Reduce the scope, stick to the schedule


Many years ago a friend and I decided to go to a Pilates class together. We went for three or four weeks and loved it (although I’m not sure what everyone else made of us giggling as we attempted to balance precariously on massive inflatable exercise balls… we were terrible!). Then, one week my friend couldn’t make it so we didn’t go. And we haven’t been back since.

This unfortunate outcome is typical of what happens when we ‘break the chain’ of a habit. When we stop, it’s hard to get started again.

Habits are a great defence against decision fatigue, but what about when things get busy (as they may well be right now, with the holiday season almost upon us)?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m a big fan of letting go of that which isn’t important. But when we’ve cultivated habits that help us navigate our lives with more ease, I believe those habits are worth protecting.

Thankfully there’s a nifty trick that will help:

Reduce the scope, stick to the schedule.

Do your best not to break the chain, but make it easier on yourself by shrinking the habit into something that’s manageable.

For instance, if you usually tidy your desk at the end of the day, you could reduce the scope and stick to the schedule by simply taking dirty glasses and mugs into the kitchen. Or tidy away your pens. Or put any rubbish in the bin. You’re still sticking to the schedule of tidying your desk at the end of the day, but it’s only taking you 30 seconds.

If you can’t fit in your usual 30-minute yoga session, when the time for your practice arrives stop what you’re doing and do some simple stretches for a minute or two. If you’d usually go for a walk at lunchtime, put on your shoes and take a quick lap of the garden instead.

On the face of it these small actions might appear pointless. But far from it.

By sticking to the schedule you’re sending signals to your brain that these habits are still important and worthy of your attention. You may not get the full benefit of a zen-like desk or a one-hour walk in the park, but you’ve still done something to stay on top of the mess or shift your energy and get the blood flowing.

When you stop completely, it’s so much harder to get started again. By reducing the scope and sticking to the schedule, you can easily switch back to the full version of your good habits when things settle down again.

It can be tricky to come up with a miniaturised version of your habit in the moment when time’s against you, so it helps to give it some thought in advance. It’s simple, really:

1)     Write a list of the good habits you don’t want to break

2)     Think about what you could do to reduce the scope for each. Write that down alongside each habit.

3)     Keep your list somewhere handy so it’s there for you when you need it.

I’d love to hear what you come up with, so do let me know in the comments below.

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