Apparently you can do pretty much anything in 10 minutes a day: get six-pack abs, declutter your home, meditate and reduce stress, cook a Jamie Oliver dinner and of course, learn a language. So why the obsession with 10 minutes? Why not 7 and a half minutes or 13 minutes? Well, first of all, people tend to hate uneven amounts of time (Does anyone set their alarm clock for 7:03? No way, it’s gotta be 7:05 right?!) And of course, the idea is that no matter how busy you are, everyone should be able to put aside 10 minutes at some point in their day to work on something specific. 10 minutes sounds less scary than a quarter of an hour but a bit more meaty than 8 minutes. So, considering there are 1440 minutes in a day which means we all have 144 slots of 10 minutes available to us, how come we are not all walking around with six packs, in perfectly decluttered homes, serving up Jamie Oliver dinners and speaking about 10 languages perfectly? Why do we still find it hard to follow the “10 minute a day” rule?
Well, I decided to put the theory to the test and aimed to do 10 minutes of a) exercise b) playing guitar and c) learning Japanese, every single day for 6 weeks. And this is what I found out:
- I nearly always did more than 10 minutes. Once I actually got started on my yoga mat or with my Japanese textbook or my guitar, I found I was motivated to continue. It felt easy to do more than 10 minutes. But knowing that I only had to do 10 if that was all I wanted to do or had time for, really took the pressure off.
- It really is amazing what you can achieve in 10 minutes. Just 10 minutes of yoga made me feel better. More refreshed and relaxed. You can easily learn a new chord on the guitar in 10 minutes. And 10 minutes of vocabulary learning is so easy to fit in.
- You start to build good habits. Doing something on a daily basis makes things become more routine and habit-like.
- You break things down into manageable steps. Learning a chord on the guitar, rather than struggling your way through a whole song is much less intimidating. Spending 10 minutes learning a couple of new Japanese phrases or memorizing 5 Kanji is simply more fun than opening up a textbook and slogging through a whole chapter.
- If you miss a day, it’s not the end of the world. If you had only planned one really long session a week and you missed that, it would be much worse. Combined with the fact that you probably did more than 10 minutes on some days (see positive point 1) you know you are still ok. And of course, you could always do a little bit more tomorrow!
- Despite those 144 time slots available, there are still days when you just don’t manage it or let’s be honest, you just don’t feel like it. Knowing you HAVE to devote 10 minutes of your day to something does create a certain amount of pressure. There was only one week out of 6 where I actually did all 3 activities for 10 minutes every day.
- It can get a bit boring. Sometimes you get a bit stuck for ideas of what to do each day so you do the same as you did yesterday. Good for repetition of something but can quickly be the road to snoozeville. Which brings me nicely to my next point.
- When learning a language every day, beware of something called False Fluency. Research shows that if we learn the same thing every day, the brain starts to get lazy. So, for example, if you try to learn the same 10 words every day, by day 3 or 4, your brain no longer needs to try as hard to recall the words i.e. it thinks yeah, yeah, I know that. Studies show that interval learning i.e. intermittment learning is more effective for long-term memory. So, if you do decide to learn a language every day, make sure you are mixing it up i.e. one day vocabulary, the next day a bit of grammar, next day phrases and then back to the vocabulary again.
Despite the negatives, I did feel happy with my progress after 6 weeks. So, if you are planning something similar here are my ideas for making it a success:
My top tips
- Have your materials/equipment ready. Often we put things off because it seems like a hassle to just get started. But if your guitar is stood in the living room, the yoga mat is right there ready to be rolled out (the dog actually helps me do that!) or you have all your language stuff in one box so you can just pick it up and begin, it makes things a lot easier.
- Use 10 minutes that would normally be wasted. By this I mean, if possible use up “dead time”. It takes 10 minutes for a pan of spaghetti to cook. My guitar is right there next to the kitchen so it was easy to just pick it up and strum away until the pasta was done. Multi-tasking at its best. My other favourite “dead” time to use is commuting time. Great for using language apps or listening to a podcast. Again, just make sure your materials are at hand so it is as convenient as possible.
- Mix things up. If I get bored with something, YouTube is the first place I go. There are gazillions of useful short videos which can teach you how to do pretty much anything. Languages, 10-minute yoga routines, guitar lessons and it’s all for free!
- Don’t overload. As you’ve probably already realised, I wasn’t just committing to 10 minutes a day, I was actually committing to 30 (exercise, guitar AND Japanese). Some days it worked but others it really was just too much. I found I had weeks where 2 things went really well but the other got totally neglected. Again, I think that’s natural but it does make you feel a bit guilty. Keep things realistic.
- Accept there will be days when you won’t manage it or you are just not in the mood to put those unflattering yoga pants on. Accept it, focus on tomorrow (and buy new yoga pants!)
- If you are having a good day, go with the flow and do more than 10 minutes if the mood takes you.
- Track your progress. Nerdy I know but ticking things off a list, whether it’s an app or in my case a whiteboard that I put up in the office (which my husband writes silly comments on!) is strangely satisfying. I like this so much I sometimes even write things on the board AFTER I’ve done them, just so I can ceremoniously tick them off. Yes really.
So on the whole, there are lots of benefits of taking small slots of time and trying to make use of them. I would definitely recommend giving it a go and seeing how it works for you. Let me know if you give it a try or maybe share your own personal “learning tips” in the comments below. I’m off now to do a bit of Portuguese ready for my holiday next week. Estou ansioso! (Ha! Learned that in my 10 minute podcast last night!!)
So last week we talked about our plans for 2018. But how do we make these plans a reality? How do you get there?
1. Get inspired
When you start making your list of resolutions, try to choose goals that really inspire you. Goals that YOU feel excited about. Don’t choose goals just because someone else has or you think you should. Be true to yourself and decide what would really make you happy. Also, make sure your list is not full of boring “to dos” rather than enjoyable goals. This year, I finally have to get myself a German passport (thank you Brexit) but that is boring and tiresome. It’s a “to do”, not a goal. Goals should be fulfilling and fun. What are mine? Click here to see my list.
Once you’ve got your list and you’re feeling all fired up, decide what to tackle first. Starting too many projects on January 1st is a bit overwhelming. Does it make sense to do some of them first depending on the season, or money you have available? Do some of them have a very specific deadline? Why not start with a smaller one (to get a quick motivational success) but also take a smaller step towards one of your bigger goals. A goal that will need longer to reach and more steps. Which brings us nicely to my next two points.
What exactly is my target? How will I know when I have reached it? One of my goals is to improve my guitar skills, but what does that actually mean? I can play a few more chords or I’m ready to stand in for Slash if Guns N’ Roses tour again (I’ve got the curly hair at least!). Try to set specific targets and give them deadlines e.g. learn five new chords by the end of January or practice for 10 minutes every day. While you are defining, it also helps to take a reality check. It’s nice to think big (watch out Slash) but setting unrealistic goals can set you up for disappointment and failure. Once you’ve reached your goals you can always aim higher with the next ones.
4. Slice and Dice
Take a look at the goals you’ve defined and work out the individual steps you will need to take to get yourself there. Maybe you first need to enrol on a course or buy the right equipment (yipee a shopping step). Every goal can be divided into smaller steps. According to Brian Tracey, author of the fabulous book “Eat that Frog”, “A major reason for procrastinating on big tasks is that they appear so large and formidable when you first approach them”. He talks about the “salami slice” method of laying out each step in detail and then resolving to eat one slice at a time until you’ve finished the whole sausage. I prefer to see the steps as Pringles. Once you start, there is no stopping you.
5. Find your crew
It helps to hang out with people who have similar goals to yourself. I’m only guessing but I doubt that top athletes spend their spare time hanging out with couch potatoes. Of course, it’s nice to have different friends with varied interests but if you are trying to shift a few kilos, spending time watching your friend eat donut after donut is not going to help you. Telling someone who firmly believes learning a foreign language is “a waste of time because we have Google translate” (excuse me while I punch something) is not the kind of cheerleader you want. Which brings me nicely to point 6.
6. Tell someone
Making a commitment and taking responsibility for your goals is pretty important. Once you’ve found your “crew” who you know will support you, tell them about your goals. They will be happy to support you, even if it just means asking from time to time how you are getting on. Often people are afraid to say their goals out loud because they know it somehow makes them real and visible. But in some cases that is exactly the affect we want. When I decided to run the London marathon a few years ago, I told everyone I knew as I wanted to raise as much money for charity as possible. I collected lots of money but it also had the positive affect that I felt this huge level of commitment. I had to do this. People were somehow counting on me. If you really don’t want to tell anyone, at least write it down. Put in on paper, stick it on the wall and make it real.
7. Accept the curveballs
There will always be times when things don’t go as planned, despite the best intentions. You get ill so you can’t keep up your new exercise regime. You have a crazy week at work and your brain is just too tired to learn Spanish. We all go through this. It’s ok. What’s important is what you do next. Do you throw in the towel or do you carry on? If things are not going as you planned, reassess. Maybe there is a better approach. Or even reassess the goal and change it if you realise it isn’t right. Remember, if you want to stop failing at something, stop giving up.
8. Be nice to yourself
When those curveballs come, don’t beat yourself up. NATS (negative automatic thoughts) are a central concept in cognitive behavioural therapy and apparently most of us experience thousands a day. It’s the background talk that goes on in your head every day. For example, you tell yourself, “I’m so lazy, I’m never going to learn this, I’m not good at, I will never manage that”. We are so used to doing it, it happens automatically and is difficult to control. But imagine that was a person standing next to you, saying all those negative things to you all day. You wouldn’t want to hang out with that person! Yet we do it to ourselves all the time. Would you talk to your best friend like that? Be nice. Give yourself some credit rather than criticism for a change.
9. Integrate, don’t add on
There are only 24 hours in a day and as far as I’m aware that is not likely to change anytime soon. No matter how much you convince yourself “next month will be easier”, most likely those magical extra hours you crave will never appear. Instead, try to identify your current “dead time” slots. No matter how busy you tell yourself you are, we all have them. One dictionary definition of dead time is a “period that does not count toward a purpose”. For example, it takes 10 minutes to boil a pot of pasta (with the purpose of you eating it) but there is no reason for you to stand and watch it boil. That is dead time. You may have to commute to work. The purpose is for you to get to your place of work. But the time you spend doing that is dead. Unless you use it. Identifying these slots and filling them with something that helps you reach your targets means you don’t always need to find extra time. Integrate as much as you can, rather than constantly adding on.
10. Enjoy the journey
There are no guarantees of success. I can’t guarantee that I will pass a JLPT Japanese certificate this year. It is a goal and I know if I work at it and follow the guidelines above, I should be able to do it. But even if I don’t, if I have enjoyed the journey, all is not lost. I can honestly say my Japanese lesson yesterday was fun. It brightened my day. For once I totally understood what I was doing and got (nearly all) of my homework right. My Sensei even clapped. Reaching goals doesn’t have to be a struggle all the time. You’re also allowed to have fun along the way. Bansai!
Agree or disagree with these tips? Got some more you would like to share? Please add them in the comments below. Remember you can also add your email to the box on the right and receive notifications of my posts in your inbox.