September 5, 2022

Promises you could fulfill with the stroke of a pen


One mantra that helps me stay motivated over the long term is

Small times long equals big.

It first became useful to me as a young writer, but soon started having wider application to other activities.

Because in any given endeavor, if you leverage the force multiplier of habit continuity, increasing momentum becomes second nature to you. It becomes another skill. Like juggling, sewing or learning a language.

And you can deploy that skill to get positive outcomes for yourself.

From a psychological standpoint, it’s a version of streaking. Not like running across the outfield buck naked during a playoff game, but maintaining a habit streak.

Every time you get another small win under your belt, it activates the dopamine reward in your brain. Incrementally intensifying your momentum. You’re basically bribing yourself with neurochemicals, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Even the leader of the free world did it. Obama wrote in his inspiring memoir:

The key to building early momentum in his first term was to identify campaign promises he could fulfill with the stroke of a pen.

Immediately after swearing in, he signed an executive order banning torture, tightened restrictions on lobbyists, passed a bill on fair pay for women, and lifted the moratorium on federally funded stem cell research.

Not bad for a first week on the job.

Now, the president admitted that none of these legislations were going to reverse centuries of discrimination and unethical behavior.

But it was something. It a step forward. And he had a hell of streak going. Those pen strokes no doubt filled his brain’s dopamine system aflutter with the promise of reward, buoying him during one of the nation’s most difficult recessions in recent history.

Regardless of your politics, you have to appreciate that skill.

Talk about building momentum.

Are you bribing yourself with neurochemicals? How can you tap into the motivational power of habit continuity?

And please note, we’re not talking about routines like drinking a cup of coffee every morning. Nothing against coffee, but streaking should be about creative habits that give you leverage, not caffeinated things that give you headaches.

The goal is to find a streak that suits your personality and lifestyle. One that’s built from within. One that fortifies your spirit and helps you become the kinds of person who can get the outcome they want.

Remember, small times long equals big.

The beauty of good habits is, they trump things like motivation, willpower, talent, knowledge and experience. It’s the momentum that heightens all of the other factors around you, giving you a higher probability of success.

Even people who might view themselves as unexceptional can still attain noble results with the right streaks.

How will habit continuity give you more motivational power?