“Rome was not built in a day,” and so one has heard several times in his life. Although it’s easier to believe the historical significance of the phrase than a habitual one, the latter holds mostly true. Let’s explain that in simple terms.
Think of the fruits of your labour or habits as Rome while the habits itself become the labour. Now, let’s re-read the phrase in all its entirety- Rome wasn’t built in a day, but they were laying bricks every hour. Upon reading the first part of the phrase, one tends to visualise the glorious Romans, whereas, when you read it as a whole, there is a new meaning to it.
Coined by English playwright, John Heywood, the phrases become especially interesting when it comes to talking about habits. James Clear, author of the international bestseller, Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones agrees in his blog when he writes, “The problem is that it can be really easy to overestimate the importance of building your Roman empire and underestimate the importance of laying another brick.”
Is it just another brick in the wall? Probably not! This phrase throws light on the importance of momentary habitual changes as opposed to just celebratory ones. Here’s an easy example. If you learn one new word every day, you will know 365 words by the end of a year. Now, try learning 365 words in a single day: twice the labour and double the stress!
Here is another one: think of working out for 5 minutes every day, instead of deciding to hit the gym at once. Five minutes of working out seem less tiring and daunting than attempting a 30 minutes session. Well, you might think what good would five minutes do? To put it out simply, upon accepting the 5-minute challenge, you are conditioning your body and brain to it. The important part is getting used to a habit or change. Instead of taxing yourself with a wholesome new challenge at once, try breaking it down to tinier parts.
Breaking down the project
Think of it as a school project. Say, you have been asked to write an essay on your family lineage for the sociology class. You can either tackle the project head-on or get started with the bits. Start with getting yourself the stationery you need, a smooth pen, a funky notebook, stencils, whatever helps to set the mood for the project. Now, that is done, move on to getting some inspiration. Read up on interesting family lineage stories. For instance, you can take the British royal family as a source.
The next step is to get a good night’s rest. Rest is very important when it comes to being creatively productive. Relax and listen to some good music, or read a book or laugh at a meme. Now, continue with a fresh mind. First, start with picking a comfortable place to begin the project. It can be your room, the garden, a quaint cafe with great ambience or even the library. Now that’s taken care of, start with a list of what needs to be done and summarise your thoughts in a single, brief paragraph.
Get out for some fresh air and then start again with the main topic, one subheading at a time. The idea behind this exercise is to realise how tiny changes can bring about a glorious end. Compare this with attempting the entire project at once because you fear not finishing on time.
The same applies to your habits. Instead of wishing for a big victory or change, start with making small changes along the way. The idea is to ‘not over-challenge or overwhelm’ the self. Don’t attempt that diet at once; chances are of you giving up sooner than later. Instead, try switching the burger for lunch with a salad, or the white bread for brown bread.
James Clear believes that it is these small changes that bring about the best in you. He writes, “You can start small. You can focus on improving 1 percent each day. You can simply put in another rep. You don’t have to build everything you want today, but you do have to find a way to lay another brick.”
For more motivational ideas, you can also read Kaizen: The Japanese Method for Transforming Habits, One Small Step at a Time by Sarah Harvey.