Change One Thing. Change Everything.

Put on your shoes.

I am a runner. Haven’t always been, but I am now.

And there is something about running, far more than aerobic breathing and oxygenated muscles, that I find freeing. There is an almost mediative dimension to it: the uninterrupted quiet, the metronomic repetitiveness, the sensual immersion in the environment, the zen-like emptying of the mind – not having to do or say anything. Just running.

And yet despite my love for running, I still find it incredibly difficult to motivate myself to do it. When that alarm begins to beep on the outskirts of my warm duvet, I immediately commence a wrestling match with myself…

“I’m tired. I went to bed late last night. I’ll run tomorrow. I deserve a break. I’m sure it’s raining outside.” 

All the excuses I can muster come marching through my mind in defiant procession. And then when I do give in, I always regret it later. “I should have run this morning!”

So now I have a system that works every time. A little trick I play on my brain.

I tell myself, when the beeping and the wrestling begins, “I won’t go for a run. All I’ll do is get out of bed and put on my running shoes. That’s easy. I can do that. Then after that I can take them off and get back into bed and go back to sleep. Simple.”

Except it’s never happened. I’ve never gotten back into bed.

Because the reality is once I have my shoes on, I automatically put my running clothes on, and then once I’m dressed it’s like, “Well, I’m already up now, I might as well go running.” 

And then I run. And I love it.

There is actually brain research that proves why this works. And the fundamental principle is that when we decide to make one small change, it can actually make a huge difference. Neuroscientists call it a “keystone habit” – a habit that has the potential and capacity to change many other habits in its wake.

When you change one thing, it changes everything.

I think sometimes we get so overwhelmed by all the things we want to do and change and improve that we become paralysed. It’s all too much. And we don’t always know where or how to start. So whether you’re trying to eat better, read more or connect with your kids – instead of striving to overhaul your whole life and change everything you eat/do/think, rather focus on one small next step – like drinking an extra glass of water a day, or having one family meal a week. You’ll be amazed at where it might lead.

It doesn’t even have to be a great next step, just a doable one. Like putting on your running shoes.

And my guess is, if you put on your shoes, you may just find yourself running.

And you’ll love it.

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13 Comments on “Change One Thing. Change Everything.

  1. This is indeed a welcome suggestion to break your big habit change into small doable tasks and try them first to bring that bigger, important change. I’ll try it myself. Thanks for the blog.

  2. This is so true – and what a great way to talk yourself into doing smth. Just a day ago I tweeted that all it takes to include walking in your daily routine is to put those shoes on and the rest will follow. This has worked in my case – 2014 commitment to go for a walk every day has been kept (missed may be 6 days total so far). Best wishes from Brussels, Signe

  3. I love to read and I have a habit of picking up books that I keep on meaning to read but never actually find the time to read anymore (between work and evening classes at the university)… so I finally struck myself a deal, I will read for the 15-20 minutes that it takes me to commute each way to work. Instead of looking at my stacks of books in despair, I am now about two-third into one book and really looking forward to continuing with the rest the same way 🙂

    I hadn’t heard of the “keystone habit” but I guess I used it when I figured that reading for 10 minutes at a time was better than not reading at all.

    Loved the post… Thanks!

  4. Oh this is so true. This is how I got myself to sit down and read two chapters of the Bible each morning. Two chapters, one in each testament. I have gotten through the entire Bible almost three times, and it helps me focus for the beginning of the day. So true, just one thing at a time to get a habit to form.

  5. Great article man! I can totally relate to this. I’m not a runner myself until I started my life living/working overseas. It’s no different struggle I experience every morning even though I was excited planning it the night before. What small step i took was to incorporate my habit of praying every morning to it. I usually pray every morning away from my bed to avoid getting another hour of sleep (no surprise of finding myself to sleep while on the bed) so by the time I finish my quiet time, I am pumped to go!

  6. good advice tom. Logistically ‘shoes first’ may be tough but I get the point. Think I will apply a small change to just ensure I get out of bed on time from now on.

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