Motivation Monday: 5 Minutes a day to Incredible Progress

Note: This post parallels my post from last week on SMART goals, but adds a lot of valuable information for achieving your goals.

Okay so it’s the new year, you’ve settled back into work, school, or whatever else you do for a few hundred days a year.  You’re motivated to get a new project started, get going on those new goals, or even just make some positive change because you are feeling fresh.  You may have had a busy holiday, but it was fun to see all your old friends and family, and you are totally re-energized.

So you start all of the projects you’ve had in your back pocket, ALL of them.  You’re a machine and have the fuel and are feeling amazing, let’s do it all!

Suddenly anywhere from a few days to a few weeks later, you are tired and you take one day off, say you’ll do it again tomorrow, and then one of the projects slips off your radar.  ‘It’s okay,’ you say, ‘It was the least important one anyway.’  And one by one the projects drop, you feel burnt out, and you’re back to wishing you had the energy to get it all done.

The reason this seems familiar is that you used up all your extra energy at once.  You had high hopes, it’s easy to get excited when thinking about how you can finally do all the things you’ve always wanted to do.  After the dust settles, you still feel the same, wanting to do it all, but you just don’t have the energy, and more importantly it leaves you wondering where it all went.  Why don’t I feel invincible like I did before?

Imagine you have an extra gas tank in your car.  Would you all of a sudden start flooring it everywhere you went? After a day or two, the fuel reserves are gone, and your car is in worse shape for having had to burn the fuel so fast and work so hard.  It actually takes your car longer to recover from the boost.  This is the exact same thing you were doing to your body.  Though with a car it seems a little ridiculous.

But if you kept driving properly, but maybe a tiny bit faster, or for a bit longer every day, your car could handle it, and the fuel reserves will last a long time.  Heck you can even refill the reserves too.

This is the secret to using the extra energy properly.  Slow and constant progress.

In order to add something extra to the life you already have, it has to be balanced with everything else that’s already present.  The life you’ve built still takes energy to maintain, and throwing all that away to dive into something new isn’t manageable, and it isn’t realistic either.  So how can you be sure to balance your old life with a new venture?

Strategy #1: Start Slow and don’t stop

It’s very easy for us to get excited about starting a new project, and dive right in, but in order for us to know how manageable something is, we need to test the waters, start slow, very slow, even painfully slow.  If you can make 5 minutes a day for this project, it’s a solid start.

‘But why not an hour a day? I could accomplish so much more this way!’

The reason I start with 5 minutes is because you can ALWAYS find 5 minutes.  When you’re out all day working, and then have to go out for the rest of the evening, and you’re nowhere near your project, you’ll never find an hour to work on it, and you’ll become discouraged, or you’ll say ‘I can let it slide for one day.’  But one day becomes two, and then three, and eventually you’re back in old habits.  5 Minutes a day, every day, gives you a streak.  You still get the benefit of accomplishment, because you can say you’ve done a little bit every day.  More importantly you’re forming a new habit.  This is the goal of the slow start.  Forming a new habit takes months, not days, so you have to keep doing it every day.

In the long run, 5 minutes a day maintained is better than any other length of time if you quit.

Strategy #2: Track, Track, Track, and Track

You have to reinforce the progress with focus, and you need to see how your progress is built over the course of several days, weeks, and months.  Find a way to track your progress, and make it visible.  Make your tracker visible every day.  You want a reminder to spend your five minutes even when you don’t think you have five minutes to spare.

As an example, let’s say you wanted to do push ups, and you could only do one.  So every day you did your one push up, and you wrote it down.  If you did this every day for a year, you would have done 365 push ups.  I don’t know anyone one Earth who can do 365 pushups in a row, and I’m sure there are very few people who can do that many in a single day.  The point is that by tracking you don’t forget how much you’ve already done, and you can see those 5 minute intervals add up quickly.  5 minutes over 365 days in more than 30 hours.  Anyone can accomplish a lot in 30 hours.

Not tracking your progress allows you to forget it.  It allows you to forget how far you’ve come and why you do it every day.  Because let’s be honest, there will be days when you just don’t want to spend your 5 minutes, you want to do anything but.  Seeing how far you’ve come can be the difference between breaking the chain and having the motivation to do it.

Strategy #3: Add to your 5 minutes if it’s manageable.

It’s been a few months, and your five minutes has been really manageable for you.  It feels really good to have stuck with it for so long, and you feel amazing, but now you’re ready for more.

When looking to add something new, either by extending your time on your current project, or adding a new project altogether, remember to make it realistic.  make it a SMART goal.

If we go back to our one push up a day person, let’s say that every month that person finds they are getting stronger and can suddenly do an extra push up, so they start doing two per day in February, three per day in March, and so on.  After one year, they have suddenly done over 2300 push ups in the year, a staggering improvement!

Small additions will make for big returns in the long run, as long as it satisfies the first two goals: It’s manageable and it can be tracked.

So get to it! save your energy, spend it wisely, and show me what you can do with five minutes a day!

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