When I get someone’s ear long enough to get up on a small soapbox and suggest an entry to the path of self-development, I always point to making the bed and washing the dishes. These habits are all about starting small. So small, if fact, that they might barely even be considered self-development. Let me explain why I think both are key habits to establish.
Anonymity Until Mastery
When I first started out on this path, I wanted to change EVERYTHING and AT ONCE. In retrospect, I see it as a fear to be a public “work in progress”, afraid to try something and be identified with it before we’ve decided if it is “me” or not. Further, a need to be a master or guru before I “go public” with this new persona. Of course this also ties into issues with perfectionism and procrastination.
Since that time, I’ve learned that setting up these huge changes, and piling them up on top of each other can be a guarantee of failure. This is because we do not have the persona, the experience, the discipline or the tools to make even one of these changes, let alone 5 or more of them at the same time.
Operating in that manner depletes willpower, results in lack of completion which lowers self-esteem and negatively impacts all of the things at once! All the research points to establishing a pattern of small successes. These small success, regardless what they actually are, build our self-esteem. This builds the confidence and motivation to keep doing it.
The key here is that the routine is specific, with an obvious indication that the task was completed, and that is is super easy to accomplish. You are not aiming to impress anybody here, you are aiming to establish a new behavior of repeated implementation and success.
Crowley and the Fiction of the Ego
I was introduced to an Aleister Crowley experiment years ago in a Robert Anton Wilson book: for one week, you go without using the words “I”, “me” or anything related to either of those. It sounds impossible, but it isn’t. And doing it is the only way to really get the impact; thinking it through is not enough.
Many of Crowley’s techniques seem to be designed to force you to do things that are “not you” (things that conflict with that self-image you hold as to what/who “you” are). This seems to be a path to enlightenment experiences through the breaking down of — or the realization of the illusion of — the ego. By breaking taboos, both internal and societal, you end up realizing that it’s all an arbitrary fiction. What you thought “you” were/are is changeable. Once you experience this directly, repeatedly, it starts to break the hold on you as ego being this fixed “thing”.
This is why I believe making the bed and doing the dishes can be so powerful — it establishes to yourself that you can be a person who changes. You and I know once you do one, you want to try another. Soon you have changed many things you thought were permanent. It gets easier and easier. You look back and realize one day that brick by brick, you’ve swapped out the old for the new. In a way, a psychological “Stone Soup“.
The first aim is to establish yourself as one who can change, then become one who does change, then as one who desires change. The changes don’t matter, it’s the “persona of change” that you want to cultivate at the outset. Start small, get many successes. That way you don’t also head down this perfectionist “change everything now!!!” path.
That’s also why I think the whole idea of walking for at least one minute, meditating for at least one minute, etc can be so important to start with because what it does is establishes that change, allots that time in your schedule for the new routines (or the substitution of the new routines for an old one). You go from “I don’t have time” to “I will make time”. That mental shift is so important. It’s the key to it all I think.
You start with these seemingly innocuous routines of making the bed and doing the dishes, but over time you’ll find yourself adding to this “stone soup” a few “spices” here, some “herbs” there, soon some “vegetables” and before you know it, you’ve transformed these simple behaviors into full-blown self-development changes.