Tiny Triggers, Huge Habits

Face
it, your brain is lazy.  It’s not you,
it’s your brain. 

Among
its many strengths, one of the most primal is the ability to conserve
energy.  While not as critical today,
this survival instinct prevented our hunter/gatherer ancestors from running out
of energy on a hunt and becoming the prey. 

When
faced with cleaning the room or sitting on the couch, the brain will vote couch
every time.  So, if you’ve decided to
begin a new habit or routine, your brain needs help.

Consider
creating an easy “on ramp” to the highway of habit.  This would require identifying a “tiny
trigger” that is a remarkably small action that directs the brain’s focus to a
new habit or behavior.  While it is
insignificant by itself, it triggers a domino effect of actions needed to
engage in a new routine.

When
I decided (the easy part) to build more core upper body strength, I set a “tiny
trigger” which would be super easy for my brain to agree with: “Do at least one
sit up daily.”  (Nothing scary, nothing
hard.)

So
that’s my trigger, “If I have finished running, then I will do at least one sit
up.”

While
one sit up seems insignificant (and it is), this is our ‘edge on evolution’
that our hunter/gather ancesters didn’t have, our ‘foot in the door’ technique.
Starting with one makes it easy to trigger more by tapping into something
similar to Newton’s First Law, an object
in motion stays in motion.
It’s almost easier to keep going than it is to
stop.

One
sit up turns into five, six or seven. 
Before you know it you can crank out seventy.  Before you know it, you can add just one push
up…and just one pull up.


When Decision meets Obsession

This year I decided to write on a regular schedule. Committing
to it was a strategic decision. The decision part felt good. However, I quickly
learned that choosing is easy; doing is hard.

It was 6 am and I was staring at my computer screen, waiting for
inspiration. I was there to write a blog, and it just didn’t come. Questions came
to mind:

  • Should I come back to
    this?
  • Did I submit my expense
    report?
  • Am I really a writer?
  • Is the dryer turned on?

I was paralyzed by the blinking cursor. How was I going to create
content if I couldn’t write? (Strategies for “curating” other people’s content swirled
up in my mind as an option.)

Morten Hansen, author of Great
at Work
, sums up his research on personal productivity by observing that:

“Picking a few priorities is only half the equation. The other
half is the harsh requirement that you must obsess over your chosen area of
focus to excel.”

What Steve Jobs did for Apple embodies this quote. After being
ousted as Apple CEO, Jobs returned in 1997. He made the decision to reduce the
number of Apple products by 70%. His focus on the success of the remaining 30%
is legendary.

Not only did it save the company from insolvency, it created an
obsession for execution that is the hallmark of Apple’s success today.

Hansen encourages us to, “Do
less, then obsess.”
Only extreme dedication creates the extraordinary focus
needed for extraordinary results. Tiger Woods’ recent win of the Masters is
another example of what years of extraordinary obsession can do.

So, I stayed at my computer. For 20 minutes I did a stare-down
with the screen. I finally decided to write something stupid. And I did, and it
was. And I wrote another line, and it was less stupid. By 10 am I had three
blogs ready to go. But more importantly, I had done what I committed to do.

Make the hard decisions, then stay with them long enough to
obsess over making them better.