Building Steam (with a grain of salt)
Success, they say, is a habit.
And how do you build a habit? You do it over and over again until it becomes second nature.
I know from bitter experience that when a bad habit becomes engrained in you, it becomes much harder to shift. You get stuck in a rut. Conversely, if you build enough momentum, it is that much harder for things to push you off course or distract you from your goals. You get used to winning, to taking risks and being successful. Or you get used to living like a bum.
It’s like pushing a boulder. It’s hard to get it rolling. You might even need some help to get it going. But when it starts picking up speed, it’s going to be hard to stop. It’ll swot aside all kind of minor obstacles. Of course, bigger obstacles will still get in the way, but hey, maybe you’ll find your way to a nice slope and pick up even more momentum.
There’s a concept called ‘micro-avoidance’. Every time you avoid a small task, such as replying to a message, or tidying up behind yourself or washing the dishes, you create negative momentum. These tiny little instances multiply, until the cumulative guilt and stress becomes fairly significant. More importantly, it can help to engrain a pattern of behaviour: it starts with you avoiding small tasks because it seems unimportant or irrelevant: maybe you have something more important to do. However, over time, you become used to avoiding things because they seem too difficult or time consuming: you avoid more and more things as being too trivial, too time consuming, or too difficult.
By developing the habit of taking care of the little things, the opposite process occurs. You develop positive momentum: you feel good about yourself. You have another little achievement under your belt: one less thing to worry about later. Studies have shown that not only do we have a finite amount of willpower, but that we can exercise and improve it like a muscle. So each time you do one of these little tasks, not only do you save your much needed willpower for the really important tasks, you also help train yourself to be a little more determined next time.
This kind of momentum can also translate from one area of your life to another. On a subconscious level, what you are doing is pushing through resistance. You don’t want to do something because you’re too tired or too busy: if you then push through that and act anyway, you train yourself to do the same thing next time you are in a comparable situation. Likewise, if you give up as soon as you get tired, then the pattern is that much more likely to repeat itself. You train yourself to act a certain way.
If you fail to act in one instance, not only does that opportunity slip away, the next one does too. For example: going to the gym. It’s too hard. You’re too tired. Next time. You program yourself to give in when you’re tired, to give in as soon as the going gets tough. When the next time rolls around and you’re still a little tired or it’s still going to be hard work, you’re already conditioned to give it a miss. Or if you’re trying to exercise a little discipline: how about giving in and having that extra helping every night, or that extra beer or glass or wine? Can’t hurt can it? Well, when the next meal or night out comes, you’ll be that much more programmed to give in. It takes that much more willpower to turn it around, and if you’ve had a long and trying day at work, you may not have enough left. So a habit is born.
Flip things around: get used to taking care of the little things. It might cost you a little bit of time and effort to wash up right away or clear away your stuff, but you get used to doing stuff right away. You don’t procrastinate as much. Perhaps you end up checking facebook a bit less often at work, or drag yourself away from the television a little more often and get out to the gym, to the cinema, to a bar or to a gallery or something. It becomes a habit: every little action takes a bit less willpower, while you have more of it anyway. You become (gasp) organised and efficient. Or at least, more so.
Or at least, that’s the theory. So go on: take care of those little things that you’ve been putting off. You gotta do what you gotta do!