Updated: Apr 2, 2019
You’re not going to change your life overnight. Major change will take years. I know that sounds discouraging, but as they say, the best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago; the second best time is now.
One of my mottos is that the time will pass anyway. When I started working out this past summer, I thought, “oh, it’s going to take so long for me to see results. Getting stronger takes a long time”, but I reminded myself that the time will pass anyway. There’s nothing I can do about it, the time will pass. And one month, one year, or one decade from now, I can see the results, or I can sit there wishing I had started a decade ago.
Time will pass whether you are working out, eating healthy, reading daily, studying, or not. Would you rather see results after that time has passed, or not? Don’t get discouraged when I say “start small.” Starting small will make the changes stick, and when the time has passed, you’ll see results. Start too large and you’ll burn out or get overwhelmed; the time will pass, but there won’t be any changes.
“Start small” is possibly the most important thing there is to learn when it comes to teaching yourself to be disciplined. What would you like to accomplish? Start with a bigger goal, but then break it down smaller, and smaller, and smaller, and smaaallleerrrr until you have one very, very, very small thing to work on.
How small am I talking? Smaller than you think. When I started working out this past summer, the first step was “go to the gym”. That’s it. And the first time I went to the gym, I went to the front desk, got my little key tag and free t-shirt, wandered around a bit to see what was up, went to “orientation” which was basically a glorified tour of the gym, and I left. I didn’t even work out.
The second time I went to the gym, I met with the trainer who works there, said that I have no idea what I’m doing, but I’d like to get stronger, and worked with him to create a workout plan for myself. We ran out of time together, so he didn’t have time to show me how the machines worked (I knew NOTHING about gyms), so I ran for a few minutes on a treadmill, and I left.
At this point, I’d been to the gym twice and done a total of five minutes of exercise. The third time I went to the gym, the trainer walked me through the machines I’d be using and showed me how they worked. I did one set on each machine at a low weight to make sure I had the movement down. When we were done, I left.
Three trips to the gym, and I had yet to do a real workout. But that’s okay because my initial goal was just “go to the gym”, which I meant very literally. Go to the gym. Nowhere in there did I say I had to work out. I just had to get to the gym.
After three trips to the gym, I was starting to feel pretty excited about going and finally started to go regularly AND actually complete my workouts. I started out going three to four times per week. Then I started going four to five times per week. Then five to six times. Then I bumped my workouts up from forty-five minutes to sixty minutes, then up to ninety minutes. I’ve moved gradually from machines to free weights, I started drinking protein shakes, I’ve gotten much more into athletic wear than I’ve ever been in my life, and started researching fitness in my free time. In short, I started with the goal of “go to the gym”, meaning literally to physically show up in the building, and ended up with a new hobby that I’m absolutely in love with. But I started small. Very, very small.
And small is okay. Even with my absolute love of fitness and desire to work out six times per week for an hour and a half each time, that isn’t always realistic. Sometimes I’m tired, or busy, or just really, really, really don’t want to go. And on those days, I go back to square one. Go to the gym. I get myself to the gym, sometimes half an hour late, sometimes wearing shoes that aren’t good for running, but they’re the ones I was already wearing so whatever. Sometimes I skip half of the lifts I was supposed to do that day and just spend half an hour stretching instead. But I go. That’s my goal, just go to the gym.
To give some examples of just how small I’m talking, if your big goal is to be more clean and organized, you can start by just putting your plate directly into the dishwasher after every meal, or getting a basket and putting all your “clothes chair” clothes into the basket, instead of on the chair.
If your goal is to lose weight, start by switching any soda or juice you drink for tea or water. If your goal is to be more active, start with just a ten minute walk around your neighborhood every day. If even that sounds like too much, just walk around your apartment for five minutes. Make your first step so small that it doesn’t intimidate or overwhelm you at all. The easier it is to get started, the better. Because getting started is the hard part, and once you can do your tiny first step a few times, it will be easier to make bigger changes and have them stick.