breaking the behavioral seal

I’m not a self-help guru.

In fact, by any standard measure, my life is pretty chaotic.

But this little mental model, “breaking the behavioral seal,” has been fantastic for my personal and career growth, so I’m sharing it with you.

My first time making tortillas

A few years ago, a close friend taught me how to make flour tortillas from scratch. I love Mexican food, and I’d been wanting to try it for a while – years, in fact. But somehow I never got around to it.

So, my friend had me over and graciously taught me: this is the ingredients list, the prep, the timing, the technique.

You don’t need much to make flour tortillas: flour, fat, warm water, baking powder, and salt. A mixing bowl is a must, and a rolling pin or tortilla press are nice to have, but you can improvise.

They come together fast, and even “bad” homemade tortillas blow the grocery store ones out of the water. But the first batch came out great, and were quickly consumed.

A few days later

I’m home, hungry, and tortilla-less.

And despite having almost no experience and no rolling pin, I got to work. And they came out … pretty bad. But I enjoyed them all the same.

So after years of merely thinking about making tortillas, I made them twice in the span of a few days.

And then, about a week later, I made them again. And the following week, again.

These days, unless I’m traveling, I’ll make a batch every week or two. It’s a little ceremony I cherish.

And it all started with just … starting.

“The first step is the half of it.”

I’m not the first person to happen upon this insight. Another close friend (who has eaten many of my tortillas, by the way) shared this Korean proverb with me: “The first step is the half of it.”

Put less elegantly but more descriptively: if you have a goal, you stand to make a disproportionate amount of progress by simply getting started.

And more uncouth: once you break the seal, there’s a decent chance you’ll keep going.

People who break the behavioral seal

I’m lucky to know some extremely effective, skilled people, and they all make a habit of breaking the behavioral seal. What makes them try new things?

And people who don’t

They make the same handful of excuses:

Getting over the hump

We all have thoughts and conversations with friends and colleagues that go like,

And we all know how this story typically ends: talk about it, indulge the fantasy, and never do it.

When we could simply: do it.

Sure, it might be hard. Sure, you might fail. So what?

Stop fantasizing about making good tortillas and start making bad ones. It’s the best way to make good ones.

posted 05 dec 2021