Once upon a time I read an article on habit formation that talked about establishing a flossing habit by just flossing one tooth a day.
I laughed out loud at the ridiculousness of this concept.
Of course the author answered my silently uttered, “what is the point?!” by of course citing a bunch of behavioral change theory. Or maybe I’m confusing my MPH classes with my blog reading. OH WELL!
Basically it’s the idea of building upon small wins. <—can’t tke credit for that concept either thank you Danielle/Marie/Hillary/Leo/Ramit/Derek/Tonya/Sarah/Kris/Gabby/Lindsay/I can’t remember who said it so yes I just listed all my mentors. If you floss just one tooth a day every day for a week, you’re building your capacity + your belief in your ability to do it. To be honest, I still think its super silly but guess what I started doing this year? And guess what actually worked?
Yea, I have a flossing habit now. So what?
Well I decided to be super ambitious and extrapolate this baby steps mentality to a bigger project: getting my Master’s paper published. I’m embarrassed to admit that its been almost a year since I submitted it and I basically haven’t looked at the damn thing since. Frankly, there’s a lot of emotion wrapped up in the paper and it was written at a pivotal time when I was coming out of the darkness of the previous months and into the newness of being a Master’s grad. In other words, there’s a whole myriad of reasons why I never want to look at that paper again.
But getting it published is something I want, both for me and the field. Its good work and despite whatever emotions surround the experience of writing it, I’m proud of the work.
So this week I committed to spending just 10 minutes a day on it. On Monday, all I did was read through it to get myself reconnected to the work. During that time I started to get anxious and tense because omgthere’ssomuchtodo! And I remembered how much effort the damn thing took and now that I’ve waited its, admittedly, going to be harder to go back in and make edits because there’s another year’s worth of research that I have to go through. My antural instinct is normally to plow through projects. I give 100%: to work or to play but never to a happy medium of both..
I’m starting to recognize this is a problematic pattern for me. I alternate between weeks of insane productivity and weeks of utter and complete laziness. Because when I’m in a project, I’m in it. Until I get bored and take a break and a week later, I’m still taking a break.
And so just like with flossing, I’ve said no more. Baby steps from here on out, with this project and so many others. Next week, I’ll do 15 minutes per day. 20 the week after that. It isn’t much, and my ego is having a shitfest with it, but its more than I did before. And the little results (like realizing how badly the amazing citrus that is in season gets stuck in your teeth <—ew) do feel like wins and are totally worth celebrating. Plus I have something new + tangible everyday to share with the beau.
As I look at my life I see so many areas where this pattern has been toxic for me. I get paralyzed by all the things I need to do and then just stay stuck because there’s literally no way to do them all right now. Thankfully this year I have an amazing accountability buddy (shout-out to Danielle!) who’s not only there to push me but also to remind me that its ok to take a break. That if all I accomplished on Monday was re-reading my paper, then that’s a successful day. Because those 10 minutes are about more than just doing the work (or even building confidence). They’re reconnecting me and rebuilding my relationship to the project. And that’s what is going to get the damn thing done.
I don’t believe in the go-go-go push it mentality. I believe in working with ease. But sometimes ease = distraction for me and that’s not work either. So baby steps is, in essence, my way of finding a balance in how I can be productive with ease. On day s when I want to do more, and its coming from a genuine place of being inspired and enjoying the work rather than fear at it being too much, I will. But on days when I don’t want to do anything, at least I’ll have 10 minutes to say that I accomplished something worth celebrating. And most likely feel a helluva lot better about the work than before.
So here’s to trying something different and actually getting results,. And being held accountable. Since, you know, I just told ya’ll that I plan on getting this paper published. *gulp* W
What’s one big goal you want to accomplish this year and how can you break it down into #babysteps?