A couple months ago, I set a lofty goal for myself to be completed by April 1st of this year. Needless to say, that date came and went with me only slightly advancing beyond the starting point. I’ve been in that position many times, and as the date approaches, I always think, ‘If only I would have stuck to the plan, I’d be at or near my goal already.’ Though I try to rein it in, I think my all-or-nothing approach to goal-setting sets me up for disappointment more than it helps me succeed. In her TEDx talk, The 1-Minute Secret to Forming a New Habit, sociologist Christine Carter shares why it’s so difficult to develop a new habit or behavior and how we can shift our mindset to stay on track in achieving our goals.
Ms. Carter states that our ability to see our goals through to the end depends on our willingness to be bad at what we desire to do. Regardless of how much willpower we have or the benefits we know we’ll gain, starting and sticking to a new behavior requires that our effort and motivation be proportionate to each other. And in reality, they usually aren’t. Likewise, she points out that when motivation is low, we tend to walk the path of least resistance, doing the easiest thing or nothing at all. So how do we overcome the obstacle of balancing effort and motivation? According to Christine, we take on a better-than-nothing approach. “Consider doing something so minuscule that it would be better than not doing anything at all,” she says.
For example, Ms. Carter shares that in her quest to become a runner, she started running just one minute a day. That one-minute behavior became a habit, became easier, and ultimately, became the building block for further habit formation. She reminds us that, “The goal is repetition, not high achievement. So let yourself be mediocre at whatever you’re trying to do but be mediocre every day.” Some other examples she gives is to eat just one piece of lettuce on a sandwich if you’re trying to increase your intake of leafy greens or meditate for one minute if you’re trying to make more time for relaxation.
This can be extrapolated into our work as well. Want to learn a new software program? Keep your inbox free of clutter? Become a better writer, speaker, leader? Just take it one step at a time, and don’t be afraid to be mediocre or even bad when you first start. You’re not going to go from a couch potato to an athlete overnight. You won’t become fluent in a new language in one week. But taking bite-sized steps makes it easier to form a habit, and forming habits make it easier to keep moving towards our goals without backsliding.
What are you going to do with your one-minute today?