Trim Tabs

Click here for the audio version

It’s spring in Alaska and days are long again. It’s a funny mix of hope, new beginnings and the "sins of winter" - dog treasures buried under the deep encrusted snow.


This winter I focused on building some habits or "trim tabs" to help me stay calm and happy with fewer internal gyrations. Specifically trim tabs around eating, walking, money and calm.


I’d like for these parts of my life to flow more easily and use up less mental energy.


Trim tabs are a concept I learned from aviation. Here's an example.


When a friend taxis his 180 out, lines up on the ice road/runway and takes off, the little red plane and the pilot use a ton of fuel, energy, mental focus, and control to lift off the ground and into the air. But once they are up at a cruising altitude, he sets the "trim," a tiny strip of metal that acts as a miniature rudder in the air.


He's not required to trim the plane, but if he doesn't, he'll use his full focus and energy to keep the plane level and pointed in the right direction. The result is a bumpier ride for me and leaves him exhausted and cranky. If he trims the plane, the plane stays on course by itself and then we can turn on the music and revel at the glaciers.


If it’s no effort, why wouldn't you trim out a plane, right? A better result with less effort... two, please!


The same thing applies to our lives. Once we figure out what we want, we can set up conditions to make meeting our goal inevitable. The trick is to use the basic principle of trim.


Trim is small.


Tiny adjustments applied over a long course of time.


Um... boring!


My instincts are wired for the big push of takeoff, heroic efforts, all systems go, let's launch, simplicity, hacks!! Not so much the mundane daily systems that make my life sustainable.


I try not to go all cave girl on myself for my lack of talent in the consistency department. Instead, I focus on building habits, so I don't work so hard to keep things from going off the rails all the time.


Tiny adjustments applied over a long course of time.

Habits are the trim tabs or automation of life. But building a trim-tab-style-habit takes patience, but it’s worth it.


It needs to be a change small enough to become permanent.


A small tweak in thought or behavior applied consistently over time to create a result with little to no effort.


...a change small enough to become permanent.

Did I mention it takes patience? I had to laugh at myself with my walking goal.


I'd set a daily minimum of half a mile, about 1,500 steps. I was doing okay, ticking off at least a few little blue calendar dots a week. But two weeks ago I got a wild hair and decided I should increase my daily minimum. So I upped it to 5 miles a day or about 12,000 steps.


Wait, what? A million percent increase?


It backfired. I did good for two days, then nothing. It was worse than having no goal.


Why? The jump was too big for my mind. My body can handle the physical increase in walking, but my brain couldn't make the leap. I tried to keep it in perspective, chuckled, and course corrected.


So I tried the plan that works for my breathing exercise that helps me stay calm. The goal is "try to do something" even 30 seconds, as long as it happens every day. Uber lazy, and it works. In fact, I hit another 150-day streak yesterday. What's even more surprising is my daily average is 27 minutes a day, far more than my 30-second minimum.


That's super consistent for me, especially because I'm a 2 in Follow Thru on the Kolbe A Index, I own and manage two businesses, travel, family, and living off the road system.


And the payoff is big. I feel more calm and confident than ever, even though I have more going on in my life than ever before.


So my new walking goal is "try to do anything" even 5 steps, as long as it happens every day. I'll check in to see if I need to increase it in a year, no earlier.


Is the bodybuilding fitness plan of the century? I doubt it. But will it build a habit of walking every day without the dramatic flailing? Yes. And over the next 80 years, this small tweak will pay off big time with my health, happiness and overall satisfaction with my life.


Where in your life do you make progress in fits and starts but wish you could get consistent traction? Where do you need to install a trim tab?

Was this helpful? Sign up here to get my regular emails full of stories, tools, and inspiration to keep you going when things get tough. ​​​​​​

© Shannon L. Post, Inc. - All rights reserved