It's the first step of the staircase and the first bite of the elephant.
We'll overthink what's in front of us, then get intimidated or frustrated not knowing where to start. So we end up never starting in the first place. Sound familiar?
It's like the image of the ladder that has the first rung so high the guy can't even get started climbing.
The only way to get where we want to go is by starting, but we are so good at talking ourselves out of it before we even begin. But when you choose to take action, you get on the playing field. And when you're on the field, you're part of the select few. Now it's anyone's game.
Our brains are amazing organs but need some hand-holding at times to get them to do what we want.
Dopamine plays a big role in our motivation to take action. It's our 'want/more' neurotransmitter and we can start to hack it a bit with how we approach our day. When looking at big goals like starting to exercise, eating clean, Ghandi-like meditation, or getting great sleep, we can become overwhelmed.
But it doesn't have to be SO daunting. What really matters is the daily systems we put in place to get to those goals. And the secret is that those don't have to be complex or elaborate. Start with something small enough that you will nail it every time. And the ensuing result? Dopamine hit! Our brain gets rewarded with a self high-five and we feel good about checking the box.
Now, our brain starts to drive us to get that feeling again. We start to build momentum, even if it's small. Momentum feels good and when we feel good, we want to keep that ball rolling.
Here are some simple first step ideas to help nudge you in the right direction.
Want to start exercising?
Start by walking for 5 minutes right when you wake up - down to the end of the block and back. Repeat for a week.
More experienced? Start by committing to 20 minutes in the gym, 2 days a week.
Pick something that you will, without a doubt, stick to. People will often think they need to go 6 days a week for 90 minutes a day in order to see results. Then one missed day makes them feel like a failure. Start small and cherish the small wins.
How to set yourself up for success:
Lay out your workout clothes the night before. Find some shorts and a tee you freaking love to wear because they fit right, look great, or feel awesome. This may seem small, but it'll keep you going in the right direction.
Put your shoes by the foot of your bed, with your socks in the shoes. Again, get some awesome looking shoes and great fitting socks that make you feel unstoppable.
By laying your gear out the night before, you eliminate decision fatigue in the morning and get right to it.
Want to start eating clean?
How to set yourself up for success at the grocery store:
Stay on the outer edge of the store and avoid the aisles. The aisles are where you find all the processed, junk, and sugary foods (of course, there are exceptions to this). The outer edge has whole foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, meat, eggs, greek yogurt, and other deliciousness.
Pre-seasoned meats can be great, just check the label and make sure they don't have any added sugar. Same with sauces and condiments.
Cook food in bulk so you can easily grab something in the fridge and re-heat it.
Change starts with awareness. To take it to the next level, you can start by recording everything you eat over the course of a few days. Plug it into a nutrition/macro calculator like FitBit or MyFitnessPal (both have free versions) as best you can to see what your numbers are. This is the first step into learning about nutrition and what your body needs to be healthy. Just keep it simple for now and record to gain awareness.
Once this ball is rolling, cook two meals a day... Cut out one soda... Get one less pump of sweetener in your coffee. Remove one packaged item from your day.
New to meditation?
"No way I'd be able to sit with my thoughts for 20 minutes." ..sound familiar? Said every person ever before they started.
Just like you don't squat 350 lbs on day one, you don't become a Ghandi zen-master on day one. I'm approaching the 1-year mark on daily meditation and now I can't imagine my life without it.
What changed my approach to meditation was hearing someone explain it this way, 'Think of meditation as a bicep curl. Each curl is a rep, right? In meditation, each time you recognize your mind wander off and you bring it back to your breath, that's a rep!' We're often too hard on ourselves for having a wandering mind (which is 100% normal by the way, you human you), so celebrate it as a mini victory as you crush that rep.
Start small by counting ten breaths. Each time your mind wanders (and it will), just bring your focus back to your breath. Sit in a comfortable position seated as upright and supported as possible (comfort is key, so don't just go forcing yourself into a lotus position just yet), close your eyes, and count 10 controlled breaths through your nose. Boom, you meditated!
After you practice 10 breaths for a few days, 15 will be manageable, then 20 and so on... next thing you know, 30 minutes will go by in a blink of an eye. But that won't happen without the first baby step.
Want to get better sleep?
For as long as I could remember, I was never able to sleep through the night. I lived in a bustling neighborhood in NYC with taxis blaring their horn the second the lights turned green until 1130pm... Every. Single. Night. I would gorge myself with food and hop right into bed. I'd scroll through social media and watch Netflix, then wonder why I slept like crap.
Sleep affects everything like energy, focus, creativity, hunger/satiety, recovery, concentration, and so much more. It has a major impact on our lives and is wildly under-prioritized. Good sleep has changed my life and is something I prioritize over everything else now.
Here are 3 things you can start with to have an immediate impact on your sleep...
Eliminate screens 60 minutes before bed. Turn off the TV and put your phone in an area that you can't impulsively reach for it (you'll want to).
Stop eating 3 hours before you get into bed.
Allocate 8-9 hours of in-bed time.
If you're nerdy like me and want to delve into the science of sleep, check out Why We Sleep by Dr. Matthew Walker to get scared sh*tless by what will happen if you don't start prioritizing your sleep.
All big things are just an accumulation of small things done consistently. It's great to have lofty aspirations, but it's the minutia and small steps along the way that get us there. Just like a salad won't get you healthy, a burger won't make you unhealthy. Improvements of 1% here + 1% there add up.
When we do small things consistently, they become massive changes.
Move First and start small.