“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”.
— Albert Einstein
By this definition, I was “insane” for most of my life. And to prove it, here’s a little story…
Flossing isn’t the most glamorous activity in the world. And it’s certainly not something that I would have ever looked at as the key to changing my life.
But guess what?
It did. (I feel kind of weird even saying that to be honest…)
And not because of the health benefits or because I get brownie points with my dentist.
No, it goes way beyond that.
You see for years I knew that I should be flossing my teeth. I knew that it was it was good for me.
I had even overcome most of the big excuses. But it went beyond that. I just couldn’t commit to it.
“I’m going to floss my teeth every single night.”
I first made that resolution (along with a handful of other ones that were going to “fix me” that year) on January 1st, 1996.
I made a similar one the next year…and the year after…and after…and probably get the point by now.
And guess what?
I failed over and over…FOR TWENTY YEARS. Sometimes it would be immediate. Sometimes it would be after a few months. But I inevitably stopped doing it.
I’d be tired and I’d skip a day. And then I’d just let it slide and eventually — I would just drop the habit altogether.
I refused to make a mental commitment. I couldn’t go “all in”.
And it was like this for all of my resolutions and habits:
- “I’m going to get in shape”
- “I will be more productive this year”
- “I’m only going to focus on what’s important each day and I won’t ever procrastinate!”
I have to stop writing them because it’s depressing to even remember how misguided I was.
But, guess what I’ve discovered over the years?
I wasn’t alone.
The stats on New Year’s resolutions are grim…check out some of these from a University of Scranton study in the Journal of Clinical Psychology:
- 45% of Americans usually make New Year’s Resolutions
- 75% of people keep their resolutions through the first week (but only 46% keep them past six months)
- 24% of people NEVER succeed and fail on their resolution every year
- 8% of people are successful in achieving their resolution
So you’re telling me that 92% of resolutions fail and we still keep making them year after year? Talk about insanity…
QUESTION: If your car broke down 9 out of the 10 times you drove it…would you keep driving it? Or would you get one that actually worked?
Yeah, me too.
BUT we fall right into that trap…year after year.
My “53 Seconds” Wake-Up Call
I made that simple flossing resolution from the age of 20 to the time I was 33. And I kept failing at it and every single other resolution and habit.
But here’s the thing about flossing and why it was the perfect analogy for my habit struggles:
It takes me less than a minute to do.
I actually timed it and here’s exactly how long it takes:
I couldn’t even commit to 53 seconds each night for something that I knew was good for me.
And then one day it dawned on me.
I realized that if I couldn’t commit to something as simple as flossing, I knew I must be letting other areas of my life lag as well.
And I was. A lot.
So I made a promise to myself that I would start by just flossing one tooth each night no matter what.
One tooth. ~5 seconds. I could do that.
I set myself up with a goal that I knew I could accomplish. Something manageable and more importantly, something that I could build on.
Could this be the key to creating sustainable habits?
Don’t Break the Chain
Years ago I read about Jerry Seinfeld’s greatest productivity ‘secret’ and it all came down to one simple idea “Don’t break the chain.”
- Get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall.
- Get a big red magic marker.
- For each day that you do your task, put a big red X over that day.
- After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day.
You’ll like seeing that chain. You’ll actually love seeing it once you get a few weeks under your belt.
Your only job is to not break the chain.
I wish I could say that I started doing that back in 2007 when I first found out about that “secret”, but the reality is it took me quite awhile before I incorporated this into my life.
For the last few years, I have done a version of this with all new positive commitments that I want to make into habits.
And I’ve turned it into a super simple system that helps me have a productive and focused day…no matter what happens.
It removes the guesswork and it also removes the word ‘should’ from my life.
‘Should’ is a sneaky and insidious word. Every time I say to myself or someone else “I should be doing more of….” or “I should be doing less of….” I am holding myself back.
Flossing is simple. But flossing everyday seemed impossible to me. It was overwhelming.
But once I broke it down into something simple, something manageable, it became easy.
And this is one of the keys for all of the change that you want to have in your life.
Break it down. Make it simple. Make it manageable. Defeat procrastination.
Do this with one small habit and you’ll see how simple it can be for big things (like meditating…or exercising…or focusing on that important project at work).
Forget all the nonsense about New Year’s Resolutions and that you need them to “fix your life”. Stop thinking that big resolutions and changes are going to be the magic bullet. They’re not. You are.
So, I invite you to do one small thing today that can improve your life and start strengthening your willpower muscle. Today.
Commit to yourself right now. Start small. Build. Grow.
Are you with me?