I’ve gathered a lot of great ideas from the book “Atomic Habits” by James Clear. But, if I had to choose the one that has changed my life the most, it would be:
If you want to do something consistently, make it easy for yourself.
This means one thing: simplify, simplify, and simplify. In the beginning, make it so easy that you cannot say “no”. And later, little by little, you can start making it a little bit more complicated or challenging.
Let me share a personal example.
I wanted to start publishing posts regularly. I’d started posting regularly in the past, but after a few posts, I would find every excuse in the book as to why I couldn’t do it anymore, so I stopped.
But this time, I wanted to be able to do it for the long term, so I have simplified the process as much as I can, in every aspect and situation that arises, so that I can make it possible.
I started with what James calls “The Two Minutes Rule.” This rule states that, at the beginning, the task shouldn’t take you more than two minutes. In my case, it would mean that I should start writing one sentence every day (assuming that my goal was to write a post every day). Once I was able to accomplish this step regularly, I aimed to write a paragraph or 50 words every time I sat to write. After I did this regularly for a certain period of time, I increased the number of paragraphs or words until I was writing posts at the frequency I desired.
I didn’t have to use the “Two Minutes Rule” exactly in this case, but I’ve used it in other areas of my life, and it works beautifully.
But I’ve used the simplification in many other aspects. Especially in those where I was experiencing resistance and I could see thoughts in my head tempting me to give up my intention of writing. For instance:
I started thinking about how complicated it would be to have to build a new website, so I simplified: My website would consist of a WordPress site built over a free template with three pages only: the main page with my posts, an “About Me” page, and a contact page.
It was to my advantage that I was already familiar with WordPress, but if I hadn’t been, I would have used a platform that made creating a website easy.
Here are some thoughts I’ve had along the way and how I have resolved them using this process of simplification:
“I would need to hire a web designer” → I looked for a minimalist free template.
“Which color palette should I use on my website” → The two that make the contrast easier for the reader: black and white
“Everyone says that posts must be accompanied by pictures to make them more attractive to readers, and I hate having to look for pictures” → I would do it without pictures. My intention is to write.
“After writing a post, I should read it once or twice to see if it’s clear/to rearrange sentences, edit, etc.” → No, I will write and won’t overly concern myself with editing and rewriting. (Disclosure here: as I am not a native English speaker, I’ve hired an editor to correct my grammatical errors.)
“I’ve been told that the first two sentences of an article are the ones that catch the attention of the reader. I should think carefully about how to start the posts” → I write whatever comes first to my head.
Do you get the idea? I’ve also thought about the importance of a good title and promoting my posts, the minimum number of words a post should have, etc.
I want to acknowledge that all these thoughts are legit. It’s true that a good title or introductory paragraph will make my posts better and more interesting, and it’s likely that I would reach a wider audience if I invest the time to follow other writers. The difference is that when those thoughts crossed my mind, I could feel my motivation decreasing. I could feel that writing was beginning to feel like a burden. Those thoughts were not about the simple act of writing!
For me, right now, I write. All those suggestions can be implemented later; now is not the time to have a beautiful website, nor to reread my posts, to think carefully about the titles, to find pictures, to worry about the best strategies to attract readers. Now is the time to write.
If I tried to do all of the above, I probably wouldn’t be writing this now.
Making the process easy is what helped get me where I am… and I’m still doing it.
- I simplified my intentions: just expressing ideas and not trying to maximize my readership.
- I simplified how my writing is presented: no fancy website, no pictures; just black text over a white background.
- I simplified the structure and the process, i.e., no rereading and no attempts to perfect it.
Simplify, simplify, simplify.
This is how you maintain a habit in the long term: it’s important to start your journey with a light backpack or you’ll never get to your destination. Once your legs get stronger, you can add more, little by little.