Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Mark Batterson of the National Community Church in Washington, D.C.
Eat the frog!
No, I’m not advocating a new diet.
“If it’s your job to eat a frog,” Mark Twain is purported to have said, “it’s best to do it first thing in the morning.” Why? Because you can go through the rest of your day knowing that the hardest task is behind you.
What to-do list items are hardest for you to check off? What difficult decisions are you delaying? What goals have you had forever, but you have yet to take the first step? That, my friend, is your frog!
Destiny is not a mystery. Destiny is a decision.
According to one estimate, we make as many as 35,000 decisions every day. The question is: how do we make good ones?
The answer is making decisions before you have to make the decision! They’re called predecisions, and they help you maximize the power of twenty-four hours.
Twyla Tharp is one of the most accomplished choreographers of the modern era. Her credits include 129 dance compositions, 12 television specials, six Hollywood films, and four Broadway shows. She has won two Emmys, one Tony, and the prestigious Kennedy Center Honor. Did I mention her 19 honorary doctorates?
How has she produced such an impressive LinkedIn profile? You guessed it—she eats the frog every day!
“I begin each day of my life with a ritual,” said Twyla. “The quasi-religious power I attach to this ritual keeps me from rolling over and going back to sleep.”
What is her ritual? After waking up at five thirty, she puts on her workout clothes, walks out of her Manhattan home, and hails a cab to take her to the Pumping Iron Gym at Ninety-First Street and First Avenue. “The ritual is not the stretching and weight training I put my body through each morning at the gym,” said Twyla. “The ritual is the cab.”
Does Twyla enjoy her two-hour workout every day? Not any more than you do! There are days when she doesn’t feel like going to the gym, but she doesn’t give herself an out. That is the genius of predecisions. They eliminate the option of opting out.
You can’t wait until your alarm goes off to decide whether or not to work out. We all know how that story ends—with the snooze button! The decision has to be made beforehand, with a predecision. Then that predecision has to be put into deliberate practice with a well-designed ritual.
Ritualization gets a bit of a bad rap in some circles, and there can definitely be a downside to the things we do repeatedly. It’s easy to learn how and forget why. That’s when we start going through the motions.
The key to sustained growth in any area of our lives is routine, but once the routine becomes routine, you have to reinvent the routine. It’s called the law of requisite variety. If you don’t disrupt the status quo, the law of diminishing returns kicks in.
While recognizing the downside, we should also acknowledge the upside to automating our actions through ritualization.
The blue jeans, black turtleneck, and New Balance shoes worn by Steve Jobs every day are exhibit A. Was Steve Jobs trying to make a fashion statement? I think not.
So, why did he wear the same outfit every day? It was one less decision he had to make. It was one less thing he had to worry about.
That’s what daily rituals are all about. Along with maximizing our God-given potential, they also streamline our lives by saving time and energy. I’m not advocating the same outfit every day per se. But reducing the number of decisions we make every day buys back bandwidth for the big decisions.
What frog do you need to eat?
It might be doing your age in sit-ups before you shower, or five minutes of meditation before breakfast. Whatever it is, make it a daily routine by picking a time and a place. If possible, stack the habit with your regular routine. Learn to leverage your shower, your breakfast, or your commute.
Most goals are important, but they aren’t urgent. Eating the frog is making time for the important things over and above the urgent things.
Whatever it is, you’ve got to figure out a morning routine that works for you. And I might add, one that works for your spouse and your kids and your dog and your boss! You don’t have to shirk your responsibilities to eat the frog. All you have to do is plan your work, then work your plan.
The good news? Well-begun is half-done!
Mark Batterson is the New York Times best-selling author of 20 books including “Win the Day: 7 Daily Habits to Help You Stress Less & Accomplish More” and the lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington, D.C. Visit him at MarkBatterson.com.