When most of us think about change, we imagine something dramatic…
Landing the million-dollar client.
Finding our dream job.
Losing 50 pounds.
If we’re really honest, most of us want to see these kinds of big differences in ourselves, our teams, our results. We want to make seismic shifts in who we are and how we show up as leaders on a daily basis. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
What is wrong is the way we go about making these changes.
Two Problems with Big Changes
One of the most fundamental problems we have with change is that we start too big. We think that if we want to see real differences, we have to start out making big changes. But this thinking can lead down the wrong path quickly.
Some of us take this mistaken belief and go all in, switching up everything all at once. We build new processes, plans and goals in the blink of an eye, aiming for the most dramatic shifts possible. The problem with this approach is that it is almost impossible to sustain. By going too big all at once, we fail to build the foundation we need to make our changes last. We don’t make the necessary mindset shifts. We don’t build the micro habits to keep us moving forward when we step outside our comfort zone. Before long, we’re right back to our old ways.
Others of us, faced with the belief that only big changes count, get discouraged from the outset. We feel so intimidated by the challenge we see in front of us and the things we need to do that we give up before we even get started. We walk away feeling out of control of our own lives and powerless to make any improvements on our own.
A Different Way to Make a Difference
There is a different, more sustainable way to make changes, however. One I’ve seen work in my own life and those of my clients. This path requires that rather than tackling our ultimate goal all at once, we look for one small shift we can make that will get us closer to where we want to be. One first step down the path toward success.
For example, if you want to feel less behind on a daily basis, you might spend the last five minutes of each day deciding on your priorities for the following day. If you want to find a way to be more assertive, you might pick one meeting and challenge yourself to ask a single question. The results you get from these small changes build on themselves. You either have success and become encouraged and motivated to make other small changes. Or, you aren’t successful, but are able to adjust your approach in subtle ways until you find what works. Either way, you’re doing important work.
By starting small, we give ourselves a chance to build a strong foundation – a series of habits that will sustain us as we make bigger and bigger changes. And we begin to see ourselves differently – as someone who is capable of doing new things and improving our own life. Our new habits combined with a new, more resilient mindset are exactly what we need to propel us forward.
If you’re ready to give small changes a try, here’s how to get started:
1. Get clear on where you want to go.
To make the most of small changes, you need to start with a specific goal in mind. Being fuzzy about what you want or starting with a vague statement that doesn’t really speak to you doesn’t provide much motivation. That being said, it’s okay if this ultimate goal shifts over time. In fact, that’s part of the freedom that comes with starting small.
2. Then get clear eyed on where you are now.
Once you know where you want to go, it’s gut check time. Time to ask yourself where you are now. How far are you – honestly – from your ultimate goal? You may need to enlist the help of a friend or mentor here. Someone who can give you tough feedback in an open, but supportive way.
3. Ask yourself, what one small step will get you closer to your goal.
Now that you know where you want to go and where you are now, you’re ready to ask what one small step can move you toward your goal. Once you have something in mind, hit pause. Ask yourself if you can make it smaller. Then, repeat this over and over until the answer is no.
4. Repeat this process until your goal is in sight.
As you accomplish each small goal, choose the next smallest step and the next until you begin to build momentum. Before long you will notice other subtle shifts in your approach. You may start accomplishing the goals faster or with less frustration and confusion on the front end. Or, maybe you’ll start to see the end goal in new ways. Most importantly, you’ll begin to see yourself as capable – of changing, learning new things, and accomplishing the things that once felt out of reach.
It’s normal to want to do something big in your life. But, the biggest results you can achieve come not from dramatic transitions, but rather from a series of smaller, persistent adjustments . Once you know this truth, you’re ready to unlock the magic of small changes.