No, not fifteen, but one and five.
There are so many things in life that we want to get to, right? We keep being told that we need to do X amount of exercise each day or week, eat this or that, accomplish a specific chore, check off to-do lists, and on and on and on. We can sometimes sit back and realise that it is just all too much, so we end up doing nothing at all!
One morning as I was going through my twenty minutes of time allocated for stretches – essential for singers and anyone wanting to stay flexible! – I thought just that: it is all too much. Twenty minutes is nothing, but my brain was on already on fast forward leaping into the activities of the day. I was not in the moment. Naturally, my focus became scattered, my stretches ended up looking like some pitiful 1970’s dance, and to top it all off my stomach was grumbling for some breakfast. Enough already!
I stopped and had a choice. I could quit, go and make myself that delicious fluffy scrambled egg sandwich my imagination had conjured up, and try again the next morning. Yes, that old ‘put it off until tomorrow’ mind game.
No. I wanted to stick it out. I had felt the benefits of exercise many times before and I did not want to give up so easily.
So I thought, and thought… and thought…
What if I changed the way I approached my twenty minute exercise routine, which had become a bit boring anyway, and do one exercise for just five repetitions? Easy! I can do that! So I looked at my exercise book (you know, the ones that have a fine art drawing of a flawless person doing the exercise in some impossible pose, with the explanation underneath?) and I picked one exercise only. I would only focus on doing that specific exercise five times over, and then move on to the next exercise for five reps, etc. Well, I cannot tell you how easy my routine became, and before I knew it, the twenty minutes were done! I had managed to fit in several, if not all of my usual exercises, without losing focus. It was a much more pleasant experience too.
This concept is not new. I’ve read books and articles about the importance of breaking down tasks into smaller bite-sized pieces for shorter periods of time, so that they do not seem too arduous for our over-active, multi-tasking brains. It really works! Coupled with a positive attitude and self-talk, you can train your mind to behave differently and accept things it would normally rail against, depending on your perception and perspective. We really need to trick our minds and bodies to work with us, not against us. If you have a stack of things to get to, or a new habit you want to form, I would encourage you to try it.
Say, for example, you have a garage or basement filled with junk and you keep promising to get to it but find reasons to constantly avoid it. You can use the ‘one, five’ approach to get stuck in. So your one task is to ‘tidy the room’ – but don’t tell yourself that, otherwise the job becomes monumental and you risk throwing in the towel. Just focus on working on it for five minutes, and then walk out. Come back in an hour or the next day and do it again. Five minutes. In no time at all you will find that the job will be done. Granted that it may take you a few days or even weeks, but I tell myself that it is better to do something than nothing at all.
For me it ranges from patching up clothing, getting through emails, ironing (blah), or other tasks I may not enjoy or find repetitive. I can choose to do one thing for five minutes, or even five things for one minute each – the latter being a bit more challenging – but you get the idea?
The big one for singers or musicians is practicing their skills. Whether it is singing warm ups for vocal maintenance, ear training, learning new vocal exercises for a specific outcome or purpose, learning a song, piano playing, finger strengthening, or whatever your instrument or hobby is, just dedicate five minutes to it, even if that timespan seems insignificant. You can alternatively do one activity for five sets of five minutes (that is, twenty five minutes straight, with tiny breaks), but don’t tell yourself that, especially if you find the activity unpleasant or boring.
Psychologically, your brain is more likely to accept five minute chunks of doing something than a block of twenty five minutes. I’m not a psychologist or behavioural expert but I am human, and I know that I am more likely to do something I may not particularly enjoy by tricking myself into it.
We humans can sometimes spend a lot of time at war with our minds, battling against things inside us and talking ourselves out of things or finding quicker ways. I often thought about this when delivering computer software training sessions and creating training materials in my job. I saw this time and time again with my adult learners. When people work with computers and are learning new systems, they will almost always choose the easiest path or system for them. If it takes someone ten clicks to get a computer to do something, but another option is presented which allows them to achieve the same or similar outcome with fewer clicks, people will pretty much always choose the fewer clicks. Most people want simplicity and faster outcomes, but unfortunately this can become a problem if the quicker option is not necessarily the best one in the long-term.
The bigger picture in all of this is that, over time, whether it is doing repetitions of one thing for five minutes, or sets of five minutes, or five different things for one minute, or whatever your preferred combination is, the aim is to gradually create better habits for ourselves. It is not just about getting things done, cleaning things up, or becoming fitter. These are certainly great things, but we are creatures of habit. Ideally, eventually we won’t even notice the segmentation of time into these minutes and just start living more fulfilling and meaningful lives through our new habits. We do not want to be clock-watching forever, even though at first it may feel like that for a while, but only until our new behaviours are ingrained and become the new normal for us.
So apart from what I have already mentioned above, try to think about what one thing you could do for five minutes to help yourself or others. Some ideas are below:
- Learning about a new type of food you have never eaten and how it can help your life.
- Learning about the saint of the day – research on the Internet.
- Praying for five minutes before you leave the house.
- Playing with your pet and focusing on their happiness with you.
- Practicing your singing or piano scales.
- Tidying up one pot or one corner of your garden.
- Seeing what meal you can whip up in five minutes with some random ingredients you have.
- Closing your eyes and taking slow breaths, etc.
Some extra tips and reminders follow:
- If you are focusing on jumping into an exercise routine (using your body or voice) please take all the time you need to warm up properly first to avoid injury.
- Please remember to breathe! When timing ourselves we can tend to add more tension to our bodies and even hold our breath, especially if exercising. Don’t do it! Your short stints should not leave you feeling frazzled, uptight, or worse than when you started. You are not competing with yourself or the clock – take it easy!
- If you are tackling a prolonged task which you cannot quit after five minutes, just choose one part of the task and focus on that if you can. But if you cannot, for example, bathing a pet or a child, emergency repairs, or something that requires your continued presence, then finish it. This is common sense really!
- When approaching life this way (but not all the time – we don’t want to overdo it!), I find that time seems to stand still, I become more aware, and my attention is more focused. One minute seems to take forever and I really notice the seconds. It makes me think about how sometimes, we can waste our moments doing things that are of little or no true value to our souls.
Before we know it, our lives are over. Rather than becoming disheartened at this thought, let us appreciate the time we do have and make the best of it!
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