Did the ’10-minutes-a-day’ goal-setters make it?

A year ago in this space, I put out a call for volunteers to join me in conducting a major test of my theory that the best way to reach a personal goal is to commit to working on it for just 10 minutes every day.

Learn a new instrument, language or other skill. Purge the storage areas in your house. Write the memoir, novel or screenplay that’s been percolating in your head, read those classics, scan those old photos. You know, the big plans that often come to mind when the flip of the calendar reminds us that somedays rapidly turn into yesterdays.

My personal experiment with it had gone well. On New Year’s Day of 2014, I’d quietly resolved to devote 10 minutes a day to the fiddle, an instrument I hadn’t played much for 30 years. And my improvement was noticeable, at least to the one judge who matters — my long-suffering wife.

The plan was simple: 10 minutes of practice, minimum, no days off.

Ultimately, 81 readers made the “10MaD” pledge and committed to a variety of goals.

Finally finish that long-dormant afghan knitting project. Learn to watercolor. Organize those recipes. Empty the email inbox. Write daily notes of encouragement.

“You always have 10 minutes,” said Lorne Holden of Stockbridge, Mass.

Holden and I were in touch because she’s the author of the 2012 motivational book “Make it Happen in 10 Minutes a Day: The Simple, Lifesaving Method for Getting Things Done.” And, getting in the spirit, she added her name to my roster, saying she’d spend her 10 minutes a day working on a follow-up book, “Make it Healthy in 10 Minutes a Day, Simple Strategies for Getting More Fit.”

Well, you know who didn’t always have 10 minutes? Lorne Holden.

“I had an immensely challenging year, both in my own life and in the lives of people I love,” she reported during a follow-up exchange this month. Accordingly, Holden explained, she “fell off the 10-minutes-a-day path” but is now devoting herself to another book project and creating a webinar.

I heard similar excuses often as I corresponded over the past few weeks with members of Team Ten. Things came up. Life got unexpectedly challenging. We moved. My computer broke …

No argument here. You need the emotional as well as the physical space in your schedule to strap yourself to the wheel every day.

But the more typical washouts were those who simply got distracted — missed a day, missed two days, lost momentum and quickly gave up.

“I worked diligently for about six weeks, then I went away on vacation,” reported Mila Novak, whose aim was to reduce her book collection from 60 boxes to 15. “I was extra stressed and tired when I returned, pretty much got off the plane and to work. So the next day I was too tired. And the next. And I never got back in to it.”

I put 33 such Team Ten members in the “fail” category based on their self-reporting, and, assuming the worst, added to that side of the ledger the 10 enrollees who didn’t respond to several requests for an update.

I put 12 members into the “kinda sorta successful” category. They fell short of their goals, stopped with a few months to go or slacked off toward the end, but still credited the idea with helping them get a lot done.

The remaining 26 members fell squarely into the “success” category.

“This simple 10-minute ritual kept my fingers moving,” said Dionna Griffin-Irons, whose steady work on her memoir resulted in a sample chapter being published in a web anthology.

“It is much less daunting and, therefore, less stressful to set small, daily goals rather than to attack a giant goal all at once,” reported Erica Lauf, who set out to write three children’s stories and ended up finishing six.

The at-least-partial success rate of 47 percent represented a solid improvement over the 28 percent success rate I saw in 2001 when I recruited 188 readers to commit to devoting 30 minutes a day, five days a week, to realizing their goals. This leads me to conclude that attaining new goals is always hard, but it’s easier when the increments are smaller.

If you want to try a 10MaD project for 2016, here are my five guidelines based on reading all the updates

Set a specific goal. “Meditate,” “read,” “get fit” and so on are resolutions, not goals, and usually too vague to be sufficiently inspirational. My goal for 2015 was to get hired to play fiddle at a square or contra dance, and I ended up with four gigs.

Find a 10MaD partner. Or get someone else to hold you regularly accountable.

Make it portable. Contrive tasks at least tangentially related to your goal for those days when you’re away. For me that was studying sheet music on my travels.

Don’t combine days. Getting momentum is the secret, not averaging a certain amount of time. There’s no point in doing 20-minute “make-up” days; just get back on the 10-minute horse.

Ten minutes is the floor, not the ceiling. Nearly everyone discovers that, on some days, the 10 minutes turns into 30 minutes or an hour. That’s not extra credit or an excuse to skip tomorrow; it’s baked into the idea that inertia, not lack of time, is the biggest obstacle between you and what you want to attain.

 

 

 

 

 

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This article was written by Eric Zorn, a op-ed columnist and daily blogger for the Chicago Tribune.



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