I have a somewhat embarrassing confession to make. Well, it’s not embarrassing, it’s actually something I’m really proud of. Here’s what it is.
Years ago, after I had somehow convinced myself to fall off the exercising habit, I was in a situation that I easily skipped going outside for days. Other than taking my kids to and from daycare. I lived the ‘too busy, too tired’ phase of my life then.
By the way, just to give you another hint, that mantra leads to living a very boring life, so watch out for it!
When staying inside started to become one of my escape mechanisms, rather working against me than for me, I decided to give the outdoors another chance. I used to love spending time outside – playing with the kids, walking, jogging, bicycling, wandering around the woods, cross-country skiing.. you get the picture.
But you may know from your own experience, too, how sometimes we make it very hard for ourselves to start a new habit. Especially with this ‘all or nothing’ mentality. Yup. That was me.
And I had to figure out another way.
Using the advice I originally got from my coach at the time, Judymay Murphy, for another project earlier, I decided to divide the task of going outside daily into minimum, medium and optimum.
To make sure I would be able to keep my promise to myself of going outside daily, it meant that the minimum needed to be ridiculously easy. Something I could do even if the sky would fall. Or most likely, when all three of our kids would be sick at the same time.
In my case, the bare minimum was to open a door, or a window, and get my lungs full of fresh air. That I could surely do! (And this’s the part I used to be a bit embarrassed about.)
Long and behold, it turned out to be a successful strategy! So much so that my first book was written around this idea of minimum, medium and optimum (published in Finnish in January 2021).
The idea of breaking a task at hand into minimum, medium and optimum is not that you just take one of those steps and that’s it. Your life is magically changed! No, it definitely is not one of those ‘get rich, quick’ schemes.
It actually is a way of life.
Dividing anything you do into minimum, medium and optimum helps you get started and to get it done. Here’s how it happens.
When I wanted to start again with the habit of going outside daily, I set my min, med and optimum as follows:
- minimum: open a door or a window and take a deep breath of fresh air
- medium: spend 5-10 mins outside, for example, taking the trash out and/or picking up the mail and/or making a phone call outside
- optimum: spend 30 mins or more outside playing with the kids / going for a walk / gardening / shoveling the snow etc.
Set up your division so that even when repeating the minimum, you’ll reach the goal. The principle here is to make the minimum ridiculously small and easy. So easy, in fact, that you’re a bit embarrassed to admit it.
Medium then is minimum plus something more. Just keep it easy, still. And optimum is minimum plus medium plus something more. With optimum, you’re free to be ambitious.
When we set it up according to this principle, building upon each phase, even when going for the optimum, we don’t skip the necessary foundation. Skipping the foundation only leads to overwhelm and prevents us from going further.
I promise you, that if you keep repeating the minimum long enough, there will be a time when you’re inspired to go for the medium or the optimum. And the trick here is to reward yourself already when the minimum is done! Just remember to build your reward so that it supports the ultimate dream (we’ll talk about this more in detail later).
A little side note here. It’s good to realize that everything is connected and everything affects everything. Even the smallest, indirectly supportive steps count.
Meaning that if your goal is to make a phone call you’re afraid of making, it’s easier to proceed when you make sure in advance that you have the correct contact information at hand. And that your headphones are fully charged. And you know how you’re going to introduce both yourself and what you have to say.
Or when you’re planning on working out in the morning, you put your working out gear ready by the bed / door the night before. You make sure you have fresh water, cashew nuts and tea at hand by your desk before you start your writing session. Just as you have tape, covering paper, paint and brushes ready before you start renovating the office of yours.
These small, preparatory things, that indirectly help us do what we’d like to do are real gems on the way!
Now, your turn!
How can you use this advice of making a new habit, or a start of a project, ridiculously small (and easy) in your life?