In college, I learned a valuable (and painful) lesson about momentum.
In the thick of Rush Week shenanigans, my friend and I were chasing down some sister sorority girls who had stolen one of our banners. We stopped them in their car and sat on the hood before they could take off. The driver, surprisingly, decided to take off anyway.
I still remember the way the wind blew through my hair as parked cars, spectators and my life whooshed past me. I began to howl like a hand-wound siren as I fumbled for something to grip, grab or hide behind and my friend, who was desperately doing the same, finally slipped off the side of the hood in a fit of skin-against-metal squeaks.
The driver slammed on the brakes — brakes which had apparently been serviced only minutes before the incident — and stopped the car abruptly and immediately. I had the fleeting sensation of flight for a moment, but quickly decided I would try to run while airborne in order to hit the ground in a sprint. As my churning legs touched asphalt, I surmised, I could just slow myself down to a jog and avoid any injury.
Once my feet hit the pavement, however, I tumbled and careened in a ball of gyrating legs and flailing arms until I stopped awkwardly and painfully in a heap some 20 or 30 feet from the car.
The lesson? Things in motion tend to stay that way.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the past year lately, reviewing all the goals and plans I made, and deciding on what I’d like to pursue this year.
I exceeded some of the goals I set, most notably reading 40 books this year, 10 more than my goal. I didn’t meet some of my others, and fell short of reaching 210 lbs. by the year’s end (there’s still time, so we’ll see).
When I think back to the beginning of the year, however, I realize I didn’t make any firm goals. The goals I ended up pursuing were plans I slowly steered into my life. Some of them were unrealistic in hindsight (I wanted to get 1000 followers on Twitter but had zero plans to change my content or strategy), but others were things I was already doing, but hadn’t really written down (I started trying to find times to write on a regular basis, but I nailed down a time in the morning as part of my goal).
In both my successes and my failures with goals, I’ve learned the same lesson I learned in college: things in motion — people in motion — tend to stay that way.
Small Habits = Big Change
My buddy Jim wanted to build discipline into his life, so you know what he did? He didn’t run out and buy P90X, and he didn’t get a life coach.
He started making his bed every morning.
I thought it was funny at first, but he explained his rationale. “You don’t jump into discipline by tackling a complicated new habit,” he said. “When you tackle something difficult, you inevitably get burned out and quit. I’m starting with something simple, and when I’ve mastered it, I’ll take on something more difficult. Then I’ll take on something even more difficult.”
If you’re looking to build new habits into your life, if you’re setting goals and making plans to steer your life in a new direction, start with the smallest, easiest thing you can do to make that happen. “Discipline begets discipline,” as Jon Acuff says, and starting small can be the key to get your momentum going.
Do you want to start eating better? Pick one meal each day to eat healthy. Do you want to start exercising? Start taking the stairs rather than the elevator at work. Do you want to start saving money? Bring your lunch to work once a week instead of eating out. People in motion tend to stay that way.
I didn’t lose 140 lbs. by flipping a switch in my brain. It took small, daily, meal-by-meal habits that built up over time, lose a pound here, lose two pounds there, then a stumble, then gain a pound, until it added up to almost two years and 140 lbs lost. I still can’t believe it, but it’s not impossible and it doesn’t take an iron will.
Want to succeed in your goals and resolutions this new year? Start small, build your momentum, and start changing the course of your life.
What small changes can you make right now to get some momentum going in your life?