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Small Actions Can Lead to Big Payoffs

I’ve written before about “all-or-nothing” thinking. This is the kind of thinking that says, “If I can’t do something perfectly, I shouldn’t do it at all.” An example of this is the person on a diet who eats something like a cookie, breaking the diet, and then thinks, “well, I might as well eat the rest of them.” One reason clients seem to determinedly stick with the all-or-nothing approach is because they think it will help them achieve more. Will it? Partial credit isn’t allowed; the possible outcomes under this way of working are stark: success…or failure. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like feeling like a failure. If a person isn’t absolutely confident they can succeed, then the all-or-nothing approach is likely to cause them to not even try, in order to avoid being a failure. I like to suggest the approach that does give partial credit. After all, something is better than nothing. Some success is better than not trying at all because of a fear of failure. We can build on that partial success in the future until we reach the end goal.

My clients often object and say it’s too slow or they won’t achieve as much with this more forgiving approach. I like to ask them how much they think it would add up to if they started with a single penny and then doubled the amount each day. So the first day they would have a penny. The second day they would have two pennies. The third day they would have four pennies. What’s your guess? $20 $200 $2,000? It’s literally small change that we’re talking about here: pennies. Can they amount to much? Yes they can! In fact, on day 30, if you start with a penny and double the amount each day, you will have $5,368,709.12!

This example has its limitations. I’m not suggesting that we double each previous day’s efforts, goals, etc. repeatedly. The point I’m trying to make is that we can, through steady application of small actions, end up with big results. Walking an extra 1,000 steps each day may not seem like anything to brag about, but that’s an extra 365,000 steps in a year! If cleaning the entire room is overwhelming, can you commit to picking up, putting away, or throwing away two things each time you enter the room?Committing to spending just 5 minutes a day on some task that would be beneficial but that you dread (say, dealing with all the mail piled up on the counter) might seem like an amount too small to matter, and yet before long, the pile of mail is gone and that oppressing feeling with it. Five minutes a day spent spent really talking and listening to a child or spouse adds up to more than 30 hours of quality time a year. Or, if you have wanted to focus on meditating or self-care but say you don’t have the time, that five minutes a day is 2 ½ hours a month!

Try this for yourself. Pick something that seems too small to matter and then commit to doing it each day. Watch what happens. As I see it, the worst thing that happens is that your results are slower or less dramatic than the all-or-nothing way but you will feel successful and proud of yourself and enjoy the journey a whole lot more as you do it.

As always, I invite you to contact me if you would like someone to walk with you for a time on your journey of self-growth. You can call or text me at 816-226-4678.

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