Small Steps

“. . . A journey of a thousand miles must begin with one single step.” Lao Tzu

My wife Carol and her cousin-in-law, Romona, are discussing the subject of steps.  This conversation – about the total number of physical steps made during the day – is actually a dialogue that occurs often when visiting our beach condo which is less than 100 feet from where our cousins live.  Such close proximity provides an opportunity for frequent chats between these two ladies of kindred spirit.

In some of the conversations I have heard, the discourse often starts with “How many steps have you made so far today?” After comparing notes, they then discuss individual plans for accomplishing the goal of 10,000 steps that day. (This seems to be a common goal for many people who calculate their daily steps). Are you one of many who count steps taken each day?

Calculating steps, with a goal of 10,000, is my wife’s daily tracking effort.  With all the technological advances of today, keeping track of your steps is automatic.  No manual effort needed. You can just simply use your Smartphone, special wristwatch or other electronic device. for recording your progress.

I have noticed something significant in the conversations between Carol and Romona: When headway is made early in the day, even when seemingly insignificant, the final daily total is laudable. Conversely though, when no progress is made earlier, the results are less than satisfying.

This observation reminds me of a great article, “The Power of Small Wins,” written by Teresa Amabile and Steven J. Kramer. Based upon their research on creative work, utilizing an exhaustive analysis of diaries kept by knowledge workers, they discovered what they titled the ‘Progress Principle:’ Of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work.”

 Even when progress is minimal, as it relates to the total project, the probability of success is greater. When there is a lack of progress, the opposite holds true.

While this statement may make obvious sense to many of us, the benefit of this knowledge may not be fully appreciated or utilized in the organizations to which we belong.  And, in our daily lives where its significance may be even more important, the principle may lie dormant, even though the outcomes may impact not only us, but the important people surrounding us.

When Carol achieves a few thousand steps of progress in the morning, the rest of her goal, which is much larger than the initial effort, is often surpassed.  I heard her recently brag about exceeding 11,000 steps several days in a row.  You may have heard the saying, “success breeds success.”   Each step we take matters, whether during physical exercise, taking a college course, or in making an important sale to a substantial customer.  Auditing for the purpose of recognizing our progress is one of the most important things we can do to create daily success. And daily success leads to long-term success.

What is amazing, according to these authors, is that the amount of progress is not what matters. Just making progress is enough to effect the eventual outcome.

In my own experience, the first half of each day is extremely important. I try to start each day in the same manner – doing something that matters to me or others in my life. I start with a task that will make a difference. Most of my days have some early level of progress, long before most have even awakened for the day.

That early morning development evolves into creating an opportunity for some highly productive days. It is interesting to me that my afternoon attitude seems to be influenced by my pre-lunch progress. And with a great attitude late in the day, I can finish on a high note, doing even great work when others may be tired and ready to quit. Winning in the fourth quarter is often how championships are won. What’s the end of your day like? Are you finishing great? How much of that was already decided early in the day when you made or did not make progress?

Authors Amabile and Kramer conclude that complimenting the progress is helpful in achieving the final desired outcome. Simple and sensible. But, how often in our families and organization do we compliment only the final results of a project? How often do we reserve our own internal praise for the precise moment we finish?  If you are trying to lose 10 pounds, recognizing that you lost two is a big deal.  If your goal is to run in a marathon, how important is the half-marathon? For that future large customer, how important is that first phone call, or first personal visit? Our first step, our early effort, determines much of our success in life.

Do not wait to recognize your own progress. Instead, praise early progress, even if it is little.

Start small. Acknowledge advancement. Finish fantastic. Two thousand steps this morning become 7,000 steps today. Seven thousand steps today become 10 thousand steps tomorrow. And 10,000 steps tomorrow and the next day may result in a 70,000 week in the near future.  Is 100,000 around the corner?

Today, I will take one step . . .

 Before I take the second step, I will recognize the first step.