Notes from a Floating Life Thoughts about productivity, digital living, and leading a simpler life

Saying 'I Need To ...' Isn't Enough

An older man looking frustrated

Some time ago, I worked at a small software company as a technical writer. Just about every morning, I’d run into one of my co-workers in the kitchen at the office while I was refilling my water bottle or making a cup of tea.

And just about every morning he’d repeat the same mantra: I need to start exercising. This went on for week after week, month after month. Despite his best intentions, that co-worker never started exercising.

It reached a point where I got tired of hearing him say that every single day. So, my inner coach (OK, more like my inner drill sergeant) stepped in and gave my co-worker some advice.

That advice? Saying I need to … won’t make what you need to do happen. You need to make it happen. You need to do something. You need to act.

Intentions are all well and good, but they’re not enough. Intentions can quicky become a Someday/Never list. No matter what you’re doing or trying to do — whether it’s exercising, learning a language, writing, or decluttering — you need to take action.

Start With a Plan

Just jumping in without any direction is a good way to ensure you’ll fail. And fail quickly. Instead, come up with a plan.

Take some time (but not too much time!) to think about:

  • Why you want to do what you want to do
  • What your goal is
  • How to get started

Let’s say, like the co-worker I talked about earlier, you want to exercise more. You want to do it to lose weight and have more stamina and energy. To get started, you could do the 7-minute workout every day or second day. Or, you can do other short workouts. Once you get to a reasonable level of fitness, you can then add more difficult bodyweight exercises or weight training. You can start running or cycling or using an elliptical machine.

Nothing complex there, just a steady progression.

Scheduling is Key

Everyone complains about not having enough time to do what they want to do. Yes, I do it too. If you’re serious about something, you have to find or make time to do it. That means blocking out time during your day to focus on whatever it is you want to do.

How much time to block out depends on what you want to do and how much time you have during the day. When I talk to people who are trying to build new habits, I advise them to spend 30 minutes a day to do that. Thirty minutes is a good start. It doesn’t put too big a dent in your day.

When you’re starting out, it’s tempting to run full out towards your goal. That’s not the wisest move. Why? You’ll quickly run out of energy and enthusiasm. What you want to do will become a repetitive chore, which will dampen your enthusiasm even more. You’ll quit before you build up a head of steam.

Instead, start out doing what you want to do three days a week. As you gain confidence and strength, as you become more comfortable and get into the rhythm of your routine then add a day to your schedule. Or, add another 15 minutes per day. Or both.

Take the First Step

Then keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Your progress will definitely be slow at first. You won’t get quick results. Instead, you should play a long game. If you get started, and keep going, you’ll reach your goal. It’ll take time, but it’ll be worth it.

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