The Argument for Small Actions


The Arugment

I had the worst time getting out of bed this morning.  My alarm went off and I just stared at it in blankly—no recognition.  Why is this thing on my nightstand disturbing me?  As I fumbled to make it stop, understanding slowly dawned on me.  This thing wants me to get out of bed.  For some reason, it thinks I should leave this safe cocoon of comfort.  This small, obnoxious machine is crazy.

Just as I was turning over to return to the warm safety of my bed, a conversation ensued in my head.  It consisted of my two selves.  There was myself of that Morning, lying in bed resisting this invitation to wake up.  But, there was also myself from Last Night, the one who had set the alarm in the first place.  Their conversation went something like this:

“Time to get up,” an annoyingly perky Last Night said.

“It can’t possibly be time to get up.  There's a very cozy bed right here and it’s not even light out.” whined Morning in return.

“All true.  But, still time to get up.”

“Oh, I will get up.  Don’t even worry about that.  I’m just going to reset my alarm for a couple of hours from now, and I’ll be up like a bullet then.”

“Except that I’ve been around for those mornings, and I know that you’ll still feel tired when that alarm goes off.  Then you’ll have not only your grogginess to deal with, but also all your regret for not following through with your intentions to get up earlier.”

This prediction was met with only silence, so Last night continued, undaunted.  “I know it’s dark, and I know all about the cozy bed, but it’s time to get up because of all the things you want to work on today.  Last night, when I was nice and awake and aware, I decided when we would get up so that we could get done what we wanted today.”

Rousing suddenly, from her half-sleep, Morning said, “About that—I have been laying here considering.  And, I actually think the very best plan of action is to go back to sleep immediately.  Really, in this particular scenario, that’s the most productive thing I can do.  Because, you see, I’ll be more rested and that means I’ll be able to use the rest of my day so much more effectively.”

“You know, last night when I made a reasoned and intentional plan, I took into account getting you enough sleep so you could be rested and productive.  I’ve got that part covered.  You’re just not awake enough yet to know whether or not you’re well rested.”

“Do you know what I think?  I think you’re just being stubborn.  You don’t want to admit that you didn’t have all the facts when you made your plan.  Most in particular, you did not factor in the extreme coziness of this bed.  And, how very enticing it is.  You were not qualified to make a getting up decision because you didn’t properly understand the situation.”

Silence for a moment.  Then, in a cool voice, “Do you even know what day it is?”

“What?  What day it is?  Of course I know.  It is . . . Just a second.  I’ve got this.  Don’t rush me.  I think . . . Is it Saturday?  No, that doesn’t seem right.  It seems like there’s school and that sort of thing today.  So, somewhere between Monday and that other day that’s the end of the week?  Is that right?”

In a voice that was just a little more smug than Morning appreciated, Last Night replied, “And you feel qualified to decide how we’re best going to use today—even though you have no idea what day it is, let alone all the ways you intend to spend your time today?”

Morning could find no particular response and Last Night softened in her silence.

“I tell you what.  Why don’t you just get out of bed and go to the bathroom.  Splash a little water on your face and then decide how you feel then.”

Morning thought a trip to the bathroom probably was in order anyway.  And, just getting out of bed to get to the bathroom seemed like a suitably tiny thing to ask, so Morning agreed.  By the time she stood up and walked into the bathroom, all of me was awake enough to tell that we’d had plenty of rest and were ready to start our day.

The Lesson

Bizarre  jaunts into my waking mind aside, this really is what it’s all about for me.  When I feel stuck.  When I’m tired or overwhelmed.  When  I’m starting something new.  When I feel fear in the face of something.I just need to do the one smallest thing to begin moving where I want to go.  One small thing that I can imagine repeating.  One tiny action that is so insignificant it can’t possibly be intimidating.

So, when I don’t want to workout, I agree with myself to just do a 7 Minute Workout.  When I don’t want to write, I ask myself only to open Scrivener and stare at the page for 10 minutes.  When I don’t want to tidy the house, I set a timer for just 15 minutes and let myself off the hook after it goes off.  If I’m really feeling the resistance, I’ll set it for just five minutes.

More times than not, at the end of the 7 Minutes, I’m ready to do some more.  As I stare at the page, I begin to write.  And, when the timer rings, I’m already in the middle of a project that I’m anxious to see completed.

So much of what I’m fighting is inertia.  Once I begin, action breeds action.  But, even when it doesn’t . . .even when I stop after just five minutes, I’ve acted on my intentions for five minutes and those are five minutes.  There is so much power in that one small action.  Power I can access, even if I’m tired, resisting, or fearful.  A great deal moves in that one small action.

Besides, I think there's some small part of me (the Last Night part of me) who appreciates this maxim of doing just one small thing.   I can just hear her now:

"Remember how great you felt when you got up yesterday?"