“True life is lived when tiny changes occur.”Leo Tolstoy
Do you have big goals?
I’m sure you do. So let me ask you a question.
What’s stopping you from achieving them?
If you’re like most people, the answer lies somewhere between a lack of discipline and a state of sheer overwhelm.
When a goal is new, it’s fresh. But when we don’t get results fast enough, we usually just revert back to our old ways.
Even when we do follow through, after a little while, some event knocks us off track. And in a state of frustration, our pesky bad habits rear their ugly heads. Then, we go right back to where we started.
It’s no fun ending up at the proverbial drawing board. And having to deal with the consequences again and again.
No wonder we feel frustrated and overwhelmed all the time. We want to achieve big results but we’re afraid.
We’re afraid of failure.
Afraid of what others might think.
Afraid of getting our hopes up only to have them quickly dashed away.
I get it. It’s painful.
I used to feel like this all the time. But after repeatedly failing at a number of things, I was forced to look inward.
My problem? I was giving up too easily. I’d quit. I’d throw in the proverbial towel. And each time I was forced to retreat with my tail between my legs feeling infinitesimally small.
I didn’t get it at first. Did I really want those things badly enough? Or did I just say I wanted them in the moment?
Like others, everything fell apart outside of my comfort zone. As soon as i was forced to experience pain that exceeded my threshold, I’d stop.
That’s when I dove deep into a period of self-discovery.
Here’s what I realized:
- My bad habits were severely holding me back
- I was constantly playing defense instead of offense
- Making tiny changes in my life would lead to big results
1. Bad Habits
We all have bad habits. I get that. No one is perfect. But when those habits keep you in a perpetual cycle of failure, something has to give.
That’s what happened for me. I came to that stark realization. Even though it took a long time. Eventually, I knew change was imminent when I hit my proverbial rockbottom.
That happened for me in the summer of 2012. It was an eye-opening experience. The drinking and partying was out of hand. And something needed to change.
The problem that I had was actually making the changes before it was too late. Sure, when everything falls apart, you’re forced to change. But what I wanted to know was how do you do it sooner?
Here’s what I learned.
The habits we have are ingrained in us. Even when we can drop a bad habit for a while, certain environmental cues can start them back up again.
If you’re a smoker, you get this. After you eat a big meal, you crave a cigarette. There’s a cue-routine-reward.
- The cue is the completion of the meal.
- The routine is to smoke the cigarette.
- The reward is to feel relaxed and at ease, if only for a little while.
Every habit has this cue-routine-reward loop.
That’s why it’s so hard to stick to a diet, make more money, start that side hustle or quit smoking cigarettes. It’s because you always revert back to your old, comfortable ways defined by your existing habit loops.
Neural pathways are etched in your brain, making each habit more non-conscious. It’s like reaching for that cigarette without even thinking about it or ending up in the drive through for fast food and suddenly realizing you’re there.
It’s ingrained in us. Part of who we are. Yet to really make monumental changes, we have to eliminate our bad habits. I struggled with this process for a long time.
2. Playing Defense
I was playing defense in life. I wasn’t playing offense. Meaning, I wasn’t charging forward powerfully. I was merely at the whim of events, responding to things as they happened.
Sound familiar? But here’s the question. How do you move out of a state of defense and into a state of offense?
When life crumbles, it’s hard to answer that question. It’s hard to see the forest through the proverbial trees.
But here’s a painful realization I reached.
Every action I took had an equal and opposite reaction. Eventually, those actions come back around to haunt you. In the wake of that it’s hard to see the error of your ways. We can thank our egos for that.
So how do you avoid playing defense? What I learned is this.
- Set an intention for your life every single day
- Meditate on that intention
- Relinquish your attachment to the outcome
This simple understanding moved me from defense to offense. It allowed me to quiet my mind. To move from a state of scarcity to a state of abundance.
3. Tiny Changes
In aerial navigation, a rule exists called the 1-in-60 rule. That rules states the following:
“If a pilot has travelled sixty miles then an error in track of one mile is approximately a 1° error in heading, and proportionately more for larger errors.”Wikipedia
Meaning that a 1 degree change in course, after 60 miles, results in being one mile off course. However, a one degree of error over 600 miles means that you’re 10 miles off course.
What is a one degree shift, after all? It seems so small, doesn’t it? Imagine it like this. What would happen if you improved by 1 percent every single day? It doesn’t seem like much. But over time, it has enormous impact.
One percent improvement per day over the course of one year comes out to a 37.78 percent change. But if you decline by one percent every day, that equates to a loss of 0.03%.
I was so busy trying to make enormous changes that I stopped to see the small actions I was doing every single day.
When it comes to habit development, this is a powerful rule. Sure, every habit takes time to form. 18 to 254 days. That’s a wide range.
Yet, what stands in the way of forming a good habit or breaking a bad habit is the following:
- The power of existing neural pathways
- A state of sheer overwhelm
- Missing more than one day can easily break the chain
That’s when I started to make tiny changes. I did just one pushup per day. I remember being so out of shape that it was hard to muster even that. But after a week I felt powerful enough to do 2 per day. That lead to 3, then 4, and so on.
Now, I can do 300 pushups per day. But I started at one. That’s all it took to get the ball rolling. I don’t say that to impress you. Only to impress upon you the power of tiny changes.
I used this principle to wake up early as well. I simply set my alarm clock back by 5 minute per week. It didn’t feel like a big difference at all. But over time, it lead to enormous results.
Today, there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t wake up by at least 4 am. Sometimes earlier. But it all started with a small, almost unnoticeable change.
To summarize, start small. Focus on tiny changes. Setting a goal of saving one dollar per day or losing one pound per week is too small to fail at. One pushup per day feels like nothing. But over time it leads to enormous results.
It’s a big realization. But also one that many people don’t understand.
So, set your intentions for your life, then go small. Very small. Focus on miniscule beehaviors that you can build up into larger habits over time.
That is how you create massive progress and change over time.