Chapter 7: Take the first small step

I have a writing habit that works miracles to overcome writer’s block and procrastination: I tell myself I just need to open up a document and write a few words.

I can write anything: my name, a few brief ideas, an outline, a sentence.

The act of taking this first small step is incredibly powerful. Once I start, I often keep going. If I don’t start, I can procrastinate for hours, days, trying to avoid doing something difficult and uncomfortable.

I learned that this trick works for so many other habits: to start meditating, just get your butt on the cushion. To run, just get out the door. To learn a language, just press play on the tape.

Tell your Childish Mind you don’t have to do any more than that. Just the first, really easy step. And the easier the first step, the better.

There’s an old line from Bugs Bunny cartoons (and the movie Groundhog Day) that goes something like, “Watch out for that first step: it’s a doozie!” Unfortunately, that’s how our minds see the first step — it’s a lulu. It could lead to trouble, maybe even disaster, but certainly at least difficulty.

We need to reverse this idea: that first step is a cinch. It’s ridiculously easy. If we make that first step a cinch, we can get started, and then the rest is easy.

Movement begets movement. I’ve found this out in every habit I’ve attempted — when you get started, continuing is much easier. All you need to do is get moving.

Remove the barrier to starting that your Childish Mind fears by making the requirements of starting almost nothing.

Want to work out? Just do a few pushups or lift one weight. Want to eat healthier? Take one bite of a fruit or vegetable. Want to drink tea every afternoon? Just put some water in the kettle. Want to write a book? Just open a document and jot down a few notes.

Movement begets movement, so just take the smallest first step.

Mission: Do the habit once

Today (or tomorrow, if it’s too late today), you should do the habit for the first time. When the trigger happens and your see your reminders, do the first small step. You don’t need to do the whole habit, just the first part. Do it once, and consider that success. If you want to keep going beyond just starting, that’s fine, but don’t go until the habit gets hard. Quit while it’s easy, for now.

And plan to do the habit tomorrow and keep the streak going. This is where the learning about change truly begins.

Previous: Chapter 6 || Contents || Next: Part II