Become More Disciplined by Taking Small Actions First
As I write this blog post it is 5 am and I have already done my 30-minute workout, showered, and gotten dressed. My morning routine consists of things that a few years ago I would have dreaded doing at any time of day – never mind well before sunrise.
So I tried to think of what changed to make me feel so motivated every morning. I know that recently my feeling towards exercise has changed from one of loathing to one of enjoyment, but that came after making it a routine.
Perhaps just getting older provided me with the discipline I needed to do these activities daily?
What I realized is that every part of my daily routine that I don’t enjoy but do anyway starts with a small action.
By forcing myself to do a small, easy task, I am easing myself into the larger task that I may be dreading.
It’s a slight mind-game that I play with myself, but it works.
Here are the 5 routines that are now a part of my day that all start with a small action.
Waking Up Early
I’ve written before about how I use a sleep cycle alarm on my phone to wake me up in the morning. It’s an app on my phone that senses my movement and wakes me up gently when it detects that I am in a light sleep cycle.
To do this, it lies under the corner of my fitted sheet.
What this means, is that to turn it completely off I need to dig it out from under my sheet, get the screen oriented, and find the button to swipe in order to turn it off.
Okay, that doesn’t seem like much, I’ll admit, but that’s the point. It’s about the small actions that are easy to do, but that lead into the bigger actions you are dreading.
Finding my phone to turn off the alarm is enough to get my brain working and make sure that I am on track to waking up.
Getting Up and Getting Going
Every night before I settle down in bed, I make sure I have a glass, spoon, and my Beachbody Energize on the counter of my bathroom. This makes it incredibly easy for me to quickly mix up some Energize and drink it.
I literally don’t even think of what’s coming next. I just tell myself to take 1 minute to make the Energize drink. In fact, there have been mornings when I’ve been so tired that I tell myself “It’ll only take a minute to make and drink this, then we’re going back to bed”. I’ll sit on the edge of the tub in the dark bathroom half asleep and drink my Energize. By the time I’m done, I’m ready to go.
Do I ever go back to bed?
Rarely. Certainly not as often as I’ve told myself I was going to.
Part of that may come from the caffeine in the Energize, I’ll admit. The point is, though, that small action kicks off the next, bigger action that I am resisting.
You could do the same thing with coffee if you wanted. Set your coffee maker timer so that all you have to do is make a quick cup. Even move the coffeemaker to your bedroom and make sure you have a mug ready every night.
It doesn’t hurt that I enjoy the flavor of the Energize a bit too. For Angela, the coffee would work better. Having the drink is something appealing. Even if it is leading into something we might otherwise dread – like getting going early in the morning.
Okay, so now I am awake and out of bed. The next small action I take is to put on my workout clothes and (this is the important part) my cross-trainer sneakers. For some people just putting on the workout clothes would be enough, but for me, it’s the sneakers.
When I decided that I needed to start working out regularly, I went out and bought myself these Nike Metcon 2 shoes. I have never in my life owned anything nicer than a $60 pair of shoes. The Metcons weren’t super-expensive at around $120, but they were easily the nicest shoes I had ever worn. They fit like a glove and are so comfortable that I absolutely love wearing them. The thing is though that I don’t let myself wear them for anything other than working out. Part of that is the fact that I’m afraid of getting them dirty or too worn out because they are just so darn nice. The other part is that it’s a treat to myself to wear them. Once they are on my feet, I am ready to hit the deck and start my work out.
This might be an odd thing for me to say, given that you are reading our blog right now, but I do not like writing. It’s a struggle for me and although I think I’m getting better at it (feel free to disagree in the comments) it’s taking practice.
One thing I started telling myself was to just write a couple sentences each day. It was very easy at first to sit down at my laptop and come up with a sentence or two. Inevitably, though, the words started coming more easily. Before I knew it, I’d been sitting there for a good hour or so and I’d written a rough first draft of a full blog post.
Angela and I struggle with eating at home. We both enjoy cooking, but by the time everybody is home from work and school, neither of us feel like it. It’s one of those things we are focusing on improving right now and we’re getting better about it.
One of the things that are working for us is just starting the stove. Getting some water boiling or the oven heating up is a small, easy action. From there we figure “Why should we bother going out to eat when we’ve already started cooking”.
Obviously, we need some idea of what we are going to make, but that was never our problem. Despite weekly meal plans and complete food shopping, we would drop the ball right before it was time to start cooking.
Start taking small actions
Not all of these will apply directly to you and your life, but the concept is there. Modify it to fit your life and challenges. Use the following guidelines:
Find a small action that takes no more than 2 minutes.
Have the small action be something that leads into the bigger action. Think “now that I’ve done X, it doesn’t make sense to not do Y”.
When doing the small action, don’t think ahead. When you start thinking about the big action too early, you discourage yourself from doing either action.
Have the small action be appealing or rewarding if possible.
So start taking small actions to improve your life. Before you know it, you’ll have everybody around you thinking that you are the most disciplined person they know. Really, you’re just tricking yourself into doing the things that you don’t want to do.