Recently, I achieved a milestone at the gym: I can now squat my bodyweight.
I’ve been working towards this goal for most of the year, using Mark Rippetoe’s excellent Starting strength as a guide.
The idea is to train three times a week at the maximum weight at which you can perform three sets of five reps, and to put the weight up each session so you’re always adapting to a new maximum weight.
When I started, I made a mistake: I wanted to improve too quickly, and I set the increments too high. I got within five kilograms of my body weight, but then I injured myself and I had to stop training for two months to recover.
With the second attempt, I made an adjustment to my program: I trained every second day, regardless of what else was happening in my life; and I only ever put the weight up in one-kilogram increments — a tiny amount, 500 grams per side.
With persistence, it added up to my body weight, which I can now comfortably squat.
I’ve been trialling a similar thing with writing: my daily goal is just 100 words. It’s an easy goal. It can be achieved in 10 minutes. There’s no excuse for not opening the file and adding to it.
But it must be done every day, no matter what.
So although the project’s word count grows glacially — and often goes backwards as I delete material that no longer works — I’m engaging with the work every day.
And if I miss a day, which happens, the thing I focus on is getting back to it the very next day.
Small increments, regularly. That is my new approach.
Of course, you’ve got to be measuring the right thing, and you’ve got to be doing the work in an effective way — form matters in the gym and on the page.
In the case of my writing, the rule is that the 100 words must advance the narrative, the coalface of the work.
It’s easy to get despondent in these times of global and systemic risk and uncertainty: what’s the point of doing anything if the world is going to end in climate apocalypse within our children’s lives?
For me, the answer is to let go of the existential dread, and just focus on the things I can control: my health and my work.
One way I’ve found to achieve this is to work regularly on small increments of the right thing.