Slowly Creating a New Normal

By Leo Babauta

Many of you who are creating your new habit this month wonder why I advocate only 5 minutes a day. That seems ridiculously easy, to short to make any difference.

And that’s absolutely true. But it’s also incredibly important that you not try to do more, unless you were already doing more.

Why? Because what you’re doing is not trying to lose a bunch of weight this month, or transform your health and fitness in just 31 days. You’re changing your normal.

Stick with me a minute and let me explain … the way you live your life is what your mind thinks of as normal. If you all of a sudden change that normal, it’s uncomfortable and the back of your mind really dislikes it. Adding 30 minutes of hard exercise, or removing sweets or smoking from your life, is really difficult.

And so you won’t stick with something for very long if you hate it.

Here’s Secret No. 1: If you want a change to stick in your life for very long, you need to actually like your life with that change in it. If you hate the change in any way, you’ll drop it when life makes it difficult to stick to the habit. But if you actually like your life with the change, you’re much much more likely to keep it around.

And here’s Secret No. 2: If you only make a small change, you won’t hate it. You’re much more likely to enjoy your life if the change is small. And so (pursuant to Secret No. 1) you’re much more likely to actually keep that change in your life.

The Change Process

Here’s how most people try to make changes:

  1. We get inspired to make a big change, like exercising for 30 minutes or quitting smoking.
  2. We give it our best effort, and in the beginning are very excited.
  3. However, it turns out to be hard. Why? Because it’s not our normal. It’s uncomfortable.
  4. We slowly realize we don’t like our lives this way, even if we don’t admit it to ourselves.
  5. Eventually, when something gets in the way, we drop the change.

And repeat.

So what’s a more effective change process? Here’s what I’ve found to work:

  1. Know that you want to make a big change, but start ridiculously small.
  2. Enjoy the process, enjoy this positive (but small) change in your life.
  3. Your mind adjusts to this small change, and it becomes your new normal.
  4. The change sticks.

And repeat. Over and over, month after month, until a year has passed and suddenly you realize that your normal has changed tremendously in what seems like a pretty short time.

This is what has happened for me, year after year, until 9 years after I started this process, my life is unrecognizable compared to before, and so am I.

The problem, of course, is having patience. That’s not easy — we want those changes now! And I get that, because I’ve felt that so many times.

But what we have to realize is that 1) big changes will happen but it takes time, and so we need a long view not a short one, and 2) if we go for the short-view method (the first one above), we are likely to fail. Yes, sometimes we can succeed with big changes (if we’re super motivated and devote the time and energy to the change), but more than not we’ll fail.

Which option will you choose? I highly recommend the slow, effective change method.