What has Jerry Seinfeld and your mother got in common?
They both own physical calendars. Probably.
But why should you also own one? And no, it’s not just because both Seinfeld and your mother are very cool – but because it helps build momentum.
As an ambitious individual, you probably crave the building of some sort of habit. Constantly finding yourself in a rut, you daydream toward the potential of being a naturally-disciplined superhero, with the power to conjurer great pieces of work or life goals; when in fact, you know that building such a habit takes a tremendous effort.
Firstly, you must acknowledge that those individuals that you have in mind when you think ‘naturally-disciplined superhero’, are not naturally disciplined at all. They have put in the countless hours and have dragged themselves through many mental barriers. You must also consider the great level of constant energy required to sustain such a level of discipline. This information, for as empowering as you wish it were – is ultimately overwhelming. Nevertheless, one strategy can allow you to elevate past the problem of getting started and allow you to no longer see the mountain in its steep, first appearance.
To build momentum.
Building momentum is a strategy I often find to be of great use. But there are actually two interesting means of going about this:
Method One: Kaizen
Kaizen is a Japanese method, originally designed for business, in which a long-term approach is systematically developed to achieve small, incremental changes in processes. The point of this being that efficiency and quality of processes are improved.
Taking this approach into your personal life allows you to drastically take away the fear and potential overwhelm of tackling a life-change or goal. Instead, you can approach large improvements by the small actions that ultimately build to a greater, desired outcome.
The Kaizen method, when used for skill habit building, demands that you work on your particular habit for simply one minute – every single day. By doing this, you are serving a kind of instant gratification factor that darts around your brain. You work on your goal and you’re immediately (well, in the space of 60 seconds) rewarded for it. Essentially you are setting the level of completion, extremely low.
There is, of course, a slight twist to this. You are in fact, actually setting the bar for entry extremely low, rather than completion. For a side effect of having started your habit building practice for one minute, you are very likely to go beyond this initial one minute. Author Tim Ferriss talks of using an interpretation of this method when writing his books. He claims to set his bar to write ‘two crappy pages’ each day. Of course, his large books prove that this is not the limit he sets himself to as he exceeds this benchmark on most occasions. But the beauty in this method is that if you were to only be able to hit your Kaizen, in this case, two crappy pages, and believe you cannot go further – then you have at least hit your target, not discouraging you and chocking your future motivation to sustain this discipline.
This effective method can build your desired momentum and brilliantly provides a temporary safety-net which allows helps to continue the effectiveness of that momentum.
Method Two: The Calendar Strategy (My preferred approach)
Why did I mention Jerry Seinfeld and your mother earlier? No one gets a free-pass to mention someone’s mother without having an explanation. Well, it’s because they might both own physical calendars.
I now too, own a physical calendar – and it’s become my best secret weapon for building momentum. The inspiration behind this strategy was one written about by Austin Kleon as he notes that Jerry Seinfeld, famous comedian and creator of hit-show Seinfeld, crosses off the days in which he writes a joke. A simple task, yet it is one that allows him to sustain an incredibly career-impacting habit and also provide him with a backlog of jokes to dip into when performing stand-up, as well as fine-tuning his skill and talent for joke writing.
I too now write an ‘X‘ in the days in which I have worked on a pre-defined task on that particular day. In a picture I’ve attached below, you’ll also note that I also have a secondary system that runs alongside the big cross. This is the red circle that goes around the date itself.
These signify the two habits I am currently building. They are:
For the red circle – I must complete some form of structured exercise. At the moment, my main focuses are strength-training and Kendo Martial Arts.
Seeing an X or red circle on the previous day encourages you to make a continued effort to sustain that momentum. After a matter of weeks, as the X’s and circles pile up, a sense of pride is built and a warm feeling of excitement starts to fire-up as you begin to realise that this is the beginning of you becoming that superhero you once dreamed about.
I recommend this strategy based on the fact that it has allowed me to sustain great writing habits, wake up early and work on large projects in the mornings and evenings whilst sustaining a full-time career during the daytime. So consider the momentum strategy and start building it – for as the Japanese proverb says:
‘little by little, a little becomes a lot’…
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