Thursday, November 17, 2011

How To Change Your Life With Small Steps

One of the great things about GTD is how it focuses you on the next action. Come up with a project and ask yourself, what is the very next step I can take to move this project forward. Then, once you have taken that next action, you repeat the same question. What is the next step?

Next action thinking is something that can really change your life. Our current situation is just the culmination of all the little steps we took to get where we are now. We didn't arrive at our current situation out of no where and it didn't happen over night. It happened over time.

As an example, right now, I am a little overweight now and have been working on getting that under control as you can probably tell by the thirty day challenges I have chosen. I am walking now, not drinking diet coke, not eating fried food nor am I eating anything wrapped in plastic like candy bars or potato chips.

I just didn't wake up one day and weigh 230 pounds. It probably took me two or three years to add that weight. It was an extra big mac here, late night meals and just in general not caring to much about what I ate - and not exercising.

It was a series of small things that added up over time to get me where I am today.

That's why to lose the weight I put on, it will take me the course of several months to a year to reverse it.

The first step for me was to make a decision. My life is in my hands and I can control my own destiny. Just because I have added the weight doesn't mean that I have to continue that. I have a choice. My choice was to do something about it.

In the past, I would have decided to change everything at one time. I would have drastically changed my diet, started walking and working out with weights all at one time. But what I noticed was that in the past when I had done that, I lost steam pretty quickly because I burned myself out. Then I got down on myself and it's pretty hard to get that momentum again.

You see, there are two kinds of motivators out there. The first is pain. Pain causes you to take action because you want to eliminate the pain. The second is desire. If you want something bad enough, you will do whatever it takes to get it.

The problem is that pain is a bigger motivator than desire. Even though there are lots of things I want, it doesn't a light a fire under my butt to get me to go after it. Pain on the other hand. Wow. I'll do anything to avoid that.

I learned this along time ago from Tony Robbins. And what he suggested is that I manufacture all of this pain (write down all of the bad things that will happen if I don't get what I want) to motivate me to take action. While this does work, it doesn't work as well as real pain.

So what should you do if you want something but not bad enough to do anything about it? Or what if not getting what you want doesn't cause you any pain?

The secret is the baby step. Small steps in the direction of the goal you want.

This is why I suggest the thirty day challenge. In my case, I want to lose weight. But to be honest with you. I don't feel uncomfortable. I would probably just be as happy if I didn't. I know that over a period of time it is a better decision to not think that way.

So what I did was first decide that I wanted to do something about it. That is step one. You have to decide.

The next thing I did was take a baby step and that was by doing something easy. To stop drinking diet coke. It took no effort. I didn't have to get off the couch. I didn't have to go out of my way to do it. All I had to do was avoid it. And I made an agreement with myself that if I did it, I could have anything else I wanted. My goal was to go without diet coke for 30 days.

Now, I succeeded in doing that. It was a small step. And from the outside world looking in on my life, people would probably say that it was stupid. That's no big deal. But to me it was a big deal. It was a small victory towards my overall goal.

So I made another goal and that was to continue that thirty day challenge into the future. I mean why not. I made it 30 days. I should continue it past that day. I decided that from that point forward if I made it 30 days in a challenge I would extend it and start another challenge.

My next small step was to give up fried food. Again, I opted for something that required no effort other than avoidance and I made it through another month.

Now that these two baby steps moved me into the direction I wanted to go, I had something in my favor that I didn't have the first time. That thing was two successes and momentum going for me. What I noticed was that this new found momentum created something else in me. That was a little more desire.

In my next major challenge then, I decided to do something that took a little more effort and that was to start walking every day. But when I first started, I made a commitment to walk only 10 minutes. I wanted to make it easy to get started with a baby step. I wanted to mentally think, well that was pretty easy.

Then I used what I have talked about before and that was progressive resistance. I added a minute each time I walked. I moved to 11 minutes and then to 12 minutes. I now have walked for over 75 plus days as I write this.

During this challenge I made an additional discovery that I decided to lift weights a couple of times a week if I wanted. To my surprise, I did it. I didn't make it a monthly challenge or anything. It was a function of the small steps I had taken before. I "wanted" to do it. I had created desire to reach my goal by taking action. Thought alone couldn't do it.

It's this way for any wall you might face. Whether you are stuck and just can't keep moving. Or whether you are very successful and just can't find a way to get past some other roadblock in your way.

The solution is this. Ask yourself what is the goal you seek. Decide to do it. Ask yourself what is the smallest possible thing I could do to move toward my goal. And then do it consistently. Repeat.

I hope that you see the power in this strategy. It is amazing. I am trying to demonstrate it's power by letting you follow along. But until you see it first hand and feel how it works in your own life, you really won't know unless you do one thing.

That is take action. Do it today.

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Michael Kuhn

Black Belt Project: Build Mental Strength


Congratulations on your progress. It’s hard for folks to understand the importance of small victories sometimes.

I’m trying to work on this as well. I’m experimenting with switching to a low carb diet, I find that a constant craving for sugar was really distracting and making me fat.

I have been lucky in the past few months. I started doing Yoga everyday only because my roommate would just drive us there in the evenings. I would be extremely cranky and complain the entire time but she would get my butt in the car. That was required for the first 4-6 weeks. Now I just walk there at the end of everyday (30 minutes there 30 minutes back) automatically. Don’t ever have to think about it or make an effort.

The power of small steps is amazing. I am a bit skeptical about the Tony Robins approach. I find that if I focus on the impending pain I just freak out get depressed and do nothing. While focusing on really wanting to accomplish a goal helps set my intention...when the excitement wears off of a new no longer works a motivator as you said what really works is focusing on next actions i.e. I can’t control whether I make a sale or not (not so far) but I can control dialing the phone again.