How improving 1% a day helps us move forward towards our goals.
I have seen the power of slow change, personally, and how I feel it makes me a better person in so many aspects of my life. But, to truly understand the power of something, to truly be able to leverage an idea or habit to its full potential, I usually need to know why it works. Sometimes, it just helps to know why the opposite doesn’t work.
So, really, what is so wrong with fast, epic, earth moving change?
Not too long in the past, I was a regular viewer of the Biggest Loser.
I was really drawn into seeing those people change their lives for the better with sheer determination and hard work. Over time, however, I started seeing more and more instances of where these people would eventually regress and put their weight back on.
I then started watching the show less and less because it became clearer and clearer to me that the approach the show used just wasn’t working.
There appeared to be cracks in the facade of epic, short term change.
There are some absolutely golden posts by Michael Hyatt on his site, like this one on margin.
I’m paraphrasing greatly, but margin is really the “leftover” space we have in our days after accounting for all of our planned activities and commitments.
It’s that space that can handle the unplanned or unexpected things that come up in our lives.
So, what does this have to do with change? Well, I feel margin applies to our internal selves as well.
Just like there are only 24 hours in a day, our internal selves are only capable of a certain amount of willpower and commitment.
We might not consistently think of it, but we are constantly making decisions about what we do.
Many of those decisions are commanded by habit (click here).
We barely think of doing them. Me? I want coffee when I wake up. Every day. Without fail. I just do it.
There’s not a lot of thought put into it.
I probably get dressed in the same order every day too. I think about that even less.
We’ve shifted things, like these, back away in the corners of our brains where they require little maintenance.
I have another habit that some people (my wife included) may think is absolutely cracked up. I get up at 5 AM every weekday. I’m actually writing this post in that stupid early block of the day.
For most people, that seems like an absolute impossibility. 5 AM? Ha.
Well, in explaining this, it will become clear that being a personal development guru in the future is probably not in the cards.
Because I am going to tell you that you are 100% correct. Sleep in.
If you sleep in to 7 AM, there’s no way in the world you are going to start getting up at 5 AM tomorrow and every weekday after that. I got there by sheer will. It was hard. They say you need to do something for 21 days straight to make it a habit.
Well, after two or three days, you’re bone tired. I slept in. That resets the 21 day clock.
There’s a better way, though. If you get up at 7 AM now. Set your alarm clock for 6:55 AM. When you are comfortable with that, go for 6:50. So on and so forth. But, why? Remember margin?
You only have so much margin.
When you put sheer will into changing a habit, your will power is finite.
No matter what. If you make the changes small, you cut into your margin just a little bit.
You can handle the little changes and still weather the ups and downs of your day.
You might laugh at me and say “Ha! I have proved you wrong, Joe, and gotten up at 5AM three days now!!
No more 7 AM for me!!”
Well, yes, it is possible.
Why? You cut a willpower check your body (and brain) can’t cash. You’re overdrawn.
Back to the Biggest Loser contestants. Truly understanding margin is why I can’t really watch anymore. The approach just doesn’t work. Epic, quick change is impossible.
Yes, you can hole yourself up on a ranch for 4 or 5 months and lose crazy amounts of weight.
However, these people are in near-total isolation. “Real life” doesn’t exist on the Biggest Loser ranch. These contestants develop healthy habits, yes.
However, they are habits that can’t stand up to regular day to day life. Once they return to their regular lives, all of the other time sucks return and burn up their time margin.
The emotional stresses and pulls of real life take their tolls on the brain too. The margin bank is overdrawn. (click here) Regressing is inevitable.
It is far more valuable to identify some smaller steps to take.
Keep in mind our physical, mental, and emotional reserves are finite. It’s a delicate dance. It causes us to work to understand ourselves.
Know our limits. In the long term, the potential for us to improve is nearly infinite. In the short term, it is painfully limited. Nurturing that balance is one of the most difficult challenges I have.
Resist the urge to drop an atomic bomb on your life today.
Instead, take a couple small steps.
Build on those.
It takes patience.
Trust me, I know.
But, the successes will start piling up.