Starting with childhood and all the way growing up, the concept of small wins was way less appealing than winning it big. As a boy, this manifested itself as the game-winning touchdown, the grand slam home run in the World Series, the fireman who saves the house from fire or the cop who hunts down and catches the bad guy.
As we grow up the concept of making it big, moving to the big city, or getting the big promotion all put the focus on that one word. Big. Is it any wonder we get tricked into thinking that if we are to succeed in life, it must come in a grand fashion?
A few years back, I worked with a supervisor who gave me an assignment. I took the bull by the horns, and I went after it. I put together a full-fledged analysis, provided a presentation and based on my initiative; I put together a plan. I was so proud as I went through my materials with him. It was stellar! But then things went south in a hurry. He reminded me of his original request, which I conveniently forgot. He wanted me to provide an iteration of a plan, not the full incarnation. Much of my work was discarded because I was too focused on the Big Win. Lesson learned.
What a surprise it was for me, as I did my research on real self-improvement, starting over, and making real change, that the real truth wasn’t what I thought it would be. The focus, to my chagrin, is that small wins add up and with consistent effort, help us more than we realize.
Small Wins Add Up
The first book I want to mention that talks about the concept of small wins is one by Shane Snow called Smartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators and Icons Accelerate Success. In his book, Snow references a game I’m familiar with from high school called Bigger and Better. Much like a scavenger hunt, you go from house to house or from business to business. Except in this game, you start with something small and trade up. As a paperclip became a pencil that became a pen that became a deck of cards, the momentum of each transaction leads to something larger.
This game, when applied to life issues, quickly becomes self-evident. The important part of the goal achievement or win just starts with a small step that builds on itself. Like compounding interest, the small wins begin to add up, and before you know it, you’re well on your way to success.
It all starts with that small win.
This powerful concept of achieving small wins to gather up large dividends is also mentioned in The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance by Stephen Kotler. It just so turns out that to achieve a “Flow” state, or to be “In the Zone,” all one must do is challenge yourself 4% greater than your current skill level. Small win.
Imagine using this concept for a workout. Adding 4%, or thereabouts, is manageable day to day. If you consistently started deadlifting 100 lbs., adding 4 lbs. more each day, within 18 days you’d be at twice the weight you started with. What you once thought impossible becomes not only attainable but possible. That consistency breeds mastery.
James Clear makes a similar appeal on the site Lifehacker where he authored an article about The Value of Marginal Gains, only here he references a 1% increase. For those who don’t aspire to be a Superman, the 1% increase still works, using your momentum to escalate your efforts and achievements. (That same deadlift starting at 100 lbs. and going up 1% would still double within 70 days, not too shabby!).
As this article comes to a close, it is important to note that goal achievement doesn’t need to be done all at one time nor be overwhelming. As evidenced by Smartcuts, Superman and other sources, the key to achievement is through small wins. Quite literally, you can solve many of your problems, like a jigsaw puzzle; one piece at a time.
Starting Over Series Challenge of the Day
For today’s challenge, determine which of your goals seem a bit overwhelming and then break them down into 4% or even 1% increments so you can overcome them. Don’t forget that in order to attack these incremental wins, use your momentum to your advantage.
Thank you for the emails you’ve sent so far, the response has been great and I am grateful that these messages are resonating with many of you. Please leave any personal messages here or leave additional comments of progress or support in the comment section below.