Start the way you want to continue

1 Jul

This article is part of a series “31 blogs in 31 days” during July 2017 on howtofab.com

The legendary first step. The basis of everything. Without it, nothing else happens, nothing else follows. How many ideas have been had over the past centuries, how many dreams have been fleshed out to perfect precision – but were lost in space and time because nobody ever undertook the most critical element of execution: the very first step.

This is not only a bad thing – humanity has probably been saved on a number of occasions from some terrible ideas. Seeing how many bad things are happening all over the place, let’s assume that not every dream unrealised was a good one. Not every plan would have made the world a better place.

Considering we have one or a few good things we want to start, how do we realise that? How do we go about the first step? What is important to consider?

This blog post is my first in a series of 31 blog posts over the next 31 days. One blog per day – that’s the plan and the goal. It’s not the first time I am writing but it’s the first time I have committed to such a schedule. And while 31 days don’t sound like very much, I know myself well enough to know that this will be easy on some days and a challenge on others. Life provides enough distractions to steer me off the road, but my own motivation and ability to stick to a plan should provide me with enough backbone to get back on track.

So, what were my considerations?

Timing

There are numerous ideas about what makes one day a better start day than another day. The classic: New Years. With the change of usually one digit comes the chance for a re-start. Or so we think. Statistically speaking, New Years resolution probably perform terribly. Partially because 1/1/20xx usually does not start with us feeling our best and most motivated. If we even remember the resolutions from the night before, we usually feel so much under the weather that we need to already work quite hard to even keep our usual routines. The extra steps required to then change a habit and introduce something new into our lives quickly become insurmountable.

Other “clean slate” moments can be: the start of a new school year, birthdays, a new address, leaving or starting a job, a breakup, a new life chapter (uni, parenthood, retirement etc.) – but let’s face it, tagging something new onto something already new does not come easy automatically. Pairing is not a bad strategy at all, but a new job usually takes more than our usual amount of energy, discovering a new neighbourhood can bring about unexpected excitement. Changing something else on top may just be that little bit too much. As tempting as it may seem to use such a moment for an even bigger change, creating something sustainable requires extra energy. That leaves another option as a start day: today.  If I don’t have the motivation to start today, what makes me think I have it on another day?

Because, after the first step comes the second….and the third…. Starting at all is key. But it’s about making it last, making it sustainable.

In my case I am choosing the time in between jobs for this project. I have the time to dedicate to it, I want to jump straight into it and I want to give it an end date, which is also why I am calling it a project. This is not meant to be a permanent fixture, but a limited one. 2 weeks ago would have been bad timing to start this and if I had waited another 2 weeks, I may have lost the spark. Today is the right time to begin and 31 is the right amount of days to keep up.

Rituals

I am a big fan of rituals. When something begins or when something ends, I love the idea of marking it with a conscious moment of “this is the beginning” or “this is the end” of something. It helps with clarity and closure.

In this case, it was simply the case of taking a moment before hitting the keyboard to say the words “this is the first of 31 blog posts, starting now” out loud. Nothing super dramatic, but an official starting shot.

The “what”, “why” and “what for”

Reasons to start something new, reasons for change can be manifold – it’s usually “getting away from something”, “moving towards something” or a mix of both. Knowing what it is we want to achieve already gives us clarity about possible methods. Also, the clearer we are about what we want to achieve and why, the better chances we have to achieve it. Saying “I want to go running a few times a week simply because” usually isn’t enough. Being more specific is usually a better strategy – however, we don’t necessarily need to specify the end goal, sometimes it may be better to specify the process itself. “I want to lose 5 kgs” vs “I want to exercise 3 times a week for 45 minutes” – while the first option suggests a specific goal, it can also be a daunting number and it also suggests an end point. Then what?

What’s the motivation behind the change? If I want to generally be more active, healthy and slim, surely the actual weight is not always the most important indicator. I can lose those kgs also by different methods. Exercising regularly for a number of times may not necessarily mean I will lose that weight quickly, it will however probably make me feel better in the long run, also through knock-on effects on diet, sleep and general levels of activeness. I may end up losing inches around the weist without actually losing much weight.

Same if I want to write a book – “Saying that I will write 2 pages every day” will eventually also mean I have enough content for a book. Whether it’s 100 or 150 or 200 pages is then something for the future. This is the same with my blog project – I am also tempted to write a book but right now I am not sure about its possible content. So I chose to commit to a different writing exercise, which may lead me to my book eventually. Or which may teach me that writing every day is not made for me at all. We’ll see.

Method / Frequency

Some people like the idea of a boot-camp or “the big leap”. You take off one week (or whatever amount of time) and go full-on into the new thing. The idea behind it is to re-set and overwrite everything that was before. The upside is you can throw yourself at it completely, give your all and also try out a few things quickly. The downside is that this is not really sustainable. A 2-week yoga retreat in the mountains is one thing – a daily yoga practise in your living room another. If the retreat is meant to act as a kick-start for something more long-term, you then have to think about how to integrate this into your regular daily routine. The retreat itself can motivate but has nothing to do with your daily routines.

For others, the incremental method may be more sustainable. If I know full-well that I can’t commit to more than 25 minutes reading time every day, let’s not go overboard and try to cram in 45 minutes. This won’t last. “Little and more often” usually leads to better results in the long run than “big but rare”.

Another aspect in this regard is the fact that we tend to think about too many changes at once. We all want to be generally more happy, healthy, successful, richer etc. but that’s just too vague and too big. Trying to change all this at the same time would probably be overwhelming, we would crash like an overloaded system and we would also lose sight off the actual effects of every single change. Walking to work instead of driving, for example – what a difference to our day this can make. On so many levels. But we need processing space to even register all the possible effects and to make adjustments along the way. One step after another. One change after another.

 

“The things you do every day matter more than the things you only do every now and then.” – Gretchen Rubin.

I love this quote by habits and happiness author Gretchen Rubin. This is true for the good stuff as well as for the not-so-good stuff (cigarettes, junk food etc.). Identifying as a runner when I only do it once every 3 months reveals my ideal self, not my real one.

When I decided to embark on this blog project, I considered the method and frequency very carefully. I realised that there are 3 days in July when writing won’t be easy as I will be away and busy with other things. On those days I will pre-write the blog posts on the days before. On all other 28 days I will write on the same day as I publish. I have always happily written like that – let’s see if this method also works on a schedule.

Accountability

Groups like Weight Watchers work for a reason. Having an official support group helps in moments of struggle and success. It helps to officially take a record, there is no hiding.

Accountability can also be created by other means. Generally going public with a plan can create expectations and an element of answerability (I told my 600+ contacts on LinkedIn about this project) that in moments of weakness can just give me the push I need. I don’t want to lose face if I don’t stick to my plan. Not that many people would actually care, whether I write or not, but in my mind, I have made a commitment that I want to stick to.

Finding a buddy who relies on me to do xyz, or who does something similar, also often works. Pairing up in order to do something that we would struggle with on our own, can be fun and again, can give us that kick should our own motivation start to dwindle.

Today is day 1 of 31 – I know this project is manageable, comes at the right time and has every chance to be completed. I am starting the way I want to continue and I will let you know how it goes.

Picture: Pixabay via Pexels // CC0

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