. Second, even if I could struggle through 30 minutes of running, it seemed like massively difficult work. My brain would try to weasel out of it. I repeatedly failed to create the running habit, because I learned that it’s very easy to start big and then fail. This happens almost every time.
Remember the truth about the mind when it comes to change: it’s a little child. Imagine that your brain is a child that wants pleasure and wants to get what it wants, and it really wants to get out of discomfort.
This Childish Mind will do everything it can to get out of discomfort. It will make you run from exercise, from doing difficult tasks, from new and confusing things. The Childish Mind will make excuses, rationalizations, beg to quit. It’s very, very good at what it does, and it’s constantly working against our best intentions.
I learned how to overcome this Childish Mind Syndrome: I made my running habit ridiculously easy. I told myself all I had to do was go out and run for a few minutes. My Childish Mind couldn’t object to that, because it was so easy! And when you make your habit change easy, I’ve learned, the Childish Mind actually doesn’t work against you in the beginning.
What I learned from this was to always lower my barrier to entry for habit change. I started meditating by just doing two minutes a day. I started eating healthier with one small change (vegetable at dinner). I started decluttering with just one small surface that only took a few minutes. I paid one small debt. The smallest step you can possibly take is the best way to start.
Eventually I started running for seven minutes, and then 10, then 15, and soon I was doing 30 minutes and then a 5K race. Over the course of a year I gradually built up to a 10K race, a half marathon, and then a full marathon, which was a huge triumph for me.
This taught me that from such humble beginnings as running for a few minutes, you can gradually build the habit up to a marathon. Any habit. If you want to lose weight or get out of debt, don’t try to climb the whole mountain in one bound — take one tiny step.
Don’t give your Childish Mind excuses to get out of discomfort. Learn to watch the Childish Mind in action and to take away its excuses.
Mission: Make your habit change easy
Take a few minutes right now to take the habit you chose in the last mission and make it ridiculously easy. What is the smallest step you can take to get started? It should be so easy you feel like you’re making it too easy on yourself. Write down the easy step — this will be your habit for the first week.