I wrote part of this on another blog about fitness. Rereading it, I see an almost universal application. Are you a writer? A programmer? A woodworker? What is your minimal baseline? What do you do every day to put your butt in the chair?
My Weak and Measly Workout Routine
The first workout you’ll do for most programs is a fit-test. There’s no pass or fail. Its similar to the spelling pre-test you did every Monday morning in elementary school. You familiarize yourself with the words or the workout and see where your strengths and weaknesses lie. The first time I did Beachbody P90, I did five minutes of the twenty-minute fit-test and ended up as a fatty stain on the garage concrete. I took two days to sleep it off.
So, I made a plan. I would don my workout togs at least five days a week and go the garage. I would play the scheduled workout DVD and stay in the garage to do anything for ten minutes. If I wanted to exercise? Fine. If I swept the floor, that was fine, too. Same for laying on the floor or changing the oil in the car. Success was achieved when I showed up and I clicked the play button on the DVD. Everything else was gravy.
You can guess what happened. Some days, I did nothing. Other days, I stretched a little and kept up with the DVD for five minutes. Some days, I did the whole workout. By the time 90 days rolled around, I could complete a forty-five-minute workout, and add a run on top.
Brooke Castillo Rescues Me
Somehow, for me, this ridiculously low bar for success works. I’ve learned I’m not the only one who champions this idea. I listened to the Life Coach School podcast today where Brooke Castillo recommends what she calls the minimal baseline tool. It’s exactly what I did. Set the requirement for success so low that it’s almost easier to do than it is to not. She notes that several things happen when you adopt this plan.
One is that you honor yourself and your promises. This is the opposite of what happens when you tell yourself, “On Monday, I will start a fifty miles a week running program to train for the Boston Marathon.” By Tuesday, you feel inadequate and useless and spent. Remember: it’s taken you a lifetime to entrain the habits you have today, and I can guarantee that you won’t change them tomorrow using willpower alone. Do this enough and self-improvement is easy.
You also develop a heightened sense of accountability. As you follow your promises, it becomes more important to do so. You’ll see a shift in your thinking; rather than seeing your self-promises as something easy to wiggle out of, the opposite becomes true. Because you have learned to value yourself and your goals, you see fulfilling promises to yourself as meaningful and important.
She states, too, that you become used to following through with what you tell yourself.
Because it’s such a trivial thing, she advises that you don’t share these minimum baseline goals with friends. Who needs to hear a round of “Hey, muscles! Did you sweep the garage for ten minutes last night? I can see those biceps bulging!”
How many words can you write in ten minutes? A hundred? If you want to write, and if you commit to writing for ten minutes a day, that equals 3650 minutes in a year. Which translates into 36,500 words and a novel in two years. In ten measly minutes a day! So, don’t tell me you can’t be a writer.
Sometimes, though, the muse dances, and, for reasons unknown, you churn out 1,000 words. Or, heaven forbid 2,000.
When I was a furniture maker, I made a deal, once, with myself, to be in my shop, ready to work at 6:00 AM. In the same way, when I run, I make a pact with myself to go around the neighborhood loop twice. Somehow this drives me to do it five times.
I use something close to this in my writing. I have two goals.
The first is that, for five days a week, I will write 400 words on some work-in-progress. This is before anything else. I define it as working on moving a piece toward publication. That includes writing, editing, and anything having to do with submitting. It does not include checking on Twitter or updating my website’s About page or emailing a high-school friend about the time Mrs. Haft caught us with Maoist propaganda cards. But, as you might expect, with my rear end in the chair at my computer, it’s easy to get my daily goal done, and I always find time to do other necessary things. To keep me on track, I start each session by listing the things I will do in the order I will do them. It helps.
My second goal, tied to my writing goal, and, yes, it’s a little weird, is to get 100 rejection letters in a year. This is simply a backward way for me to push out as much work as possible for publication. So far, it’s working. I’d like to be that writer who, when a publisher sees my name, says, “Good gawd, send this to press immediately. Put it on the cover!” But I’m not quite there yet.
The minimal baseline tool addressed the toughest part of doing anything: getting started. Getting your running shoes on. Getting your butt in the chair in front of your computer. Writing the first line of a poem.
In what other ways can you see using the tool to get you started? What are your tools to get started?
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Want to hone good habits? Here’s a good place to start: