… I want to cut to the punchline of this blog post right away: I can’t tell you what “the one thing” is for you.
You are the only person who can decide.
But let’s back up to the phrase “the one thing,” and flesh out the idea of focusing your energy on fewer habits – maybe even just one habit – for better results.
The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results is a book written by Gary Keller (of Keller Williams Realty) and Jay Papasan in 2013. Much like Charles Duhigg discusses “keystone habits” in The Power of Habit, Keller and Papasan explore the idea that you can get more done by doing less.
In other words, it’s helpful to narrow your focus, and invest more of your energy in fewer good habits. I personally think of these as “foundational” habits – when they’re not there, the rest of the house crumbles.
Let’s take sleep as an example. Most of the time, it’s easier to make good choices when we’re well-rested.
I have never known this truth to be more relevant than with a newborn.
Sleep as a Foundational Habit
When Gabriella was born in September, Michael and I decided as a couple that sleep was where we were going to primarily focus our parenting efforts in the first 12 weeks.
When I sleep eight hours a night, I eat better (because good sleep helps to ward off cravings for junk food). I exercise. I take quiet time in the mornings. I have energy. I get more work done. I spend less time apologizing to Michael for what I said when I was tired!
In other words, it’s easier for me to have other good habits when sleep – a “cornerstone habit” (Keller) or a “keystone habit” (Duhigg) – is in place. Good sleep tends to spill over into other positive behaviors, making me a happier and healthier person.
So we basically lived in a baby sleep bootcamp for nine weeks, and now – at two months old – Gabriella naps (mostly) predictably and sleeps through the night. I have time and energy to exercise, eat healthfully, get extra work done, and not feel totally zoned out. Plus, she’s in a good mood most of the time, too!
It takes less willpower to nurture other good habits when the most important one is foundationally solid. This is how keystone/cornerstone habits work for you. Focusing on one thing doesn’t take energy away from other goals – in fact, foundational habits synergistically promote other good habits!
For resources on baby sleep that we followed, check out the end of this blog post. But read on!
(This was especially important because Gabriella had colic from about two weeks to six weeks old. If you want to know what being an emotionally-zapped zombie feels like, take care of a colicky baby for a month. It will drain you of your will to live. The nights when I didn’t sleep well, I felt incapable of handling the purple crying the next day. When I slept well, the endless soothing was still very challenging, but it didn’t break me.)
With a newborn, the concept of narrowing focus (to sleep) was crucial to maintaining anything remotely resembling a healthy lifestyle.
But this blog post is more than a humble brag that my beautiful, funny, and smart 9-week-old baby is sleeping through the night. The point is that by focusing on one thing, other things became easier. I didn’t have to fizz out my energy between exercise, healthy eating, and keeping my cool… because focusing on sleep made it all that much easier.
Now let’s talk about what you’re going to focus on this week, and how to choose.
Narrowing Your Focus During the Holidays
It’s Thanksgiving. During a global pandemic.
But it’s not only Thanksgiving… it’s also an entry point into the official holiday season, which will pretty much last from now until early January.
That’s about six or seven weeks. As I talk about every year both on the blog and with my private clients, that’s a lot of time to move in a specific direction with your health. It’s a fantastic amount of time to work on a goal.
The problem is that it’s also an incredibly distracting time of year.
But here’s the secret: you don’t have to focus on every single healthy habit you have (or want to work on) for the next six or seven weeks.
All you have to do is pick the one or two most important things.
So how do you figure out what your “one thing” is? How do you select and focus on a foundational/keystone/cornerstone habit?
Run any ideas through this filter:
- Does the habit make you happier and healthier overall?
- Does the habit have a positive impact on other habits, making them easier?
- Does the habit have an outsized benefit? In other words, does a little bit of effort yield big results?
Sleep is a great example. It checks all the boxes.
But if you’re already satisfied with your sleep, maybe you can expand your efforts to regular exercise – maybe your “one thing” could be a 30-minute walk every day or following a regular exercise routine.
If your focus is on weight loss, I would still encourage you to look at sleep and regular exercise first (including outdoor exercise), because the mental health benefits of these habits that tend to roll over into healthy eating. Then, you could make your “one thing” a very strategic nutrition change, like:
- Eating five servings of fruit and vegetables per day, OR
- Eating 100 grams of protein per day, OR
- Drinking 10 cups of water per day, OR
- Not snacking between meals
The magic of narrowing your focus is that it allows you to make powerful changes to your health without having to pour all of your mental and emotional energy into it.
Having too many goals scatters your energy.
Having one (or just a few) focuses it, making it more effective – especially when life is busy or stressful.
The key is to target behavior changes that have outsized effects on the rest of your life.
What’s going to be your “one thing” this week, as the holidays start?
For those with little ones… here are the books we used to help our family develop new healthy sleep cycles when we added Gabriella to the mix: