Small steps create exceptional results despite seeming meaningless. Do you know their secret of success?
They enable you to effortlessly change your direction.
People most often look at the size of their actions (or intended actions), but the direction you’re currently headed in is far more important than that—so much so that if you only thought about your direction and pivoted when necessary, you’d do very well in life.
- When you’re on the couch watching TV, you’re pointed towards more mindless relaxation.
- When you’re lying in bed, you’re pointed toward sleeping more.
Now let’s say you wanted to change activities in those two examples:
- On the couch watching TV, you could either:
- Consider the logistics of going for a run
- Get up and put on your running shorts
- In bed, you could either:
- Think about your day ahead and wonder if you need to get up
- Roll off the bed
In each case, the latter actions are superior because they are fast and easy to do and they change your direction. Once your direction changes, so does your most likely path moving forward. The first options in the examples above were all thoughts, and the reason we do that so much is out of habit; a sort of “check” against our best judgment.
Should I really get up now? I might benefit from more sleep.
I’m not sure I should run today as it might rain.
The problem with doing this is that you play right into your old habits; you cede control to your subconscious. Being that our subconscious already has preferences that are usually counter to our goals, it’s inherently dangerous to “consult with yourself” for each small decision. You’ll think you’re making a smart decision, when your subconscious is actually causing you to justify inaction. When you know a decision is obviously healthy, it’s best to turn your brain off.
I don’t mean to make the subconscious seem like our enemy—it’s a vital part of us—it is merely the enemy of change. The subconscious thirsts for stasis. It wants the proven actions and rewards that it’s already most comfortable with. When you have a healthy running habit, this is a huge benefit! When you have a procrastination or laziness habit you want to change, it’s a flat out war with your own brain!
Challenge: Think In Terms Of Direction Today
Today, I want you to think less about what you want/need to do and think more about changing direction into a better place. Anytime you feel stuck, think about quick and easy actions you can take to change your direction. If you’re motionless, you don’t have a direction (or your “direction” is to stay put); all you have to do is get up and you’ve already changed your direction.
Earlier, I mentioned how the subconscious can manipulate our desires into wanting to live the way it wants, but it can’t manipulate you when all you’re doing is changing direction. Small direction changes are not significant enough to argue against.
People think that mini habits are all about small steps, but the underlying concept is practicing direction change. Having a mini habit means you’re pivoting and changing direction into a healthy behavior at least once a day. This explains how a mini habit can be too small because the action has to be big enough to change your current direction. One push-up is big enough because it puts you in push-up position on the ground. Writing one word is NOT enough because it can be done in a flash without thought (but my 50 word mini habit works great to point me in the direction of writing more!).
Experiment: Hand Someone A Dead Leaf
One of my favorite things to do is hand people things for no reason. I know I’m weird. Try it though!
Pick up a dead leaf from the ground, extend your hand toward someone like you want them to take it, and they will probably take the leaf from you (with a confused look on their face). This is a funny demonstration of how the brain likes to “complete” processes. People have been handed things thousands of times in their lives, so when you extend your hand, part of their brain instinctively wants to complete the transaction, even without a good reason (and even though they’re super confused about it).
In the same way, when you point yourself in a healthier direction with a small step, you activate your brain’s bias to take further steps in that direction. It feels weird for me to only do one push-up because I have a habit fragment of doing at least 5-10 push-ups; it’s activated once I’m in push-up position. Take heed, for this concept of direction change is effective and applicable across all areas of your life:
- When you’re mad and arguing, a small apology or comment can change the trajectory of your conversation
- When you’re feeling lazy on the couch, pushing the leg rest down can be the start of doing something active
- When you’re in line and feeling impatient, saying hi to the person in front of you or thinking about how lucky you are to be at Chipotle can change your mood and ripple beneficially throughout your day (seriously though, I waited 30 minutes for a burrito bowl)
- When you don’t know what to write, forcing out one sentence can get you started
If you can change your direction at will, you can do amazing things in your life.
The subscriber-only message on 10/21/14 contains a real life example of the power of changing your direction! Join Deep Existence in the box below to read the rest.
photo by Pensiero