Let’s face it. Your to-do list isn’t getting any shorter.
And constantly rescheduling tasks just leads to self-shame and guilt. At an unconscious level, you’re beating yourself up and thinking yourself a loser. The crux of the problem is in over-estimating our capacity and under-estimating the time required to get things done. There is a way to downshift to establish a more productive and satisfying workflow, rebuild your confidence and personal integrity, and position yourself to expand and rev up from there. It’s easy – and it is The 40% Rule.
The 40% Rule states that when you’re trying to establish or re-establish daily habits, ramp your goal down to 40% for at least 2 weeks. That’s it. If you want to do 100 push-ups a day, start with 40 for a few weeks and slowly ramp up.
1. You NEED to retrain your brain to feel what it is like to be in your integrity. This means ending the cycle of setting unrealistic expectations, then guilt, shame, anxiety, depression, and repeat. You need easy wins and daily satisfaction from knowing you did what you set out to do. The easier the change, the more likely it is made and sustained.
2. You need to learn how to be kind and gentle with yourself – as it is critical to sustainable change. There is a time to crank on the discipline, but maxing out your effort right out of the gate with your daily goals is exactly why most people fail to achieve them.
3. You need the extra capacity to adjust to the behavior. It will feel at first like you have plenty of capacity and energy to do more than 40% and it requires discipline to hold a lower level. But, this is your life, not a sprint. When we set new goals for ourselves, most of the time we don’t anticipate the 2nd and 3rd order effects, the ripples, and challenges created by the initial effort. Keeping the bar low gives you room to adjust and establish the tempo, and keep it easy when the initial enthusiasm dies.
4. The 40% Rule makes establishing a baseline habit foundation easy. And with baseline habits are a lot easier to increase, you’re simply adding reps to your daily tempo. All of these are important.
Pro Tip: Don’t stay 40% for more than 30 Days.
Eventually, you need to step up your game and challenge yourself. If you start to sense you’re breaking down, don’t be afraid to re-adjust. I’m currently a fan of two-week increments of +/- 20% because they require a stretch before backing off or increasing them. I noticed that when I try to raise the bar too quickly, which for me is a weekly basis, the effort required to succeed becomes unsustainable. And if your goal is to establish transformative habits, you want sustainable performance, that you gently increase over time.
The 40% Rule at Work
This Rule works for managing change in the workplace as well. Just as we are too demanding of ourselves when it comes to behavioral change, as managers and leaders, we pass those unrealistic demands on to our teams. Whether you’re trying to optimize a process or change your culture, by creating a mindful transformation agenda, boiling it down to the desired daily activity goals, and starting at 40% of that goal for a while, your team and organization are way more likely to succeed over time.
40% is the starting platform for incremental improvement. All those 1% improvements compound over time, expanding your confidence, sense of self-worth and integrity, capability, and capacity. Lower the bar to a realistic, sustainable level and add lesser challenges for compounding results over time. You’ve heard it before, but I’m just giving you a specific number/starting point for reference that I have found works for individuals and teams over the years.