Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

One Habit That Will Help You Get Healthier, Create Better Art, & Live a Happier Life

Note: You can listen to this blog post (with some additional commentary) by clicking the player below or subscribing to my podcast.

The other day, I woke up early, got into my workout clothes, and did the worst thing ever. I checked email. An hour later, I had to peel my fingers from the keyboard and get dressed for work. I was out of time.

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Guy working out

Photo Credit: Runar Eilertsen via Compfight cc

But that’s not exactly true. The truth is I had about ten minutes left before I had to start moving. So I had a choice:

  1. Get dressed and go through my day feeling defeated, or…
  2. Take what little time I had left (admittedly due to my own procrastination) and use it.

I opted for the latter and did a quick workout. It wasn’t much, but it had a dramatic effect on my attitude for the rest of the day. I felt like I had done something, and I had. In fact, this is how all change begins — with something small.

We all do this, don’t we? We tell ourselves we’re going to be better, smarter, healthier, or more disciplined. That we’ll finally write that book or quit our jobs or start spending more time with family.

But then life happens. And we forget, procrastinate, or just plain run out of time. We feel out of control, but that’s not the whole picture. There is always something to be done. Something small. Something that looks insignificant.

And it is — if we only do it once. But the power in small things is that over time they add up.

The small habit that makes a big difference

There is one habit I have learned in life — in fact, I’m still learning it — that has led to writing every blog post or book I’ve ever published. It’s the secret I use to get into shape, and the one I forget when I don’t.

Here it is. The small but simple habit that could change your life: Stop waiting for perfect.

  • In your work.
  • In your relationships.
  • In your life.

Instead of waiting for the right moment or for that person to just do what you want them to do, what if you accepted reality for what it is?

What if, after doing that, you took it one step further and decided to do something with whatever life has dealt you? You just might change your life.

In writing my next book (which I will tell you more about in the coming months), I interviewed hundreds of people who are living out their calling. All their stories were different, but do you know the one thing they all had in common?

They all stopped waiting for perfect. Instead, they embraced reality, and decided to do something extraordinary with what they had.

The same is true for the most successful students in my online writing course. They stopped waiting and started writing. They became professionals in their minds first and then started acting like it.

You can do the same. All you need is this one simple practice that will revolutionize everything you do: You must start small.

“Big” is overrated

We all want to do big things with our lives, but the truth is that change, both good and bad, happens over time. It’s something practiced gradually.

With habits, it’s not the size of the task, but the frequency, that matters. [Tweet]

So here’s what that looks like, practically:

  1. Set a goal (e.g. write a book, lose 20 pounds, etc.).
  2. Decide on a habit that, practiced over time, will get you to you goal (e.g. write 500 words a day, run one mile per day, etc.). Make it small and easy to repeat. Repetition is what creates change.
  3. No matter what, try to practice the habit daily. If you can only do it for a minute, do it. Don’t procrastinate or wait for a better time. Just start. The trick is to do something when you feel like you have time for nothing. That’s how habits are crated.

But what happens, you might be wondering, on the days when you completely mess up and miss the boat? What then? Don’t miss again. Get back onto the wagon as quickly as you can. Don’t wallow in regret; just do the next small thing.

Remember that none of us start perfect in life and none of us, in spite of appearances, ever reach perfection. It’s an illusion that creates disappointment and misery.

If you want to live a life full of joy and creativity, then you have to break up with perfect and fall in love with good-enough. It’s better than you think. (Did you like that? Feel free to tweet it.)

Note: I’m doing a free blogging challenge this month called Intentional Blogging. This is for people who are ready to get serious about blogging and practicing a daily habit. Bonus: It just might teach you something about yourself. You can jump in with us at any point, but it’s best to get started sooner than later. Join us now.

How have you seen small habits lead to big things in your life? Share in the comments.

About Jeff Goins

I write books and help writers get their work out into the world. I am the best-selling author of four books, including The Art of Work. Each week, I send out a newsletter with free tips on writing and creativity.

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  • David Mike

    Social media will be the death of me! It’s the first thing I do in order to keep up with all the notifications. It’s like I’m worried about being suffocated by a notification avalanche if I don’t read and clear them all out. Time to let it go! (Sorry, song going to be stuck in your head all day.)

    • I’ve had to get drastic with this. I uninstalled it from my phone, turned off email and installed “self control 3” on my mac to disable facebook for set amounts of time. Good luck! So far, it’s been worth it.

  • thank you for the encouragement this morning, Jeff.

  • Two mottos are continually in the front of my mind. One is “small things done consistently over time add up to make a huge difference,” and the other is “don’t quit.” These mottos led the way out of depression. They saved my marriage. They helped my adopted youngest son heal from a traumatic part. Persistence and perseverance are life-changing when we build habits around them.

    • Amen and amen. Thanks for sharing, Kari… and for not quitting.

  • Great stuff today Jeff. I have been such a consumer of information lately, and spent so much time trying to build my social media relationships that I almost forgot the most important thing: to produce content. So last night I sat down and banged out 1 and a half posts. It was so freeing and inspiring to actually get down to the business of creating. It’s easy to get distracted from what’s really important.

  • A few years ago my fitness had slacked. I went from running marathons to barely finding the time to run at all. So I decided to run 1 mile every day for a year. Not only did I make it 370 days straight having run 1 mile each day. I also was able to set personal records in covering distance at one time with several runs of more than 30 miles. Doing the small things enabled me to do the big things. Big things I never thought possible.

    Now I’m applying that rule to writing, at your insistence, 500 words a day. No matter what. Even when it hurts.

    • Wow, Nick! I love this. Thanks for sharing. And good for you!

  • Thanks for the motivation Jeff. I’ve struggled with this pretty much my whole life. From needing the perfect writing environment to finding the perfect gym, even to finding just the wight words to say at the right time, perfectionism has been my curse.

    I’ve found that what works for me is recognizing periods of inertia and pushing through them regardless of how uncomfortable I feel. That silences my inner critic so I can actually get things done. Adding a daily habit on top of that really is the magic bullet to overcoming the dredaed P’s: perfectionism and procrastination.

  • Emma Hoyle

    It’s amazing what we can achieve in 15 minutes. A daily workout. A paragraph of a book. And when it comes to writing, weirdly, I find I can write more if I set the timer for 15 minutes than if I set aside a whole morning of 15 minutes (I guess because it stops me thinking that I *must* fill three full hours with writing). So I’ve taken to compiling a list of things I can do in 15 minutes. So far, so good!

    Now I need to add to it, “Repeat: Don’t wait for perfection.” Or “Reread one of Jeff’s inspiring posts,” like this one. 🙂

    But once again, Jeff, you’ve hit the nail on the head for me with this post. Are you reading my mind? GET OUT OF MY MIND. (No, really, please don’t; it’s doing me the *world* of good.)

  • Phyllis A. MacDonald

    Thank you for your inspiring words. Growing up believing that unless it was done quickly and PERFECTLY it wouldn’t be good enough, has taken years of “positive self talk” to overcome. “Good has to be good enough” because as a perfectionist, I will never achieve the perfection that I envision, and I therefore set myself up for failure every day! When I speak it out loud, or write it on paper, it is easy to understand how foolish that perfectionism theory is. However, breaking the habit of demanding perfection was not simple.
    I started with expecting less from others. Matter of fact, I started having no expectations, and worked steadily towards my goal and gratefully accepted the outcome as being “exactly what it was supposed to be”. Silly as that may sound, it worked for me. I began to realize how perfectly imperfect I am and I found myself liking me! I was human!
    How amazing to find out that working towards a goal happens one day at a time…not overnight. As Scott L. Sind wrote in his comment about “perfectionism and procrastination”, I too find that they go hand in hand. If I am waiting for the perfect time or the perfect me, I will procrastinate and be waiting a lifetime. Cheers to all of us who know we are imperfect people! For we are the humans that will move mountains, one pebble at a time!

  • Jeff- on the grease board in my office are two sentences. “Done trumps perfect” and “deeds trump creeds.” I tend to be an obsessive perfectionist and “done trumps perfect” succinctly reminds me to disentangle from the minutia and just get it done. I love your ten minute workout comment -I’ve done the same thing some days. I also like the “deeds trump creeds” quote because actions speak louder than words! By the way, just started your Tribe Writers program. Wow! Great stuff.

    • Love those creeds. And glad to have you in the course, John!

  • Hey, that sound like a good way to change. It almost looks like a Zen Habit 😉 Helps me to get better by the day. Thanks for sharing!

    • Heh. It does. I must have been channeling my inner Leo.

  • It’s interesting, isn’t it? The spillover effect which discipline applied in one area has in others? For instance, I’ve been getting up early and going to the gym. Not only has my health improved, but so, too, has my writing. Funny, that.

  • I totally agree. I wrote a book on this–Break a Habit; make a Habit. My habit was walking every day. I have walkd
    1,695.99 miles so far

  • Lawrence Reid

    Fantastic blog post again!! Really interesting and a big eye opener!! Check out my photography blog – https://www.livingwithphotography.co.uk

  • Tom Bentley

    Jeff, last year I finished a novel I’d been working on (and sometimes more off than on) for four years just by telling myself I’d write for a half-hour a day on it. Some days I missed, some days I wrote twice as long, but the work steadily added up to a finished novel. I’m going to do the same on a nonfiction book now. Thanks for the insights!

  • Phumuzile M.

    Jeff’
    Thank you Jeff you have just made my morning ‘I easily lose focus when I sense let down by something or someone where I have put my hopes on’ Forgetting what I real have is my goal in life’ To write my manuscript.

    Jeff I wonder how can I do that without love?

    Thank You again’

  • Great points. Reminds me of Kaizen, the Japanese approach to ongoing improvement based on small changes over time. The tendency towards a major overhaul is misguided, as you described so well — good enough is more than OK! Thanks for the reminder. Oh, and I’m intrigued about your next book; can’t wait to hear more about it!

  • I’ve told people before that I’m good at doing something not so great for a really long time. In the end longevity and faithfulness will always win out!

  • The tension between ‘just do it’ and quality is tough to master. I’m in a daily struggle with wanting perfection and a realization that often doing anything (like your 10 minute workout example) is better than nothing.

    • It truly is. I totally relate Cindy. Buy as you said, we can always do something.

  • Timely reminder. I now believe this constant strive for perfection is a form of bondage. I struggle with perfection on many projects, which holds me back from even launching….what a shame! I commit to writing 15minutes each day.

  • Graham Honeycutt

    Thanks Jeff for sharing. This is just what I needed to hear today, and even on a Saturday! I just came back from the Coaching with Excellence Dan Miller seminar and heard the same message about Ready-Fire-Aim! I have been paralyzed by perfect, and it’s time to just start!

    • Awesome, Graham! Dan is an inspiration to me, too.

  • sal

    Awesome post Jeff, we have to fall in love with frequency because frequency leads to freedom, perfection leads to paralysis

  • Jeff,

    I remember having the same discussion with a friend about wanting to workout, but getting hi-jacked by the computer.

    I asked him, “How do I make sure I get my workout in and get my “seed ideas” planted for the day?

    His answer was simple. Go to the gym first. Think about, what you want to think about, while you’re working out. Capture any notes on your phone in Evernote.

    This solved both problems. Your statement about starting with what you have is absolutely right. By combining 2 important tasks, I was able to solve my time issue. I don’t need more time, just better use of the time I have.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • Simple, Algernon. Like most difficult things.

  • Kendra@ HeyKendra.com

    I love that this approach also puts the power back into our own hands Jeff. I think so easily that we like to point our fingers at outside circumstances and blame others for things we can’t control, but this strategy puts the responsibility right back on us. Thanks for another great post Jeff!

    • That’s right, Kendra. We do have control of some things, just not everything.

  • Wow, really love that last quote. Being a perfectionist might give you decent results, but you’ll always be frustrated that you couldn’t do more. Sometimes in life, we do just need to “settle.”

    • Or maybe just accept what is and see the beauty in it. 🙂

  • Dionne

    Great post! I recently decided (within the last two months) that I am going to be a writer and start acting like one. I’ve put if off because I was waiting for things to “settle down” in my life. Well, I realized that that’s simply NOT going to happen. I’ve heard about you, Jeff, and decided to check you out. Thanks for all you do!

  • Daneel Olivaw

    This is exactly the kind of advice I need right now. Thank you.

  • Dale L

    Very good motivation to success.

  • Harper Hodges

    Oh, Mr. Goins. Thank you so much. Big is overrated. I am just a little kitten, but I can still start doing a little writing every day. I just have to get my typist to stop painting the house. She keeps trying to have a perfect environment before she writes.
    Oh dear.
    xo
    Love Harper

  • dormguard

    Just don’t know what to write. Would like something that would sell. There are so many authors/writers out there, it is almost too overwhelming . What spend 6 months concentrating on a book, and then never have it published? It’s almost like setting oneself up for disappointment, and I am an optimist, although I do face reality.