How many of your New Year’s resolutions are you still making progress on?
Odds are not very many. The vast majority of New Year’s resolutions don’t survive very long. Most people can tell you something that they should change to improve their life and many people even make attempts at goals to make that improvement.
Sadly, far too often, after a few days or weeks of valiant effort, people fall back into old habits and go on dreaming of a better life.
There’s no denying that making significant change is hard. Bestselling authors Chip and Dan Heath explain one reason why lasting change is so difficult in their book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard:
“When people try to change things, they’re usually tinkering with behaviors that have become automatic, and changing those behaviors requires careful [self] supervision….The bigger the change you’re suggesting, the more it will sap people’s self-control.
“And when people exhaust their self-control, what they’re exhausting are the mental muscles needed to think creatively, to focus, to inhibit their impulses, and to persist in the face of frustration or failure. In other words, they’re exhausting precisely the mental muscles needed to make a big change.”
Ok, so it’s hard…but so what? Everything worthwhile in life must be earned.
We’re Lever Builders here, not your average light weight who gives up after a few days. We’re building high quality relationships, healthy bodies, creative minds and solid finances. We don’t expect anybody to hand us these things on a silver platter; we’re willing to do the hard work necessary to get these things done.
But that doesn’t mean that we aren’t subject to the same exhaustion of emotion and self-control that others succumb to. So what’s a Lever Builder to do to make change more manageable?
Lower the Bar
Chances are good that at some point in your life you’ve heard a boss, motivational speaker, self-help coach or somebody else encourage you to “raise the bar” for some aspect of your life.
Well forget about all that for today.
Today I’d like to encourage you to give some thought to LOWERING the bar; to setting your sights a little lower than you maybe have been.
Why in the world would you lower the bar you might ask?
A Lesson from Failure
During my senior season of high school track and field I made a failed attempt at being a high jumper.
High jumping involves leaping over a horizontal bar set up between two posts using an interesting technique called the Fosbury Flop.
Although my unimpressive attempts at high jumping were frustrating to me and probably hilarious to onlookers, I did learn an important lesson from my brief high jumping career.
In competition the high jump bar was initially set in the mid 5 foot range. However, when I started practicing my coach set the bar at something like 4.5 to 5 feet.
Clearing a bar at 4.5 – 5 feet was never going to win me any points in competition. So why bother starting with such a low height?
Because my coach knew that by lowering the bar, I stood a much better chance of eventually being able to raise it. If I was ever going to be a successful high jumper I first needed to focus on getting the basic technique down before I could focus on perfecting the nuances of my technique to start going after taller heights.
So it is with major life changes.
You’re not Just Changing Your Behavior
Achieving goals usually involves changing habits. It means lifestyle changes that can be uncomfortable. Fundamentally, and most importantly, meaningful change usually involves changing who you are at some level.
One of the most effective ways I have found for making meaningful change is to first decide what my ultimate goal is for what I want to accomplish or become.
Then I lower the bar.
I walk back from my ultimate goal by setting a series of smaller, easier to reach goals that will provide small wins and serve as stepping stones towards achieving greater success.
Set Yourself Up for Success with Small Wins
I recently had a great experience with lowering the bar.
At the risk of embarrassing myself I will confess that for as long as I can remember I have only ever been able to do around 25 pushups at a time. No matter what kind of shape I was in as I’d come up to that 25th pushup the muscles in my arms would start to scream and only with great effort could I slowly and shakily lift myself up that last time.
In February I decided I wanted to be able to do 50 pushups. It sounded impossible; I knew after years of trying it would be easy to burn myself out and fail.
So I decided to lower the bar. Instead of trying to do an extra 25 pushups all at once, every day I determined to do one more pushup than I had the day before. I started with 25. The next day I did 26. The next week I passed 30 for the first time ever.
Every day, without fail, on the last pushup I had to dig deep for everything I had to make it happen. But interestingly, every single day I was able to somehow dig a little deeper than the day before and hit the number I’d set mentally.
Then last Thursday, after several weeks of doing one more pushup each day, I’m happy to report that I did 50 pushups in one sitting.
I’m thrilled to have doubled my pushup capacity in the space of a few weeks. But by far, the most interesting part is what I’ve learned by reflecting on the whole experiment.
I have to believe that when I started at the end of February I had the physical strength to do 50 pushups. Yet I’m quite confident that if I’d decided to try going from doing 25 pushups one day to doing 50 the next I would have failed.
However, by lowering the bar to where I only had to do one more pushup, the daily change didn’t sound so hard. On top of that I set myself up for a daily psychological win. These compounding wins made it much easier to defeat the “self-control exhaustion” that Chip and Dan Heath talk about.
It took me a month to get there but who cares? I reached my vision and that’s what matters.
You’re Not Settling
Lowering the bar doesn’t mean settling for less, it’s simply a tool for overcoming the most difficult part of change: taking the first step. Lowering the bar is a means to train yourself to start doing those things that you know will make a meaningful change in your life but that are hard to do all at once.
Would waking up 30 minutes earlier every morning to read, pray or meditate increase your intellectual and/or spiritual freedom? Start by setting your alarm one minute earlier each morning for 30 days.
Would an extra $100 every month to pay down debt accelerate your journey towards financial freedom? Start by setting aside an extra $25 from your next paycheck. Then set aside an additional $25 per pay check for a couple of months.
Would exercising for 30 minutes a day greatly improve your physical freedom? Start by walking past your next door neighbor’s house and back again, then walk one house further away every day.
Would 30 minutes a day of focused practice improve a skill that you need to complete your Lever and start making a bigger impact on the world? Start by studying 5 minutes a day, then add 5 additional minutes every day for a week.
The Magic of Lowering the Bar
Now, here’s the real magic of lowering the bar. When you start doing something to clear the lowered bar and move your life in the right direction two things happen:
- You realize that the tiny efforts you’re making aren’t really that painful after all. Which means you’ll be less afraid to make those efforts again the next day
- Your brain sees real progress from your small wins and it gets excited to accomplish more
Once you see how amazing it is to spend 30 minutes doing something worthwhile in the morning before tackling your normal daily grind, it will be easier to start waking up an hour earlier to get even more done.
Once you see how good it feels to reduce your debt by an extra $100 a month, you’ll be looking to see where else you can reduce spending or increase income to have an extra $500 a month to accelerate the process.
It may seem counterintuitive, but initially lowering the bar is one of the most effective methods for helping you to actually accomplish the lofty goals you’ve set for yourself.
So, how are you going to lower the bar this week to start making progress towards one of your goals?
Let everyone know in the comments below.