It has been 15 days since dawn of the New Year and you may be like me: running around like a rabbit on a 5-shot latte, skittering between the computer keyboard, stacks of books and piles of paper. At this point in the calendar, one of two things usually happens:
- You power through your goals and objectives, meeting timelines like a well-oiled Swiss train, confident that this year, like last, you will keep your word and complete all your resolutions
- You look at the piles on your desk, pinch the roll of fat at your waist, stare at the blank page on your computer screen and say: “LOSER! Once again, you have proven that you have less initiative than a slug in a salt factory. Now go shove some cookies in your mouth, PRONTO!”
By making your goals broad and far-reaching, you guarantee that they will be immediately sabotaged by your inner meanie.
What’s the alternative?
Instead of beating yourself up, try a 4-day win, which hails from Martha’s book of the same name. The focus of the book is losing weight, but the tool can be applied to any goal or project.
What is a 4-day win?
A 4-day win is a simple method for breaking large, overwhelming goals into comfortable, bite-sized pieces that are accomplished over a four-day period and anchored with rewards to encourage positive behavior.
Once you complete a 4-day win, you take your buzz of accomplishment and create another one. And another, stringing them together until they become your finished book, or hot body or whatever else you are trying to manifest.
(It reminds me of one of my favorite cartoons which shows a frantic man in the shower with suds on his head screaming “Honey, get me out of here! The label says ‘Lather, rinse, repeat!’”)
Why four days?
According to Martha:
“When I started exploiting this little bit of psychological numeracy in my coaching, I found that people who had trouble starting a week-long program of change jumped right in if I asked them to sustain a new behavior for just 4 days. I also discovered that after the 4 days, the inertia that had been keeping them locked into a pattern of action-or inaction-had changed and was now actually pushing them forward. Even though I specified that they were free to step making a change after the 4-day period, they often said they’d rather continue, because they’d already blasted through the initial resistance and were starting to see positive change. This happened with so many clients that I started to call it “the 4-day win.”
How do you construct a 4-day win?
Step 1: Pick a goal
Look at your to-do list and pick a juicy goal such as:
- Write a book proposal
- Create a website
- Lose 10 pounds
- Cook more nutritious meals for your family
From this goal, choose a task that you would like to accomplish in one day. Example:
- Write a book proposal → write the first two pages
- Create a website → design the layout of the home page
- Lose 10 pounds→exercise for 30 minutes
- Cook more nutritious meals for your family → cook a meal using all organic ingredients
Step 2: Play halvsies until your goal is ridiculously easy to attain
We start out with what we think are realistic goals, but most of the time they are not, otherwise, we wouldn’t struggle to complete them. So take your goal from Step 1 and halve it until you know with confidence that you can actually get it done. Example:
- Write a book proposal→ write the first two pages→write one paragraph
- Create a website → design the layout of the home page→choose three colors for your design
- Lose 10 pounds→exercise for 30 minutes→do 10 squats
- Cook more nutritious meals for your family → cook a meal using all organic ingredients→add an organic carrot stick to your plate of Kentucky Fried Chicken
Keep playing “halvsies” until the goal feels just South of totally realistic, and just North of so easy it is insulting.
Step 3: Identify a reward
For each daily accomplishment, choose a small reward that will make you happy. Something like:
- Play 20 minutes of Spider Solitaire, uninterrupted by toddlers or a nagging wife (my husband’s favorite)
- Read the new issue of People magazine in the bathtub (my favorite)
- Eat one piece of really good chocolate
Step 4: Identify a 4-day reward
Think of an additional, slightly larger reward if you manage to keep your ridiculously easy goal for 4 days. Depending on your budget and taste, this could be something like:
- A pedicure with an extra decal on your big toe
- A nice dinner at your favorite restaurant
- A hike on your favorite trail on Sunday, regardless of how many piles of laundry are sitting on the washing machine
Step 5: Make sure the action and reward are linked
“If you meet your ridiculously easy daily goals, you absolutely must give yourself the reward. Same with your 4-day goal. You must also resist any temptation to give yourself the reward if you don’t meet your goals. If you do all this and you still don’t take any action, reduce the task, increase the reward, or do both, until you start moving.”
Post it in at least three places: Your bathroom mirror, your refrigerator door and your workspace. Check off each day you manage to complete your ridiculously easy goals.
I am seriously going to do my 4-day win.
If you are motivated by public accountability, write yours here in the comments. Five days from now (January 20) I will post about how I did on mine and encourage you to do the same.
Final thoughts on the number 4
I couldn’t help but share some additional information on the significance of the number 4, courtesy of my distracted mind combined with Google:
The number 4 in the Tarot :
“Four is the number of manifestation and material reality. There are four elements, four sides of a square, four cardinal directions of a compass, four seasons, four winds, etc. It is a number of order, structure, power, and earthly dominion. Four is the number of the prototypical complete family: a father, a mother, a son, and a daughter.”
The number 4 in Numerology :
“In the Jewish religion, the number four is significant because of the Tetragrammaton, the four-letter name of God which is so holy it is never spoken. In Chinese numerology (as well as that of other Oriental languages), the word “four” is a homonym of the Chinese word for “death”. As thus, some hospitals do not have a 4th floor.
So perhaps “death to procrastination” is more than a dramatic headline after all!
Pamela Slim is a Martha Beck certified coach and author of Escape from Cubicle Nation