There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking about the ideas in this post, just some recent thoughts reminding me of one of the lessons I learned earlier in life: consistent hard work in small steps is a way to accomplish seemingly impossible goals over time.

It’s one of the few universal lessons I learned from graduate school and from my hammer throw coach, and by far the most valuable. When you face an insurmountable problem, it is indeed insurmountable if you try to solve it all at once. The Getting Things Done movement provides some useful techniques for how to not get distracted and manage these steps, but it’s doing the steps themselves that matter.

For example, about 15 months ago, I was tired of my 10-year-long struggle to slim down after bulking up during my days of hammer throw. I decided that every single day, I would plan to workout, I would drink even more water, and I would eat in a slightly less conventional manner. Life would occasionally get in the way (as it always does), but rather than planning days off from working out, I would plan to always work out unless something major interfered, and even on those days, find a way to stay active, or even do very basic yoga movements and other stretches on long airplane flights. Basically anything to keep it going.

The result: 50+ pounds lost (~23kg for the rest of the world), 11 inches (28cm) off the waist, a body mass index roughly half what it was on February 1, 2010, and a closet of clothing that doesn’t fit.

This approach applies to almost everything you do in life, from learning to do yoga or meditating, to planning a large trip, or to business problems like solving a large technical challenge, revamping a service, planning a conference talk, etc. It’s the commitment of making a subtle change or putting in some amount of effort every day, and reducing the impossible into a set of very small doable steps that makes the biggest impact.

For more challenging problems, many people insist on solving the hardest problems first. In some cases this is true because if you have a truly unsolvable problem given your constraints, you’ll do a lot of busy work for naught. That said, few problems are truly unsolvable, and so if you mix easily solvable problems with your more difficult challenges, the positive momentum often helps you complete the difficult portions more easily due to your ongoing confidence and success.

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One Response to “Small Steps Create Big Changes”

  1. on 09 Jun 2011 at 3:59Lee Davis

    How do you eat an elephant?


    One mouthful at a time.

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