Those who make no mistakes have policies which naturally lead to victory. — The Art of War, 4
So you’ve made your resolutions for the new year, and hopefully at least one or two of them are achievement-based goals. As I pointed out in my last entry, achievement-based goals are the ones that give you the qualities money can’t buy: discipline, resourcefulness, commitment, and skill.
So how can we make sure that we successfully achieve what we have set out to do?
The answer lies in momentum.
Momentum is nothing more or less than the deliberate organization of your goals in a way that makes success inevitable.
Momentum is about creating a process and routine that will take you to your goal in the easiest possible manner. Then, once you have crafted your process, all you have to do is commit to it.
The process will then do all the heavy lifting for you.
Creating a Process that Works
When I was in the military, the army had a very simple way to increase the number of pull-ups new recruits could do:
- Drop by the conveniently located pull-up bar before lunch and before dinner.
- Pull till you can’t pull any more.
This process exemplifies the four most important principles behind any successful process: simplicity, convenience, frequency, and humility.
First Principle: Simplicity
The process you create should be as absurdly simple as it can possibly be.
This is because the more complicated it is, the less likely you are to stick with it.
With pull-ups, all you have to do is get on the bar and pull. That’s simplicity in action.
Aim to have as few moving parts as possible, at least initially. You can add more stuff once you’ve become so comfortable with your process that you don’t even have to think about it.
Never feel guilty that you’re not doing everything you could possibly be doing. There is no need to overcomplicate matters.
It is always better to finish well than to start well.
Second Principle: Convenience
Convenience is absolutely key to maximizing consistency. You should be able to incorporate your process seamlessly into your existing lifestyle and routine.
Pull-ups right before meals — with the bar located right next to the cookhouse — are an example of such seamless convenience.
To this day I practise a bodyweight fitness routine, and highly recommend it to anyone seeking to start an exercise routine. Why? Because of the principle of convenience.
Most bodyweight exercises require nothing more than your body and the floor. No shoes. No special equipment. No workout clothes. You could literally just roll out of bed and start working out (which is what I sometimes do).
There’s also a very wide range of bodyweight exercises available, ranging from the simple (push-ups and sit-ups) to the absolutely brutal (planches). So there’s always sufficient challenge involved to make things fun.
This is superior to a process that involves special workout clothes, special workout shoes, special exercise equipment, and travel to a gymnasium across town. Why? Because the more inconvenient you make things for yourself, the less likely you are to consistently follow through.
Seek to make your process as ridiculously convenient as you can, with as few barriers between you and your goal as possible.
Third Principle: Frequency
Frequent small doses are better than infrequent big doses. Frequency keeps you from forgetting your commitments and helps you to incorporate them into your lifestyle.
Just like doing pull-ups before meals twice a day.
Frequency is what really drives momentum. The more often you carry out an activity, the more easily you can keep momentum going.
How often? The answer: as often as possible without violating the principle of convenience. Your process should not be a chore.
Think about it like doing the dishes: if there are only a handful of cups in the sink each time, cleaning up is easy. But if you force yourself to wash each individual cup every time you use it, you violate the principle of convenience and turn the task into a chore.
Conversely, if you let the dishes pile up till the sink is overflowing you also turn the task into a chore.
What you want is to find the sweet spot between doing something too often and doing something too infrequently.
Fourth Principle: Humility
The wise person never tries to do great things; thus he accomplishes great things. — Tao Te Ching, 63
The pull-up bar is a great teacher of humility.
It will never flatter you or lie to you. Either you show up or you don’t. Either you’re able to do a certain number of pull-ups, or you aren’t. Either you’re able to hold an isometric position, or you aren’t.
Be humble. Start small. Don’t try to accomplish too many things at once.
Seek to be efficient, making sure your process requires as little time as possible per session. More time often means less productivity.
And seek to use as little willpower as possible. A good process should not require herculean feats of will. What you want instead is an automated process that conserves your willpower for moments when you’ll actually need it.
This is why your process should blend seamlessly into your existing lifestyle: so that you never feel like you are forcing yourself.
Trying to force yourself only leads to arrogance if you succeed and self-loathing if you fail. Instead, do just as much as is necessary. No more, no less.
Seek to be effective, not to be impressive.
Log your progress. Even a checkmark on your wall calendar will do. That’s how you know how much time and effort you’ve put in, and how you can watch yourself growing.
Have a simple, specific test to check whether you have succeeded or failed. Without an effective benchmark to work towards, your training will be less focused and effective.
Have the humility to extend your deadlines or alter your goals to match what’s realistic. This runs counter to the bombast of popular motivational sloganeering, which is all about forcing yourself beyond the limits of what you can do.
But I’m here to tell you: don’t force things. Simply seek to work, with full focus and attention, at the limit of your abilities. Slow down if you have to, instead of speeding up. In this way, over time you will naturally find yourself going beyond what you are capable of now.
And finally: when you have momentum behind you and feel that you want to do more, do more.
Everyone has bad days and all schedules encounter unexpected disruptions. Doing more when you have the momentum to do so will make up for those days when you find yourself doing less.