[Method] Two Minutes of Work Changed Me

2022.01.17 19:46 undevelopedblog [Method] Two Minutes of Work Changed Me

On a warm Fall day in 2021, I decided to change. The feeling that I could be doing more consumed me. It was time to crush those bad habits and get into shape. The days of wasting time were over. For at least the hundredth time in the last six years, I declared a new chapter in my life.
I attempted the 75 Hard challenge. Designed to improve mental toughness and discipline, 75 Hard is a phenomenon in the self-help world created by Andy Frisella. As a lazy college student wanting a better life, it sounded like the perfect way to whip me into shape. 75 Hard had strict rules, all to be completed in the day:

There was no flexibility. Excuses weren’t allowed for 75 days straight. Breaking a rule or not completing a requirement meant starting again on day one.
Planning out the next 75 Days felt like the beginning of my personal movie. I was gonna crush this shit. Thanks to the standards of the challenge, no more time was to be spent sleeping in and rewatching Breaking Bad for the 14th time.
Day one began. My alarm went off at 7:00 a.m. to get started (two hours earlier than I usually wake up). I didn’t press snooze. Fuck no, I was different now. Bleary-eyed, I pulled myself out of bed, chugged some water, splashed cold water on my face, and crushed the day.
My movie was underway and I felt invincible. Until I didn’t.
My attempt at the 75 Hard ended at the five day mark. It was a Friday afternoon, and I’d just walked out of a 3:00 to 5:00 p.m. lecture, still with both workouts, reading, and a shit ton of water to drink on my daily to-do list. Finishing all of that and getting my homework done? Improbable, given the way I’d wasted my morning. Staying in on a Friday night without a sip of alcohol? Laughable.
That was it. Sore muscles and damaged ego, I called it quits, threw myself into my bed for a post-lecture nap, and proceeded to take a hot shower before a night out.
The Loop of Nightmares
Failing was a common feeling. My life since early high school was a painful loop–declaring drastic change, bathing in all the excitement and buzz that ‘this was it, the new me,’ and failing before another vain attempt a few months later.
It was a routine. I was a planning junkie, chasing the highs of my next overambitious attempt at change. Just as I couldn’t avoid the bong in my living room, I couldn’t avoid the next Big Plan. Capital B, capital P, always filled with bullshit.
I was in another slump, and my pathetic attempt at 75 Hard reiterated my past few years of failures. Was I unable to become the person I wanted to be? Were my bad habits, limiting beliefs, and pre-determined behaviors wired so far into my fucking brain that I was doomed?
Breaking promises to yourself builds up over time. Each failed plan reinforces that you can’t achieve your goals, you can’t exhibit self-control for long periods, and you are destined to spend your days rewatching Netflix originals and getting high at 10 a.m.
Slumped in my bed, hungover and the same person I was before starting the challenge, I remembered the most overused line of all time: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” My attempt at the 75 Hard was insanity.
I’d never change this way. Excitement aside, it didn’t work. Days earlier, I felt like David Goggins: disciplined, hard, and able to take on anything. But I’m not David fucking Goggins. 75 Hard is a mental toughness challenge, and my attempt at it was the equivalent of a scrawny 14-year-old stepping into the gym for the first time and trying to bench 315 lbs.
The 2 Minute Rule
For the first time in my life, I started small. Not medium, not ‘mildly realistic,’ but excessively small. James Clear, the God of Habits, writes about the two-minute rule: “when you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do.”
I read Clear’s book Atomic Habits in 11th grade. Why didn’t I take its advice before? It was boring. Committing to a new two-minute habit doesn’t involve any drastic declaration of change, euphoric feeling of “Day 1”, or anything like the beginning of your own movie.
There was another reason it didn’t appeal to me as well–impatience. When we feel unsatisfied with much of what we do, it’s tempting to try and change everything at once. I wanted to get muscular now. I wanted to find my ‘passion’ now. I wanted straight As now. Starting small with a single area of your life means you must accept that other aspects will remain unsatisfactory for a while.
It took my pathetic attempt at 75 Hard to realize this. The impatience was killing me, and if I tried another quantum leap, I’d find myself in the same place or worse off in a year.
My Method (and Reddit’s)
On November 20, 2021, I walked to Walgreens and bought a set of index cards and a big red sharpie. I drew seven lines vertically and horizontally across the card, creating 49 little boxes. I wrote a number in each box, going from one to forty-nine. (for more information, visit TheXEffect on this method).
Sitting on my desk, still in the same week I failed 75 Hard, I had a little map of the next 49 days of my life.
I flipped the card around and wrote the following rules: On days 1-7, I must do two minutes of work related to a potential interest (school assignments did not count). From days 7-14, I would increase the time to five minutes. The progression continued as follows: Days 14-21: 10 minutes Days 22-28: 20 minutes Days 29-35: 30 minutes Days 36-42: 45 minutes Days 43-49: 1 hour.
The work was fully focused and timed. My phone had to be turned off, and all the messaging apps on my computer had to be silenced.
At first, I rolled my eyes. It was no 75 Hard challenge. It meant accepting in three weeks, I’d be only marginally better.
Day one was different this time. The David Goggins feeling was gone. I woke up as the same unmotivated, drained college student. The two minutes of work were a joke–I procrastinated into the evening because it was “stupid,” but eventually sat down at the computer, set a timer, and spent that time taking notes on a writing course.
As the timer went off, I pulled out my red sharpie and put a big red X across day one on the index card. I was no longer the skinny kid trying to bench 315 lbs. I was starting with the bar.
Compound Change
What followed over the next week was a string of red Xs. It was easy but had a powerful effect: I kept promises to myself. I wasn’t at the start line. I was in motion.
As the weeks went on, so did the red Xs. Five minutes per day was no problem, and by the time I was in Week 4, I found it easy to sit down and focus for 20 minutes.
By day 24, I noticed a change in my thought patterns. Even when I wasn’t in my short period of focused work, I found my mind drifting to the writing course I was taking or thinking about other ways to be productive. Each red X was satisfying.
Eventually, I added a second index card. This time, the goal was to make reading a consistent habit. I’d previously started and quit many times, so the two-minute rule was necessary:
Once again, the work came easily. As the semester flew by, the notecards both were filled with red sharpie marks.
My thoughts and motivation levels continued to change, and I stopped procrastinating on schoolwork. I slowly made a dent in ‘Think And Grow Rich’ and began to apply the lessons to my own life through positive self-talk, more defined goals, and the pursuit of specialized knowledge.
Reading and taking online courses each day made me more motivated and disciplined. I finished each day by checking off two red Xs and further enforcing that I kept promises to myself.
Once I felt I had a strong handle on both, on Day 36 of my first index card, I added a third habit: exercise. I started small but disregarded James Clear’s advice and didn’t follow the two-minute rule. My progression went as follows:
I would've failed if I tried a 10-minute jog as my first habit. But that wasn’t the case. The reading and focused studying created momentum, and I found the jogs easy.
The Result
As I write this, I have two index cards next to me full of red Xs: studying my interests and reading have become ingrained habits. I don’t need the index cards anymore, I just get it done. I’ve finished three books and have completed multiple free writing courses and marketing certifications. I’ve also maintained consistency with exercise: earlier today, I slashed a red X across day 26.
I have a ways to go. I’m no guru or productivity master. To be honest, my work hasn’t led to any meaningful achievements yet. Those take years to achieve.
Still, the change in my life has been significant. I’ve started several side projects (one of them being the blog where I first posted this). Procrastination is no longer an issue, and instead of searching for the next quantum leap, I look for small changes I can add to my life, starting with a consistent progression over 49 days. It’s addicting.
If you are reading this, you may relate to the first part of the article. Changing everything at once and coming up with a grand plan is exciting. But it doesn’t work. Actual results come through boring routines that are compounded to become more intense and effective.
Months ago, it didn’t feel significant to set a two-minute timer, pull up the introductory video of a writing course, and get started. It was mundane. 49 red Xs later, I’m convinced it was the most important decision I’ve made.
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