Let’s face it. In life, nothing is ever perfect. Nothing is ever the way we planned it. We always have good intentions. We always tell ourselves we’re going to do something a certain way and stick to it.
But then life happens: we get sick, we drink too much the night before, a surprise meeting comes up, we get injured, etc..
More than always doing a good job, its most important that we do a job. Let me explain.
The habit of carrying out the process is the most important thing in the completion of any goal. This is why I always focus on maintaining the habits that I want to stick to daily. This includes going to the gym for example. Even the days when I’m hungover, or am sick and feel terrible, I still go to the gym anyway. I do a crappy workout on purpose! Just to maintain the habit. Even if I normally squat 100k, but on a given day I only feel good enough to just squat the 20k bar, I will do that. Even if I scrap my entire routine for that day, and just curl the pink dumbbells, I will make a point of at least showing up.
Show Up Every Day, No Matter What!
Going to the gym just for the sake of maintaining the habit, even if done poorly, is a million times better than not going at all — no, it is infinitely better. A crappy workout is infinitely better than no workout at all. 1 is an infinitely larger number than 0. Sure, maybe 100 is better than 1, but at least doing “1” a day maintains the habit, which is the most important part.
Doing the hardest workout of my life, but just for one day, means nothing in the absence of habit.
Consistency is the key to progress.
I learned about this concept through my journey of studying Japanese. I had high hopes for myself every day. “I’m gonna study 5 hours of Japanese every day without fail!” I said. But you know what? All kinds of things came up that prevented my promise to myself from happening. But the most important thing was that I at least stuck to doing a little Japanese every day, even if only for one minute. Just one Anki review. If I at least made that commitment, I would maintain the habit of studying Japanese every day. Over time, that motivation snowballed and most days I did actually hit that 5 hour mark.
The Kaizen Principle
The idea of just doing the smallest, most sustainable action is not new either. It’s a philosophy that was modeled around the Japanese business principle “kaizen.” The principle follows that when you want to create change, you don’t start with huge modifications in the structure. Rather, you make very small, incremental changes over a long period of time.
When applied to things like personal development and goal achievement, this means that you don’t start huge. You commit to very small, achievable actions until they become a habit. Then you slowly increase those habits over time.
For example, if you wanted to quit smoking but find yourself bending and breaking every time you go cold-turkey, then start with very, very small changes. Let’s say you currently smoke a pack a day. For the first two weeks, you would start with removing one cigarette from the pack so that you are only smoking 19 cigarettes a day. Make 19 cigarettes a day the new habit. Then after two weeks, switch to 18 a day. Then maybe the next two weeks 16 a day.
Cutting down so slowly seems ineffective. It seems like it would take forever to get down to the goal of zero cigs a day. But guess what? Going at your current path of making large, unsustainable changes is not working. If you keep that up, you will most likely never quit! Better to make slow, sustainable changes over the next few months and actually quit for good.
Here’s the interesting thing that happens. When you make small changes and stick to them, you still feel a sense of accomplishment when you stick to it. That sense of accomplishment then gives you motivation to stick to your current goals and do more! Literally there is a snowball effect on your motivation that propels you toward the completion of the current goal at hand.
This example can be applied to the goal of losing weight. Rather than going for your garden variety crash diet and trying to lose 20 pounds a month, it’s better to aim for only two pounds a month. There is a high chance that with the low, sustainable goal of two pounds a month, you will build the habit of eating your target calories for the day and maintaining your desired weight permanently. Whereas knocking 20lbs off in a month is not sustainable, causing your weight to snap back up like a frikkin’ yo-yo in the near future.
How to Buy a Sports Car, Even if You Are Dead Broke
Let me give you another musing from my life. I am currently saving for a sports car. I don’t know how I will come up with the money for that. But you know what? I am saving anyway. How you say?
Well I took an envelope and I wrote the words “Sports Car” on the outside of it. I put it on the table in my living room. For now, I have committed to putting at least 100 yen (roughly 1 US dollar) in the envelope a month. This idea seems wild right? How could I possibly stash away enough to get that open-top convertible that I desire. At one dollar a month, it will take until I’m 70 years old until I save up enough money to buy it, right?
Well, here’s the thing. 1 dollar a month is the bare minimum. I can stash away more if I please and some times I will. But here’s where that snowball of motivation comes in. One dollar a month is a small amount, but it is still progress. As I see my sports car fund slowly growing over the next few months, I will see that progress and feel good about it. I may even decide I could stash away more. Maybe 10 bucks for that month, or even 100 bucks. The bigger I see the fund getting, the more motivated I will be to make it a priority to add more money to it.
As I get closer to my financial goal of having enough money to get that car, I may even be motivated enough to start doing a few part-time teaching gigs in order to reach the end of that goal a bit faster. This is the kaizen principle at work.
Let’s go full circle back to crappy workouts.
I’m not telling you to do crappy workouts every time. Even doing crappy workouts half the time is probably a bad idea. But even that, is still better than being inconsistent.
I’m just saying things happen, and motivation to achieve goals waxes and wanes. The best thing you could do is make the process of achieving your goal a habit. A habit is more important than any amount of motivation you could have.
Like brushing your teeth. Do you brush your teeth because you have willpower? Because you are extremely motivated? No, you do it because it’s a strong habit. Make going to the gym like brushing your teeth. Make studying Japanese like brushing your teeth and you will never have to worry about things like motivation again.