“It’s greater than zero so it’s better than negative”

I said this recently to a colleague and thought a useful reframe to share after blue Monday this week.

Typically new year starts with renewed attention on who we are, what we’re not doing well and where we could improve.

Blue Monday is typically a day in January when people have tried new actions, failed and just resorted back to default behaviours they’re comfortable with.

We often turn up at the gym at the start of the year and push hard on day 1, 2, 3 and maybe 4, feel sore and then never go back to the gym.

We may say we’ll aim to eat healthier, meal prep like a hero for the first few days/ weeks and then spend time once, then twice at the vending machine, (which makes it so easy to eat poorly), and then this vending machine visit becomes a feature of your afternoon which then spirals into takeaway meals all week. (Just me?!)

I’m deliberately dramatising each just for effect.

The momentum though, positive or negative, is interesting and worth thinking through.

Starting out and committing to the gym 4 days a week is a lot initially when you haven’t been going consistently for a while. It’s not part of your routine, not part of what you do consistently so doesn’t feel like ‘you’ potentially.

Starting out and committing to eating healthier can feel like you’re giving up (chocolate is yummy) more than you’re gaining initially (celery, really?!).

Listening to Tim Ferris a lot over the last few years, and most recently to James Clear (Atomic Habits) I’m convinced two things can help:

1. Lowering the barrier to entry for new behaviours a crucial first step in any new habit formation and

2. Figuring out the type of person you’re aiming to become and doing more of what that person would do.

For example, a low barrier to entry for a ‘good’ habit could be flossing one tooth once a day for a week, rather than committing to flossing all your teeth, twice a day, every day, for a month.

Which of these 2 are you more likely to find excuses for? If you reduce the likelihood of excuses not to do the action initially, then you’re more likely to do the action long term.

If you want to become a person who does triathlons for example, then that can really usefully inform what you do, or don’t, consistently.

Habits, as an aside, are just repeated behaviours you want or don’t want – they don’t need to be complicated. That’s the benefits of habits. Less thinking, more consistent doing – whether that’s positive or negative doing is up to you!

We often do this self-reflective ‘exercise’ at the start of the year examining the results of our habits.

We rarely consider what got us the results, the actions and habits and then spending time ‘playing’ with those and considering more useful alternatives that could get us more of what we’re aiming for.

Thinking of the person you’re trying to become, back to point 2. above is useful here because this can inform the actions you think through – like the triathlete example.

James Clear I remember saying, a positive action you take is “A vote for the type of person you want to become.”

So when you take action, however small, it’s greater than zero, and so it’s positive movement. Keep going.

If you’re feeling stuck, just do something, and then refine with feedback from the world. This could be experience (when I do 5 reps x 4 sets I feel fine the next day versus when I do 10 reps x 10 sets) or other people’s experience (articles/ books/ podcasts etc.)

Action feels good because it’s closer to progress than inaction.

You can use the result of action as feedback to tell you what’s working and what’s not.

You can’t do anything with nothing. Unless you’re trying to meditate.

When I said “It’s greater than zero so it’s better than negative” I was trying to encourage my colleague to consider all they had done so far that was progress, however insignificant they thought it was, as progress towards their new goal.

Keep going. Do something. Refine. Pivot and learn.

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