Get Anything Done: Grease The Groove

If you’re anything like me, motivation is hard to find and drive even harder to keep alive. How then does anybody get anything done?

Photo by Prateek Katyal on Unsplash

We all have goals and aspirations, but without action, they’re just wisps of what could’ve been spat out into the vast universe of forgotten dreams.

The key is to start and then stick with it.

That’s it.

I know, I know.

This logic sounds very circular and distinctly unhelpful but bear with me.

Inertia is everything.

Have you ever been stuck in a loop of endlessly binging Netflix, doom scrolling Twitter, staying up till daybreak for no reason?

That’s inertia.

The old adage an object at rest stays at rest is undoubtedly cliche, but true of both physics and our innate nature.

Some might disagree, but I believe we’re just inherently lazy.

It’s why we don’t opt out of things, procrastinate on both schoolwork and real work, and delay paying our bills until the last minute.

Thankfully, its complement is also true: an object in motion stays in motion and applies for anything that makes us feel good and stay healthy.

This is momentum.

Think of our automatic instincts to shower, brush our teeth, and instinctively reach for our hobbies.

It also applies to those of us (unfortunately not me) who regularly do yoga, meditate, and exercise, which the rest of us to be healthy, but simply can’t be bothered.

How can we leverage what we know about our brains to form good habits?

I’m a strong champion of greasing the groove.

This method originally came from weightlifting and is concerned with doing multiple reps with minimal effort, but repeatedly over sustained periods of time.

However, its main appeal is that there’s no pain, but all gain.

Seems counterintuitive, but the theory behind why it works is that it allows us to constantly fire neurons and build more complete mental pathways to fully utilize all the fibers in our muscles.

Here’s where things get interesting.

I’ve found greasing the groove to be the perfect way to build momentum as well. The key to building habits has always been consistency, which is why there are all these programs and adages about sticking with something for 30-days to build a habit.

The problem with building a habit is that you need to get started and the thought of committing 20–30 minutes a day is mentally daunting even if objectively not that difficult. There’s often just a mental wall that goes up.

Grease the groove provides a different path by allowing us to take the smallest slice of work related to the habit we want to build and do it once a day or maybe a few times over the course of the day.

It allows us to devote such a bite-sized amount of energy to our desired goals that we never feel tired or burned out. More importantly, the smallest component of an activity can be so quick that even the busiest person in the world can take a moment.

So let’s say you wanted to draw every day, that might mean doing a quick sketch of something on your desk or an emoji doodle, or say you want to read a bit every day that might mean reading even a single sentence. Or say you wanted to learn how to cook, that might just mean selecting a spice you wouldn’t otherwise have even looked at and adding it to your takeout.

As the habit strengthens and gets built, we’ll naturally feel compelled to do more and challenge ourselves, which is why it’s so critical to keep the habit going even if it’s just the of the habit.

So here’s my “guide” to getting started with greasing the groove:

  1. Have a clear goal you want to work towards (speaking a new language, learning to code, or losing 25 pounds)
  2. Find the mechanism by which you want to work towards this goal (language app, online coding course, pushups)
  3. Determine what the smallest piece of that activity is (a single lesson, watching 5-minutes of a video, 1 pushup)
  4. Every single day, do that atomic piece.
  5. Do more as the habit gets built, perhaps doing it for longer or more times throughout the day.
  6. Slow and steady wins the race. Revisit your progress every so often and get ready to be blown away by what you accomplished.

The key is to never do so much that you burn out or create a mental block that keeps you from greasing that groove.

Some personal successes of mine include getting to the point where I could do 75 consecutive pushups and getting a rudimentary grasp of Korean.

Keep it simple, keep it consistent, and grease that groove.

When all is said and done, maybe Nike said it best:

There’s so much about our habits and psychology I want to dive into including feedback loops and reward cycles. Follow along for more like this.



Data junkie and personal finance nerd. Breaking down tough topics into bite-sized pieces.

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Ethan Tang

Data junkie and personal finance nerd. Breaking down tough topics into bite-sized pieces.