Why the 15-minute rule could change your life
Why the 15-minute rule could change your life
In theory, I love the start of a New Year. In reality, the New Year typically comes in like a hot pile of garbage. The start of a new year overwhelms me. And every year I try to remember the power of the 15 minute rule.
I love the idea of shifting gears and walking into a New Year. I love the idea of seeing a blank, empty calendar and thinking about the possibilities. Possibilities around getting to the life I always dream of.
Before the Christmas break, I had all these grand plans to review my business numbers and identify goals/resolutions. I decided early on that I was going to focus on my energy and the feeling of what I wanted to accomplish, not concrete numbers. That was going to be my intention during the Christmas break…to sit in meditation, journal, and establish goals.
And then guess what happened? Drum roll please….we all got sick! Reflection time flew out the window as we navigated coughs, tissues, body aches, and fatigue. Even before we all got sick, any parent will tell you, that having young kids at home…is challenging. There was rarely any time to reflect, and even on New Year’s Eve, we dragged ourselves through the Midnight threshold and fell asleep quickly afterward.
Now, I say all of this to say that on January 1st, when most of us are excited to start fresh and get going on our resolutions (mine was to organize the pantry), life happens and we are completely thrown off our schedule. It becomes very easy to get frustrated or disappointed if our grand plans are thrown out of whack. Somehow, it feels like we are failing.
But here’s the thing, your New Year can start any time you decide it to be. Sure, in society, that day starts on January 1st, but your life is unique to you.
In the meantime, I am using this time to explore my habits and to identify what small changes I can make. Here is the thing, implementing new habits takes time. Habits require you to be conscious and thoughtful. Think about consistency. Habits have to be sustainable.
A big reason why it is difficult to implement and maintain habits is that we make big, sweeping changes and depend on willpower to help keep our habits going. But when you are sick, tired, stressed, and exhausted, it becomes very hard to sustain the implementation of new habits. This is why studies show that 96% of us will shelf our goals within the first 60 days and go back to old habits.
I’ve learned it’s because building a new habit takes time and effort. It is a muscle we need to train little by little until it becomes automatic. Like learning how to drive a car, behaviors go from overwhelming to automatic. Progress is usually made out of small things done on repeat. For instance, instead of focusing on a bunch of goals, I am going to focus on three and devote my time and energy to getting my habits into autopilot. And I am zooming in more carefully, by challenging myself to operate everything in 15-minute increments. All of my choices will require me to complete them in 15 minutes.
Why the 15-minute rule?
If you’ve ever read about habit formation and things like SMART goals, you are frequently tasked with establishing measurable goals. Many of us get into trouble because we identify big, vague goals. By boldly claiming, “I am going to lose 50 pounds”, you overwhelm yourself by not identifying what habits have to occur in order for you to achieve that goal. Even getting clearer, like saying “I will exercise every day” and “I will eat healthy meals”, still does not take into account how much time must be devoted to completing this task. Often, we believe that we have to be at the gym for one hour or cook homemade meals, which could take one hour. It becomes very easy to get discouraged when life happens or you can’t sustain that schedule.
By choosing to see habits in 15-minute increments, it feels more likely to be achievable and removes the pressure to make big, sweeping changes that aren’t sustainable in the long term.
The “15-minute rule” is not complicated or fancy. You just set the timer and start.
Fifteen minutes to set up a budget. Look at your calendar for the week, set a timer for fifteen minutes, and plan your week. Fifteen minutes to put together a healthy meal in a crockpot. Fifteen minutes to pick up the toys. Within fifteen minutes you can tidy up the kitchen and do the dishes. Go for a walk outside during your lunch break for fifteen minutes. Within fifteen minutes, you can clear your mind and journal. Take fifteen minutes to write some good sentences or check in on a friend. Call your doctor to make an appointment for preventative care.
Most of us have 15 minutes. We say we don’t have the time, but we could find it.
Put down the phone and stop doom scrolling. Set an alarm to wake up a few minutes earlier. It feels difficult at times to start something and think we won’t be able to complete time. Oftentimes we overestimate how long something will take or it feels emotionally draining to do it. We assume that we’ll have time later on to tackle the task (like on the weekend), but then the day arrives and we have lots of other things to do.
The reality is that the time won’t miraculously find you and it won’t always get done perfectly or completely. But you have to allow yourself to start. We’ll never find the time. We have to make it and we have to decide that even the smallest actions are going to matter, they’re going to stack up and contribute to much bigger victories ahead.
On days when I feel overwhelmed by the tasks ahead of me, I first set a timer. Then, I get to it. I remind myself: you can do anything for 15 minutes.
The tasks range from big to small:
Do a surface clean of the half-bathroom. Put in a load of laundry and fold clothes in the basket. Send my confirmation emails to clients. Do client billing. Go through my inbox. Record a guided meditation for my YouTube channel. Make notes for my blog. Call and make that doctor’s appointment.
With just 15 minutes, I make progress in a direction that matters to me. I change the landscape around me and get closer to the goals that really matter to me.
It’s really all about looking for those tiny threads within the larger task and beginning to pull. Eventually, the task will get done. And often it will get done faster than you realized.
Over the years, I’ve found it doesn’t just work for the tasks you are dreading or tasks that need to get done, but it works even more masterfully for things you’ve always said you wanted to do. Those things you’ve quickly pushed to the side with the excuse of, “I just don’t have enough time.”
I’ve wanted to have a YouTube channel for years. This idea sat in my brain for a long time because I worried about all of the steps. Between how to pick topics, record, edit, upload, promote, etc. the process felt overwhelming and intimidating. And one day, I simply hit the record button on my phone and just rambled and just uploaded it.
It was easy to do, even if the quality of what I posted was less than desirable. But once I did it, I spent 15 minutes every day learning a new skill or tidbit. I watched the technical videos about how to record, edit, and implement things.
Over the past year, I recorded 50 videos and countless YouTube Shorts. It’s certainly not perfect, and I am not some famous content creator (yet). But there was something about carving out that time that lit a fire in me and changed me as a person.
It was a small step in the right direction. The number of minutes seems small, but in the grand scheme of things, I am working to pursue my dreams and challenge myself 15 minutes at a time.
It doesn’t need to happen every single day. It’s not about getting the 15-minutes down perfectly. It’s about deciding to show up and put something that matters at the forefront for just a moment in your day.
It might take 15 minutes to write 250 words. As a result, there are 250 more words than you had yesterday.
It might take 15 minutes to research some new recipes, however, that’s an arsenal of family meals that didn’t exist this morning.
It might take 15 minutes to start cleaning out the closet in your office. You might not finish that big task today. But you’re a little bit closer than you where you were before you set the timer.
First of all, your life is already full, you don’t need to add more complicated things to it. You don’t need to spend lots of money. Secondly, downloading apps isn’t required in order to make progress. You just need to clear the space, maybe just for 15 minutes. You just need to start right where you are with what you already have.
In any event, if you are feeling discouraged that you didn’t start your New Year’s resolutions, or you already fell off, remind yourself that you can still make change, one 15-minute increment at a time. Give yourself some grace and remember that you are on a journey. And as you identify your goals, I encourage you to focus on small actions…daily acts that you can do for 15 minutes.
I would love to hear what you are working on and how I can support you.
My name is Eddie. I am a mindfulness-based therapist in Bordentown, NJ who specializes in trauma, anxiety and Mom stress. I provide online counseling throughout the state of NJ. Find me on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.