The 60-Second Self-Improvement Solution

 Because I am so much less than I’d like to be, self-improvement is always on my mind.

I want to be become a better writer. I want to be a better husband and father and friend. I want to be better at speaking Spanish and playing the French horn. I’d like to continue to improve my Jiu Jitsu. In fact, I want to be better at just about everything I do.

Except golf. I’ve happily given up trying to improve my golf game.

Admittedly, I get a shitload of things done every day. Way more things than I ever imagined I could do before I developed the time-management system I now use. But I am still bound by that cursed 24-hour limit to each day.

And so, despite my best efforts, I’ve had to accept the fact that I will never have the time I need to get better at everything.

Until recently, that is, when I came up with my “60-second solution” to the problem.

Let me take yoga, as an example. Because I spend 4 or 5 hours every week wrestling, my body needs a contra-exercise to stretch me out and open me up. Yoga is the thing. Ideally, I’d spend 30 minutes doing yoga for every hour I spend with Jiu Jitsu. I don’t have time for that. But I do have time to spend a minute or two practicing yoga every day. So that’s what I’ve been doing. And though my mini yoga sessions are hardly equal to what I could do in half an hour, they are far better – physically and mentally – than doing nothing at all.

Meditation is another example. I know from experience that it is very good for me. It calms me down and puts me in a better, more productive mood. There is no doubt I’d get ideal results if I meditated for 20 or 30 or even 60 minutes a day. But my schedule doesn’t allow it. Instead, I’ve begun meditating for just 3 to 5 minutes. I do it first thing in the morning before I even get out of bed. And I do it whenever I feel stressed and almost always before I go to sleep.

These micro-meditations are less powerful, of course. But they still work! In fact, I was pleased to find that there are several apps out there that allow you to adjust the timing of a guided meditation to whatever you like. Some days, I do 10 minutes. Some days, I do 5 or even 3. I know more is better – but some, I’ve found, is better than none. (By the way, I’ve tried a dozen apps. The one I prefer is probably the best known: Headspace. I love that guy’s voice!)

I apply the same strategy to working out. My standard workout is very vigorous and takes about an hour. My current schedule allows me to do it twice a week, which is really (at my age) all that my body needs. But when I’m traveling or when I miss a workout, I can do a micro-workout. I have two versions. The 1-minute version consists of 25 pushups and 25 Hindu squats. The 2-minute version adds 30 seconds of abs and 30 seconds of back/biceps.

A minute or two of hard exercise can’t compare to my standard workout. But when I can’t do that, these micro-workouts are very helpful in maintaining my fitness.

My morning routine these days consists of four micro-exercises.

First, after waking up, I sit on the side of my bed and meditate. I do it for as long as it feels comfortable. Although my objective is only a minute or two, I typically do it for at least 5 minutes.

Then, after showering, I do a micro-workout and then a micro-yoga session. And while brushing my hair, I do a micro-smiling session. (Smiling isn’t something I am very good at. Forcing myself to grin in front of the mirror each morning boosts my mood.)

These micro-exercises take such a ridiculously short amount of time that they pose no psychological threat to me. I never feel, as I often do with more ambitious self-improvement exercises, that I don’t have the energy or the time.

I’ve been doing them for a while now and I can tell you honestly that (a) I have never missed a day, and (b) it feels great knowing that I’m doing these things that I was hoping but failing to do in the past.

And now I’m asking myself: What other neglected self-improvement goals can I reduce to micro-exercises?

How about singing? I can certainly find a minute or two every day to practice the scales.

I can do the same with languages. There are dozens of apps that I can use to improve my vocabulary or grammar in just a few minutes a day.

I know, already, that this is going to be fun.