A Universal Formula for Doing Big Things

When everything feels overwhelming, focus on the ‘MVM’

Mike Sturm
Forge
Published in
4 min readMay 13, 2020

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Photo: Patrik Giardino/Getty Images

About 11 years ago, I got kicked out of graduate school, lost my job, ended a long-term relationship, and found myself in a new town where I didn’t know anyone. I was completely lost. Luckily, I began dating a woman and things got serious enough that we started talking about moving in together. She said she’d let me live in her apartment and contribute whatever rent money I could afford, under one condition: I had to be working to get my life back on track.

The problem was that I had no idea how I was going to tackle this enormous project. My problems seemed so big, so overwhelming. Where would I even begin?

That’s when I stumbled on an unlikely source of motivation. I decided to start running. I’m not sure what prompted me to do this — I had always dreaded running. As a kid, whenever we had to run the mile in gym class, I would stop to rest after every few hundred feet, convinced that my legs couldn’t continue any further. But for some reason, I went online and signed up for Couch to 5K, a program designed to help people who’ve never seriously run before prepare for a 5K race. The next day, I laced up my shoes and went out there.

At the beginning of the program, all I had to do was run for 60 seconds, then walk for 90 seconds, and repeat that for 20 minutes. It was dead simple — I barely even felt challenged. But I did feel accomplished. I mean, I did it. I did this thing. I moved a tiny bit forward despite feeling stuck.

That’s when I figured out the key to doing anything that feels daunting in your life: You must find the smallest thing that moves you toward a more difficult goal, while being both easy and pleasurable. The thing that will give you a rush of accomplishment when you complete it, and make you want to keep going the next day. I call this the MVM, the Minimum Viable Motivator.

What kept me from running all these years was that I never wanted to commit to…

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Mike Sturm
Forge
Writer for

Creator: https://TheTodaySystem.com — A simpler personal productivity system. Writing about productivity, self-improvement, business, and life.