Set your sights extremely low
We’re often told to be ambitious. For example, people often say things like “be ambitious”.
I think this is helpful for long-term goals, or goals that require a lot of our time each day (e.g. career goals). However, I think being ambitious is not helpful for day-to-day personal development; those goals we set ourselves to achieve alongside our main projects.
To build good habits and routines, it’s often best to set your sights extremely low. Some examples I came across recently which put this advice into practice and which exhaust the evidence I have in favour of this advice:
My housemate worked in finance but was still interested in reading philosophy. To make sure he kept it up, he made a goal to read philosophy for 5 minutes a day. He’d often end up spending a lot more than 5 minutes a day reading philosophy but having this ridiculously low goal meant he kept it up. The goal always felt achievable, every day. He’s now doing a PhD in Philosophy at NYU (and encouraged me to write this blog post).
Another friend of mine wanted to get into flossing (the teeth-cleaning kind). She made a goal to floss just one tooth a day. Again, this typically meant she did a lot more than one and just stumbled into the habit of flossing regularly.
I’m currently taking an online Maths course. I try to fit in learning before I start work each day. I know that if I attempted to do this every day, I would miss one or two, then I would start feeling guilty and then it would become a burden and then I would drop it altogether. I’ve now committed only to clicking play on the lecture videos only twice a week. As you can guess, I end up doing more than that (but not much more, frankly).
I saw this picture in a tweet recently that puts into perspective how small advances every day can really stack up:
I should flag that I think what I’m saying is actually slightly different to this equation— it’s not just that little things compound but that they often pave the way for doing more.