I want to share with you a practice I started several years ago that has helped me hit the ground running come the New Year. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point, he brought to light the idea of the broken window theory (though it’s been around since the early 80s). The broken window theory is fascinating—and I believe it applies so much to our health and fitness habits.
Basically, the idea is that people who live on streets with lots of broken windows, graffiti, and garbage are more likely to throw trash on the street and generally have less respect for the neighborhood than if it were gleaming.
Think about it this way: When you’ve just cleaned your bathroom so it’s sparkling, you’re way more likely to wipe away some stray toothpaste in the sink, right? If it’s already messy, and there are spots all over the mirror, you’re more likely to just let the new stain stick around.
Whatever you think of him and his policies, when former Mayor Giuliani first took office in New York City, he went after the small infringements, like subway meter skipping and graffiti. He believed in the broken window theory, and that if you attack the small nuisances, serious issues like assault and murder would diminish—and he was right.
I’ve applied this concept to my life and found that:
- When my office is messy, I’m not as productive, organized, and on-point.
- When my kitchen is messy, I order in takeout more often.
- When my laundry is piling up, I’m less likely to exercise because I don’t have any clothes to wear.
- When I don’t have healthy food stocked up, I’m more likely to eat food I know isn’t good for me.
That’s why I try to make it a point to not let the small things build up. Spending just a few minutes every night cleaning and organizing, dealing with unread emails and undone tasks, and doing laundry every week—instead of letting it build up into a dirty mountain—can make a big difference.
When you let tasks build up… they become daunting.
So if you’re unsure of what to do for the next week or so, why not spend some time cleaning and organizing. Here are some ideas:
- Are there any unpleasant but necessary tasks that you keep putting off? Getting your driver’s license renewed, consolidating debt, paying a parking ticket?
- Is there any physical clutter you could rid yourself of (a messy desk, jumbled closet, disorganized kitchen)?
- Do you have any online clutter you need to clean out (unread emails, unopened invites, etc.)?
Dealing with these small things can make a big difference. They allow us to start the new year fresh. Otherwise, all of these tasks we know we should accomplish will just float around in our heads, taking up precious mental energy. And bonus: Taking care of the little things will bring you a disproportionate amount of energy and peace of mind—and that’s a great reward.
Adam Gilbert is the founder of MyBodyTutor.com, an online program that offers daily and personal accountability like no other service in the world. Sign up for his free mini-course on weight loss, and follow Adam on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.