The Wimpy Way To Be Fearless: Just Do It For 10 Minutes!

07/05/2012 08:07 am ET | Updated Sep 04, 2012

I am a girl high on dreams, but short on the confidence that I can achieve them. Long on goals, but short on attention span. I'm the one who, in college, would head to the library laden with a backpack bursting with books -- only to arrive and fall fast asleep a half hour in, overwhelmed by the idea that I couldn't study hard enough or wasn't smart enough. My roommates thought I was studious with a 4.0 average. In fact, I was an average student who crumbled under pressure.

Not much has changed. I have rarely been able to pull off an all-nighter for anything other than a party. I'm a slow and steady girl: I do ambitious things (climbing Mount Whitney; running marathons), but very slowly.

For a long time, this mindset psyched me out. Without bursts of energy, how would I get anything of merit done? Then one day, I fell upon an approach to life that works for me: I ask only 10 minutes of myself. I know it sounds wimpy and way too superficial -- what of merit, you say, can be accomplished in 10 minutes? That's what I thought, too. And then I learned....

Ten minutes at a time is my slow-and-steady way of being fearless. Little by little I chip away at a goal, safely, somewhat risk-free. Do I take the world by storm? Have I ever been an overnight success? No and no. But slow and steady is better than not at all, and so I inch along, gradually working up to running a full marathon and climbing the tallest peak in the continental United States, among other things.

This 10-minute plan is perfectly tailored to me and maybe to you, too. Here are the symptoms: short attention span, lots of other pulls on your time, the dread of unpleasant tasks, the fear of not succeeding at something new, the worry that you'll be devastated if you put too much heart and soul into something and then fail.

That's me in a nutshell, and if you suffer from any of those symptoms for four hours or more, you may have the same syndrome. Here's the antidote: Take 10 minutes each day and apply them directly to the task at hand. Repeat daily until task is complete.

I'm not proud of only having enough stamina for 10 minutes of effort at a time. The only saving grace is, it works. I do envy those people who decide on Friday they'll plant a garden over the weekend and, boom, by Monday it's done. Or they decide to paint a room and somehow pick a color, move the furniture, and apply three coats before I've finished that week's laundry. But I've finally accepted that's not me.

There are good side effects to this 10-minute tack, though: increased stamina and motivation. I may tell myself that I'm going in (to the pile on my desk, the box of photos, the cluttered garage) for just 10 minutes. But by the end of the 10 minutes, I realize it's not so scary and not so overwhelming and I can do it. Sometimes I stay a little (or a lot) longer and press on. Or I do my 10 minutes, log a little bit of progress, and know that I'm not so scared to come back and continue tomorrow.

My kids think I've gone a little overboard with this 10-minute thing. I wear my sports watch all the time, setting the timer for pretty much everything. Sorting insurance paperwork (yuck)? Give it 10 minutes. Planning how to save for college (where to start)? Give it 10 minutes. Kitchen is a mess (who wants to waste the time)? Give it 10 minutes.

This not only works for mundane goals, but bigger, life-changing goals, too. I got back to playing the piano after a 20-year hiatus by wading in just 10 minutes at a time. For years I'd thought it would take me forever to get back to where I had been, and I didn't even know where my music was or what I'd play. Within a few days I was on the path: found the sheet music one day, picked a song the next, found a place to set up the electronic keyboard, and was on my way. After years of the goal lingering out there, it really only took about three 10-minute bursts to get on track.

It works for those big "Where do I even start?" goals, too. A couple friends and I wanted to start an organization to raise awareness of nonprofits we and other friends were involved with. Sounded like a good idea for "someday" -- too much to think about while life was so busy. I decided to take a crack at it 10 minutes at a time (one day thought through who we'd invite; one day thought about mission; another day about schedule, etc.). Within a month of 10-minute-a-day planning, we were up and running and had our first meeting scheduled. Now we have over 100 members and have raised thousands of dollars for many nonprofits. And the look of the project now is very different from what we'd envisioned. I could have been stalled from starting anything because I thought it had to be "perfect" from the start, but really it was fine to just get it off the ground and let it evolve.

As my cousin says, "Poco a poco" -- little by little. I may not win the race, but I do finish. And that's about right for me.

For more by Laura Brady Saade, click here.

For more on becoming fearless, click here.