You can’t depend on motivation to build new habits

What if I asked you to run a full marathon tomorrow?
My guess is, you won’t sign up.

Now, what if you had to run one in a year from today? You don’t have a choice. You just have to run this marathon.
How would you train for it?

Einstein called compound interest the eighth wonder of the world. Paul Graham talks about the startup growth rate.

Both these guys are actually fans of the same basic idea. That idea, is incremental progress.

Because we see meteoric rises and unicorns everywhere, we’re seduced by the the idea of exploding onto the scene one magical day. Like a rock star 😎🎸

That’s a great fantasy, but rarely works out in the real world.

A meteoric rise of this kind in the startup world, is known as the hockey stick curve. The beauty of the hockey stick curve, is it starts with a very small number, which is zero, most of the time.

The important thing about this type of growth is that it needs a measurable, small, consistent and frequent increment which adds up to a big end result much quicker than we expect.

So it’s incremental growth that really is the eighth wonder of the world, because now it applies to not just money, but everything you do. Incremental progress starts with a growth mindset.

For Paul Graham, the increment needed for startups to grow to billion dollar companies in a few short years, is ten percent a week. For Einstein it’s a few percent a year. And this consistent increment results in explosive sustainable growth sooner than you think. It makes you wealthy, successful and popular. This is the same concept as Tiny Habits, except it’s now applied to a growth mindset.

Now you know why I don’t find it hard to believe there are writers who can actually write the full first draft of a novel in a week or two. Training can accomplish anything.

That said, a critical thing we miss when we’re thinking of life in terms of big outcomes, is how unlikely it is given our current position. How likely am I to FINISH a hundred thousand word novel in 6 months or two years or ten, if I’ve never FINISHED a 500 word short story before. How likely am I to find a million readers if I don’t have even five today. The probability is, very very small. I mean really, extremely small.

Now let me ask you again. How would you train to run that marathon, assuming you’ve never run a day in your life, and give yourself the best chance of success?

Would you start the first day with running one kilometre or five? Would you train for distance or speed? What would be your strategy to go from your starting distance of running a few kilometres without rest, to get to the goal of 42 km in under 6 hours?

It’s only when I signed up for the Tiny Habits program and later started training for the half marathon that I noticed the pattern, and the idea of incremental progress really clicked in my head.

So let’s start with a goal of writing 2000 words a day since that’s a common goal I’ve seen in writing circles. NaNoWrimo is 1667 words a day.

Here’s how we use incremental progress to achieve that goal:

Since we don’t have unlimited hours in a day, to ensure a measurable outcome we need both a time component and a word count component. For 2K words I imagine writers who actually do it consistently, do it as a full day’s work. So about 8 hours. Since I know most users of Writaa, like me, don’t have that luxury, and we just want to stretch to get there, not do it consistently (yet!) — let’s cut time down to 4 hours or half a day.

Ok, so we’ve got a goal — in 180 days I want to write for 4 hours a day with an output of 2000 words.

Next, set the the real current numbers for both of these. If it’s 10 words a day for you. Or 100 words a week. Or 5000 words a year. Or zero. A reality check on the current state of affairs. Quantify it.

During training, I prefer to focus mostly on time. Because as the time goes up, volume is bound to go up. Also, you can’t judge time or edit it. It is what it is. No excuses, no pressure. I’m able to write for at least 20 minutes consistently these days. The number is actually 21 minutes. Why 21 minutes?

I started with zero minutes and increased it by a fixed increment every week.

If you remember my first post, my Tiny Habit was 3 minutes a day. I’ve now standardised that as a weekly increment.

The third step would be to aim for the 240 minutes a day, before I think about the word count, but to make it simple as a concept, let’s plan for both. I currently write 122 words in 21 minutes, I need to up that to 2000 in 240 minutes. So a pace of 10 words per minute accounting for coffee & loo breaks. Doesn’t look so hard when you break it down to small chunks does it?

Since it’s been a few weeks now and my writing habit is set, I’m going to now set my sprint time to 25 mins next week since it’s a nice round number and I like to keep my sprints at 25 mins max, Pomodoro style. And I take a 5 min breather at the end of each sprint.

I then start adding an extra sprint for one day a week, and two days the week after. In this scenario, this week, I’ll be doing 1 sprint of 25 mins on my writing days. Just one of those days, I’ll do 2 sprints. Next week, I’ll do 2 sprints for two days and 3 sprints for one. And so it goes…

I’ll also increase my word count per sprint by 10 words every week.

If the math is not entirely clear yet, download a printable calendar of my 2K training plan

By the way, I only write 4 days a week. I’ll tell you why in another post.
Each sprint is 25 minutes with a five minute break.

If I follow this plan, in less than 12 weeks, I'll write my first 2000 words in a day.

Welcome to the crazy numbers driven world of productivity. And this is a plan for 4 hours. If I can get 8 hours of solid writing done in a day, I just need to hit an average of 5 words per minute. That's actually a pretty relaxed typing pace. When I do write, I'm usually faster than that. 

The same concept applies to become a widely read writer.

Find one reader, then another, then a few more. If you’ve read On Writing by Stephen King, you know what I’m talking about. Stephen King became a massively successful writer more because of his hustle and his sheer output as a writer.

A little exercise to help you grasp the full power of incremental progress. At the end of this plan, I would have written a full 2k words a day for just one day, but…

How many words will I have written over the 14 weeks getting there?

That’s what I’m talking about. Incremental progress FTW!

Build a writing habit.

Stay productive, write more and stick to your writing schedule.

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