Thoughts from the First Month of the Year
I. “The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.” (Confucius)
I first learned about setting daily small goals a few years back, but its importance never dawned on me until now.
Recently, in my Sports Psychology class, I was introduced to an expansion to the idea: the concept of mini-habits.
Mini-habits are built and employed with the sole purpose of leading you to a bigger goal. They are small, doable actions that you undertake regularly, and in turn they pave the path to an ultimate objective.
As an example, let’s say you are struggling to track your macros, which is something you “want” to do but can’t find the motivation or the means to put into practice.
You just know, maybe from experience, maybe from a gut feeling, that committing to such an overwhelming task would be the equivalent to a self-inflicted shot to the foot.
You’d be setting yourself up for failure, disaster, and possibly further demotivation.
The idea, then, would be to start ‘stupid small’. To what extent can you minimize your goal, so that you at least get your foot (gun-wound-free) in the door to self-fulfillments? What is the tiny version of your current goal that will inspire and motivate you to keep going?
In the example I gave, I would suggest committing to logging, at the very least, your breakfast, every damn day.
By doing so, you are taking the first step towards having logged an entire day, without devoting yourself to the seemingly insurmountable commitment to do so.
Accomplishing mini-habits will give you a sense of fulfillment, which in turn will inspire you to do more. Next thing you know, logging an entire day’s worth of eating won’t seem so overwhelming anymore¹.
II. Why not me?
For the past couple of years, I have often found myself paralyzed with fear.
Fear of putting out content and being ridiculed. Fear of taking the leap and not making it. Fear of not impressing prospective clients, or even my peers.
You see, my intention to create – to produce high-quality content, to write, to publish, to unleash my creative self out in the world – often clashed with the inner belief that I’m just not good enough.
I look around me and I see high-achievers and do-ers of all kinds. While I’m both humbled and inspired, I can’t help but constantly measure up my abilities against theirs.
In the end, this irrational fear immobilizes every ounce of intention I once had.
You can see how this mindset can be problematic.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’d like to point out that I do have a fair share of self-efficacy. I continuously recognize my strengths, and my quest for self-improvement ensures I’ll never be complacent.
Yet, in a constant stream of comparisons, I felt unworthy of recognition and subsequent admiration².
But, as fate would have it, I had a sudden realization. A moment of clarity, if you will.
What has enabled certain individuals to attain success? Is it an innate ability, harvested and developed early in life? Was it luck, persistence, or social connections?
To be honest, in most cases it was likely a combination of all the above.
What I didn’t realize, is that all this time I had been asking the wrong questions. And the one I needed to get to the bottom of was: if anyone can build themselves from the ground up and become a success story, why not me?
I’ll spare you the motivational speech, as I’m sure you can guess where this is headed.
The point I’m trying to make is this: believe you can, and you will. If you want to be a painter, paint more.
If you want to get stronger, then start now.
Practice your craft.
Put in thousands of hours.
Get better. Own the shit out of it.
You, just like anybody else, have what it takes to make it in this world.
As Theodore Roosevelt put it:
“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”
III. Leading with the why
Instagram has, for the better part of the last five years, chipped away at my well-being.
After many years on the app, I felt depleted. I could no longer rekindle the fire that set me ablaze. If you had asked me why I initially chose to do the things I once identified with, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you.
It was evident to me that the end-goal to my pursuits became more and more externally-oriented: there was an incessant need to impress others. There was no way around it.
I’ll be upfront with you, dear reader, and admit something most people won’t: I had a social media addiction.
I had always been aware of the negative impact Instagram had on my mental health, more specifically my perceived self-image, and although previous attempts to disengage with the app were made, the reality was that I had been wasting a precious amount of energy, time and confidence by engaging in a perpetual cycle of self-disdain.
The way I saw it, my business depended on Instagram as its main source of leads. And I clung on to that belief for as long as I could. Although that is partly true (most of my current online clients have found me through the platform), the pros simply didn’t outweigh the cons.
I was miserable, and I knew why. So I decided to act on it.
I quit Instagram.
Phew. That was easier than I would have ever imagined.
While I still occasionally check in to keep up with clients and friends, I have managed to bring my Instagram use from a weekly average of 12.8 hrs down to 1.5 hrs³.
Needless to say, the change has been nothing short of liberating.
Since then, I no longer put my body under intense scrutiny, fueled by unrealistic comparisons against perfectly filtered and posed physiques. I am more productive, I spend more time reading books instead of captions, and I feel more creative than ever before.
But, above all, and after some much-needed introspection, I’m learning to identify the purpose behind my actions. I am now on a quest for genuine, deep-rooted motivation.
I can tell from my observations that a lot of us are constantly fueled by an ulterior drive. If you ask me, I think it might even be normal human behaviour… to some degree.
But I wanted no part in it.
My point in sharing this story is to address two things: social media comparisons are futile and detrimental to one’s self-esteem (but I’m sure you knew that already).
Secondly, but more importantly, intrinsic motivation trumps extrinsic motivation. Research has shown that those who concern themselves with self-improvement, effort and persistence are likely to have a more rewarding experience when faced with failure, compared to those who define success as outperforming others. (Smith and Smoll, 1989)
I’m talking about personal growth versus status.
Paving your own journey versus measuring yourself up against others.
Focusing on the task versus focusing on the ego.
Allowing yourself to become so deeply absorbed in the process that, regardless of the outcome, it will always be a worthwhile experience,
¹ If you’d like to read more on the subject, check out this book by Stephen Guise.
² As it turns out, there is a name for this psychological phenomenon, and it is called the impostor syndrome. I’ll let Melody Wilding explain it:
“Impostor syndrome reflects a belief that you’re an inadequate and incompetent failure, despite evidence that indicates you’re skilled and quite successful.”
³ Yep, you read that right: 12.8 hours.
That was, on average, the amount of time I spent each week perusing Instagram. The sample size I used started at the beginning of October and lasted until the end of December in 2017, with some weeks racking up as many as 19 hours online!
The app I have been using for the last year to track these metrics is called Quality Time, and I strongly recommend it to anyone who’s interested in finding out how much time they spend glued to their cellphones.
Smoll, F. L., & Smith, R. E. (1989). Leadership Behaviors in Sport: A Theoretical Model and Research Paradigm1. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 19(18), 1522-1551. doi:10.1111/j.1559-1816.1989.tb01462.x