Lasting “Big Change” Only Happens Through Incremental Small Steps

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In the spirit of New Years resolutions (if you’ve been too busy working 80 hour weeks, you may not have noticed, but it’s now 2017!) I wanted to take a moment to talk about making changes. It’s fairly common for people to start the new year with various resolutions… and then feel bad about failing to follow through. I’ve come to believe this is because of our lack of patience – we try to do too much too fast.

This last summer, I decided to get off my butt and get a smaller butt. After years of talking about losing weight I wanted to really actually do it. As a quick visit to amazon.com will prove, there’s a million and one opinions on the “right diet” for losing weight. So how to pick? I think that not knowing where to start is also an issue for many people. I was also hesitant to “go on a diet” because it would mean following a bunch of rules that presented so much opportunity for failure.

Where I was fortunate, was that my doctor had sent me to a dietitian who said something to me that, for myself anyway, made the difference. Several times during my appointment, while she was going over various portion sizes and combinations of food involved in a healthy diet, she would say “take a look at what you’re doing, and scale it back.” For some reason, that stuck in my brain, and it’s changed how I approach change.

My first step was to (almost) stop drinking pop. I didn’t stop completely, and never told myself I “wasn’t allowed to drink it”… I just limited myself. I went from several cans a day to one or two only on long (8 hour) car rides, with an occasional small pop with a fast food meal. Fast food was next. I’d been eating junky fast food almost every day, sometimes twice. I didn’t try to stop eating it, I just cut back – at first to a couple of times a week, to now maybe once, if that. Next was portions. I love grilling hamburgers. I used to eat three of them as a meal. I cut it back to two, and eventually, one. Same for sloppy joes and chicken sandwiches. I found that concentrating on mixing the types of foods (making sure there were veggies and fruits, etc. with whatever the main item was) made up pretty quickly for what seemed like so much less than my appetite called for. I also used to often have seconds, which I stopped by focusing on a variety of smaller combined portions. I even went after desserts… I started letting myself have a dessert at half the size I used to have, as long as I’d gone for at least a short walk that day. 

In all of this, I didn’t tell myself “you can’t have that” and I didn’t try to follow specific rules, other than a general effort to eat more healthily and consciously. Without greatly increasing my exercise, a small change in my attitude resulted in multiple changes in my behavior that without even adding exercise has allowed me to lose 30 pounds since August.

The main point that I’m making is something I believe can apply to anything, including business goals. Instead of concentrating on the end goal, I try to look at what that goal means for the normal day to day moment. I boil it down to the little choices. While you can take a shot at one big pass or fail change and then feel horrible about it, if you focus on the hundreds of small choices you have every day you are statistically much more likely to be able to choose correctly enough times for the big result to happen. It’s also easier, because screwing up one little choice has much less impact on your goals, and so it’s easier to forgive yourself. If you miss one you just tell yourself to catch it the next time it presents itself. 

In the back of my head I almost picture myself being like Michael Scott from The Office, in the scene where he’s at a Dunder Mifflin shareholder’s meeting with the company brass, and he tries to come up with his “45 point plan” by starting with the end goal and then trying to list the steps backwards. It’s ridiculous, but I almost wonder if it’s not. 🙂

While I’m quite certain I haven’t explained this in the most eloquent way, I hope that it helps you think about whatever goals you’ve struggled to reach but have maybe fallen short on. I hope that 2017 is the year you find your own breakthrough!

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