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  • Transcriber: Joseph Geni Reviewer: Camille Martínez

  • I don't know about you,

  • but when our family got the stay-at-home order in March of 2020,

  • I came out of the gates pretty darn hot.

  • "Embrace not being so busy," I wrote.

  • "Take this time at home to get into a new happiness habit."

  • That seems hilarious to me now.

  • My pre-coronavirus routines fell apart hard and fast.

  • Some days I would realize at dinnertime

  • that not only had I not showered or gotten dressed that day,

  • but I hadn't even brushed my teeth.

  • Even though I have coached people for a very long time

  • in an effective, science-based method of habit formation,

  • I struggled.

  • Truth be told, for the first few months of the pandemic,

  • I more or less refused to follow my own best advice.

  • This is because I love to set ambitious goals.

  • Getting into a good little habit

  • is just so much less exciting to me

  • than embracing a big, juicy, audacious goal.

  • Take exercise, for example.

  • When the coronavirus hit,

  • I optimistically embraced the idea

  • that I could get back into running outside.

  • I picked a half-marathon to train for

  • and spent a week or so meticulously devising

  • a very detailed training plan.

  • But then I actually only stuck to my ambitious training schedule

  • for a few weeks.

  • All that planning and preparation

  • led only to a spectacular failure to exercise.

  • I skipped my training runs,

  • despite feeling like the importance of exercise

  • and the good health that it brings

  • has never been more bracingly clear.

  • The truth is that our ability to follow through on our best intentions,

  • to get into a new habit like exercise

  • or to change our behavior in any way, really,

  • doesn't actually depend on the reasons we might do it

  • or on the depth of our convictions that we should do so.

  • It doesn't depend on our understanding of the benefits

  • of our particular behavior

  • or even on the strength of our willpower.

  • It depends on our willingness to be bad at our desired behavior.

  • And I hate being bad at stuff.

  • I am a go-big-or-go-home kind of a gal.

  • I like being good at things,

  • and I quit exercising

  • because I wasn't willing to be bad at it.

  • Here's why we need to be willing to be bad:

  • being good requires that our effort and our motivation

  • be in proportion to each other.

  • The harder something is for us to do,

  • the more motivation we need to do that thing.

  • And you might have noticed,

  • but motivation isn't something that we can always muster on command.

  • Whether we like it or not,

  • motivation comes and motivation goes.

  • When motivation wanes,

  • plenty of research shows that we human beings

  • tend to follow the law of the least effort,

  • meaning we just do the easiest thing.

  • New behaviors tend to require a lot of effort,

  • because change is really hard.

  • To establish an exercise routine,

  • I needed to let myself be kind of half-assed about it.

  • I needed to stop trying to be an actual athlete.

  • I started exercising again

  • by running for only one minute at a time.

  • Every morning, after I brushed my teeth,

  • I'd change out of my pajamas and walk out the door,

  • my only goal, to run for one full minute.

  • These days, usually I actually do run for 15 or 20 minutes,

  • but on the days that I'm totally lacking in motivation

  • or I just feel like I have no time,

  • I still do that one minute.

  • And this minimal effort always turns out to be way better than if I did nothing.

  • Maybe you relate.

  • Maybe you've also failed

  • in one of your attempts to change yourself for the better.

  • Perhaps you want to use less plastic

  • or meditate more

  • or be a better anti-racist.

  • Maybe you want to write a book

  • or eat more leafy greens.

  • I have great news for you.

  • You can do and be those things,

  • starting right now.

  • The only requirement is that you stop trying to be so good.

  • You'll need to abandon your grand plans,

  • at least temporarily.

  • You'll need to consider doing something so minuscule

  • that it would be better than not doing anything at all.

  • So right now, ask yourself:

  • How you can strip that thing that you have been meaning to do

  • into something so easy you could do it every day with barely a thought?

  • It might be eating one piece of lettuce on your sandwich at lunch

  • or going for a one-minute walk outside.

  • Don't worry -- you'll get to do more.

  • This better-than-nothing behavior is not your ultimate goal.

  • But for now, what could you do that is ridiculous easy

  • that you can do even when nothing is going as planned?

  • Even though you ultimately might want to do more and be more,

  • remember that we humans are often too tired

  • and too stressed

  • and too distracted

  • to do the things that we really do intend to do

  • and to be the people that we most intend to be.

  • On those days,

  • our wildly ambitious behaviors really are better than nothing.

  • A one-minute meditation is relaxing and restful.

  • A single leaf of romaine lettuce happens to have a half a gram of fiber

  • and loads of nutrients.

  • A one-minute walk gets us outside and moving around,

  • which our bodies really need.

  • So try doing one better-than-nothing behavior.

  • See how it goes.

  • The goal, remember, is repetition,

  • not high achievement.

  • So let yourself be mediocre at whatever you're trying to do,

  • but be mediocre every day.

  • Take only one step,

  • but take that step every day.

  • If your better-than-nothing habit

  • doesn't actually seem better than doing nothing,

  • consider that you're getting started at something

  • and that initiating a behavior is often the hardest part.

  • By getting started,

  • we're establishing the neural pathway in our brain

  • for a new habit,

  • which makes it much more likely that we'll succeed with something

  • more ambitious down the line.

  • Why is this?

  • Well, it's because once we hard wire a habit into our brains,

  • we can do it without thinking,

  • and therefore without needing much willpower or effort.

  • A better-than-nothing habit

  • turns out to be incredibly easy to repeat again and again

  • until it's on autopilot.

  • This is because we can do it even if we aren't motivated,

  • even if we're tired,

  • even if we have no time whatsoever.

  • And once we start acting on autopilot,

  • that's the golden moment

  • that our habit can begin to expand organically.

  • After only a few days of running for just one minute,

  • I started feeling a real desire to keep on running,

  • not because I felt like I should be exercising more,

  • or because I felt like I needed to impress my neighbors or something,

  • but because it felt more natural to keep running

  • than it felt to stop.

  • Now, I of all people know that it can be incredibly tempting,

  • especially for the overachievers among us --

  • you know who you are --

  • to encourage ourselves to do more

  • than our designated better-than-nothing habit.

  • So I must warn you:

  • the moment in which you are no longer willing to do something unambitious

  • is the moment in which you are risking everything.

  • It's the moment you end up checking your phone

  • instead of whatever it is that you intended to do.

  • It's the moment in which you stay on the couch

  • binge-watching TikTok videos or Netflix.

  • The moment you think you "should" do more

  • is the moment you introduce difficulty and force

  • and negotiation with yourself.

  • It's the moment you eliminate the possibility that it will be easy

  • and even enjoyable.

  • So that's also the moment

  • that will require a lot more motivation,

  • and if the motivation isn't there,

  • failure will be.

  • Fortunately, the whole idea behind the better-than-nothing habit

  • is that it doesn't depend on motivation,

  • which we may or may not muster.

  • It's not reliant on having a lot of energy.

  • You do not have to be good at this.

  • You need only to be willing

  • to do something that is wildly unambitious,

  • to do something that is just a smidge better than nothing.

  • But again, don't do more if you feel any form of resistance.

  • I'm happy to report that after months of struggle,

  • I am now a runner.

  • I became one simply by allowing myself to be bad at it.

  • You definitely could not call me an athlete;

  • there are no half-marathons in my future.

  • But I am consistent.

  • To paraphrase the Dalai Lama,

  • the goal is not to be better than other people

  • but rather to be better than our previous selves.

  • And that, I definitely am.

  • When we abandon our grand plans and great ambitions

  • in favor of taking that first step,

  • we shift.

  • And paradoxically,

  • it's only in that tiny shift

  • that our grand plans and great ambitions

  • are truly born.

  • Thank you.

Transcriber: Joseph Geni Reviewer: Camille Martínez

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