On old maps, cartographers would sometimes indicate dangerously unexplored lands with the simple warning, Here be dragons.
Now that we’re leaving the fun of planning behind and facing the uncharted territory of actually implementing those plans, you need to be wary (but not overly wary) of the dragons that lie ahead for you. To battle them—or better yet, to avoid them altogether—you’ll need the weapons and tools of your mental toughness, your knowledge, and your wisdom.
We have discussed the importance of establishing good routines made of helpful habits. Alerted by your first attempt to establish a new routine, your first dragon will come looking for you: the challenge to overcome inertia.
For all your planning and research, your accountability and resolutions, this is the first time you actually need to do the work of change. Unless you’re super-human, those first steps are going to be harder than you’ve anticipated.
Strong Initial Resistance
We’re leaving the lofty clouds of planning, from which we could survey the land before us and all its possibilities, and descending to the ground level of the daily grind. For some, the dragon of inertia kills the plan with one fiery breath.
The solution is blessedly simple: avoid the dragon by not descending all at once. Instead of jumping off the clouds without a parachute, climb down in baby steps.
Do this by combining two things we’ve already discussed: the development of your new habits and your atmosphere of accountability. How do you combine them? Simple. Just share your new habits with the people who are helping you stay on task. You’ve told your buddy about your goal of getting a promotion and about your action plan of developing your people skills. Also share with them your plan to develop the habit of having at least one daily, positive, non-self-promoting interaction with a coworker.
Another way to combine new routines and accountability is to add a new habit to something you’re already being accountable for. For example, I am very committed to working out with a weight trainer four mornings a week. So I ushered in a new habit of running four days a week by scheduling it right after my weightlifting.
Another technique for taking those initial changes in baby steps is to simplify. In fact, this technique is vital. Big challenges are usually also quite complicated challenges. Don’t just cut off a piece and go for it; excise that piece through simplification. If you’re trying to be a better parent, pick one aspect of parenting to begin with (such as being more available), and then tackle just some simple thing about that aspect (like learning more about your child’s favorite hobby so they can discuss it with you).
The Secret Is Momentum
It may feel like a baby step is “too little” to care about. But when the first steps are tiny, simple things that you actually accomplish, you start moving, and this gives you a sense of momentum toward your goal. Momentum makes subsequent changes feel easier and more natural. Momentum also has a tendency to build upon itself.