This is something that came up recently when I was working with one of my clients. He wanted to have the perfect routine for the goal we just started working on. And this is when I told him about normalizing before optimizing. So what does it mean?
This is the process of making an activity feel normal. When you start something new and challenging, it is usually everything but normal. It can feel scary, uncomfortable, uncertain, difficult, unrealistic, risky, etc. Normal means you don’t dedicate too many thoughts and emotions to doing an activity. It doesn’t mean the activity is easy, but there is no drama around starting this activity. You’ve done it so many times; it’s now a part of your daily/weekly/monthly schedule.
How to normalize an activity
- Set a goal
- First few attempts
- Deal with resistance (more on it here and here)
- More attempts
- Less effort every time you do it
- The activity becomes more or less effortless. Sometimes it takes 1 sprint to get to this point. Sometimes it takes 2, 3, or even 4 sprints to reach this point.
After you’ve normalized an activity, you can start tweaking things. This is when you look for ways to improve performance, find the right apps, and optimize workflows. That’s when you think about the parts you can automate or delegate.
Why it’s not a good idea to do it all at once
Because it is overwhelming. Because when you are dealing with resistance, you don’t need another complexity of needing to automate things on top of that. You don’t need another excuse to say, “Not today.”
Plus, you can only optimize tasks once you’ve done them enough times so that you can see certain patterns. Once you deal with your own resistance, you’ll be able to look at the task objectively. If you haven’t dealt with resistance, there will be so much drama. Your brain will tell you a story that this task is impossible.
Optimization can be a great place to hide if done too early in the process. Instead of facing our resistance and doing the work we don’t feel like doing, the work that is hard for us, we choose to go on Google or YouTube with the excuse of doing “research” and optimizing the process. In reality, all we are doing is escaping the uncomfortable feeling that comes when faced with a difficult but important task.
No, you don’t need an app. No, you don’t need to read another book. No, you don’t need to watch another video on YouTube. You need to sit down, face the resistance, and do the work. There is nothing else to find out there. You already have everything need within you.
When you want to start something
Get your reps in. Don’t worry about the stats, numbers, ratios. Don’t worry about the perfect app. Don’t worry about the perfect gear. Just focus on normalizing the activity, so it integrates into your life and you feel kind of weird if you don’t do that activity.
Do you want to start exercising daily? Forget about the calories burned. Forget about finding the perfect exercise program. Forget about working out for one hour straight. Focus on doing something active every day. Sometimes you’ll be tired and all you can do is just go for a walk. Go for that walk and count it as a success. Even if you burn less than 100 calories doing it. The goal for the first 1-3 sprints is to normalize a certain behaviour. If it still feels weird, repeat this goal in your next sprint.
The Rule of 10
This is the rule I came up with. I’ve applied it to different areas of my life, loved the results I got, and now I want to share it with you. It goes something like this:
The Rule of 10
When starting a new activity/project, commit to 10 attempts and don’t analyze the results of these first 10 attempts.
How I came up with The Rule of 10
I realized that the reason I had quit a lot of projects/activities in the past was that I didn’t see quick results.
This was my thinking:
I’ve completed four workouts and I do not see any results. It’s not effective. I should look for some other solution.
And I would quit, spend weeks searching for another workout plan, try again, not see any immediate results, try again. And so it went.
The same was with many other projects/hobbies I attempted to do.
Another realization that I had was that I started too many new projects/activities. I’d make 1-2 attempts and lose interest. I had too many projects and goals on my plate, and I wasn’t making much progress on most of them.
The first time I tried The Rule of 10
I always wanted to start a podcast and a blog. I even attempted blogging a few times before. But I quickly quit it.
In December 2020, I decided to launch my podcast. But the rule was that I had to commit to publishing 10 podcast episodes even if no one listens. Even if I don’t feel like it. I had to ship 10 weekly episodes no matter what. I could stop after 10 episodes but not an episode sooner. I didn’t allow the number of downloads to change this decision. At some point, I found that it was much easier not to check the stats page because it had no impact on my plan. I still had to publish those 10 episodes, with or without subscribers.
The only metric that I tracked was releasing a weekly episode on Monday at 4:01 am EST.
I am currently at episode #21. I guess this serves as proof that the Rule of 10 works at cultivating consistency in your efforts.
Why The Rule of 10 works
It serves as a filter.
If the rule is to commit to 10 attempts, you realize that you are not ready to do that for many tasks you wanted to start doing. Wanted to become a blogger? Are you ready to commit to publishing the first 10 posts without checking your stats page? Wanted to buy a new bike with a dream of getting into cycling? Are you ready to commit to 10 rides in the next 3 weeks?
When you change the question from “Do you want to do [insert an activity]?” to “Do you want to do [insert an activity] 10 times?”, the answer changes, too. There are a lot fewer things you are ready to do 10 times. And those are the activities you are most serious about. Do them! Don’t spread yourself too thin on the activities that you are not ready to do 10 times.
It trains you to be consistent.
When you commit to shipping your work 10 times, you build your consistency muscle. You start creating daily/weekly routines. You are making this activity a habit. And it is a great feeling to ship a final product into the world or complete something even if you don’t share it with the world. “Here, I’ve made this.”, as Seth Godin would say.
You are also forced to clean up your mindset. You have to deal with your resistance. And since the goal is to ship 10 items of your work, you have to find a way to overcome many limiting beliefs. The good news is that your goal is not tied to the results (performance stats). In my experience, it eliminates most of the bs excuses of “why it’s not gonna work” and “why I’m not good enough to do it”. If I am not checking the results, who cares what other people think? Who cares if no one downloads my podcast episodes?
Don’t focus on getting 1000 subscribers. Focus on publishing 10 posts.
Don’t focus on getting 1000 views. Focus on publishing 10 videos.
Don’t focus on loosing 10 pounds. Focus on cooking 10 meals from scratch.
Consistency creates first results.
10 units of shipped product/activity are the minimum amount required to see the first results. And I can guarantee you will see your first results after 10 units of shipped work. You will see your first subscribers. You will see your first comments. You will see your first weight loss results.
First results create motivation to continue with the practice.
By this point, you’ve:
- Dealt with your resistance
- Overcome mental blocks
- Built some consistency and habits around this activity
- Seen your first results
Now you can’t help yourself but feel confident and proud of yourself. Plus, you got an additional boost of motivation from seeing your first results.
Most people don’t see the first results because they focus too much on seeing the first results.
When setting a new goal for yourself, I recommend normalizing the behaviour first before optimizing it. The best way to normalize the behaviour is to use The Rule of 10. Commit to shipping 10 units of work without analyzing performance results. This will allow you to overcome resistance, build consistency, and see the first results.
If you want me to be your personal guide in navigating this journey, let’s work together!
- Unconventional Productivity Tips from Reddit [April 2021 edition]
- The What, Why, and How of an Accountability Buddy
- When you don’t achieve your monthly goals