It was January 19th 2017 and I was sitting in the car waiting for my wife to come out of a hospital appointment. I was reading on my Kindle to while away the hour or so. I’d heard about this particular book on a podcast (I remember the book, but not which podcast it featured on) and I reckoned I could get the jist of it before my wife came back to the car.
It’s no exaggeration to say that the book in question (Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results by Stephen Guise) changed my life massively for the better.
There’s a fair bit to the book and I recommend anyone to read it, but here it is in a nutshell:
If something’s hard, it’s close to impossible to make a habit out of it.
If you’re like me, you’ll have tried to form many habits whether those are lifestyle related (exercising regularly, changing your diet) or professional habits (eg work on priority 2 projects for an hour a day) and, after a glorious but brief period, they would crash and burn. And when that happened in my life, who did I blame? Me, of course.
I simply didn’t have the willpower or, put another way, I was a weak-minded waster.
Stephen Guise’s challenge was exercise. He’d tried and failed at establishing exercise habits so often that he ended up looking for a radical new idea. And here it is:
Make your habit so easy that you have no excuse for not doing it
In his case, he set up the habit to do one pushup a day. Any day on which he did one pushup was a success. But what’s the point of that? I can hear you thinking from here.
The point was that …
…once he’d done his pushup he almost always did more
By setting his target at a single pushup, all of the resistance his mind might normally put in his way evaporated. He didn’t have to carve out specific time for it, or change into his fitness clothes – both delaying tactics he’d used many times. No, he could just drop and do one. And, while he was down there, he carried on.
This meant he could start a streak of consecutive days. The longer that streak went, the less likely it was that he would ever break it. On almost every day, he did a lot more than one pushup, but only having to do one was what got him on the floor in the first place.
The Ten Minute A Day Habit
So, I read the book and then thought about it. What, I ruminated, would be the equivalent to a single pushup for an author? A single word? Maybe that would work. But, I settled on ten minutes because, however busy I might be with other things, I could think of no excuse for not writing for at least ten minutes per day. Every day.
I mean, I want to be an author, don’t I?
Then how could I ever have an excuse for not investing ten minutes in that career?
So, I started that very day. Guess what? Once the ten minutes was up, I carried on (because I was rolling by that point). I wrote 500 words that day.
Once I’d been doing it for a week, there was no way I was going to let the streak be broken for the sake of ten minutes. And, as the days, weeks, months and years passed, that determination grew stronger.
And, you know what? It’s been easy.
That’s the whole point.
In 2017, I wrote 211,525 words at an average of 559 per day.
I generally write around 200 words in ten minutes, so basic maths shows that I was actually writing for around 25 minutes on average. But only because I’d beaten the procrastination demon with my ten minute minimum.
In 2018, I wrote 388,757 words at an average of 1,093 per day.
By the end of that year, I’d settled into my regular writing rhythm of 2,500 words per working day (ideally done by lunchtime). But because of the ten minute minimum, I wrote a little at the weekends which increased my word count. And when on holiday.
In 2019, I wrote 513,160 words at an average of 1,406 per day
and I haven’t missed a single day.
Sure, I write a lot more than ten minutes a day and, now that I’m earning a living from my writing and it’s my job, I have to write a lot more. But it began with that mini habit. That ten minutes a day promise to myself was the thin end of the wedge and, even today, it applies at weekends and on holiday so that I keep the momentum going. I never have to refresh my memory before starting to write, because I always wrote the previous words less than 24 hours before.