Start Small· Permalink
I have a pattern I want to look out for and avoid.
When I have a habit I want to start, I bring the baggage of an expectation of what it would mean to do the final version of that habit. For instance, if I want to start running, I bring the expectation that a “proper run” is at least 30 minutes, or at least X fast, or at least 5 days per week. But, the critically important thing is just starting the habit. It’s way better to run for 3 minutes a day, slowly, twice a week than to push myself hard at the beginning, burn out, and never do it again.
I find myself doing this all the time. I can see the end goal of where I want to be, and I try to skip the steps that have to be done in order to build up to the full habit. This applies in fitness, in hobbies, and in programming.
James Clear writes about this in Atomic Habits:
“What matters is the rate at which you perform the behavior. You could do something twice in thirty days, or two hundred times. It’s the frequency that makes the difference. Your current habits have been internalized over the course of hundreds, if not thousands, of repetitions. New habits require the same level of frequency.”
Simply put, repetitions are more important than the size or quality of the habit. When I want to do something new, I’m going to start by designing the easiest version of that thing and then figure out where it can fit in my life and how I can make it a habit. Only then should I slowly ramp up to the bigger, better, more rewarding scale.
I was also reminded of the concept this week by discovering the Hybrid Calisthenics YouTube channel. In it, creator Hampton demonstrates a series of exercises that allow people to ramp up their fitness to be able to do push-ups or pull-ups, but he starts from the idea that you’re an absolute beginner with no inherent fitness. The videos are extremely refreshing in a world where fitness is often exclusionary.
Everyone needs to start somewhere and the best way to get to your end goal is often to cut yourself a break and start small.