The Power of Incremental Change Over Time

I have always been fascinated by the power of incremental change over time. Most people underestimate this. They think they have to take massive action to achieve anything significant.

Men's Hands Holding a Measuring Tape Against a Wall - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/michellegibson, Image #14720530

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/michellegibson

I am not opposed to massive action. I have used it myself to achieve certain results. But it causes most people give up before they ever start. They just don’t think they can make the investment.

For example:

  • I have a friend who needs to lose fifty pounds. He can’t seem to get started. Why? Because he thinks he will have to go on a radical, unsustainable diet.
  • I overheard a man at the coffee shop complaining to his friend that he hasn’t taken a family vacation in years. When his friend asked why, he said, “We just don’t have the money.”
  • One of the guys I mentor confessed that he had never read the Bible all the way through. When I asked why, he said, “You mean, other than the fact that it’s about 1200 pages long?”

What these people don’t realize is that they could make small, daily investments that would soon lead to big results. Here are seven examples to get your creativity flowing.

  1. Losing Weight. Earlier this year, I lost eleven pounds in six weeks. A friend of mine lost 83 pounds in a year. Both of us did it using LoseIt. We didn’t do much other than record what we ate daily. By becoming aware of what we were eating, we made healthier choices.
  2. Paying Off Debt. One of my friends paid of $15,000 in debt in less than a year. She didn’t do anything radical. She simply setup a budget, took opportunities to make extra income, and cut back on gourmet coffee and other non-essentials. She used Dave Ramsey’s “debt snowball” to pay off her smallest debts first, then the larger ones.
  3. Improving Profitability. In a publishing division I used to run, we decided to improve our margins by 2% over one year. We chunked it down to one-half percent per quarter. We focused on targeted price increases and expense control. It dropped over a million dollars to the bottom line that year.
  4. Writing a Book. I have used my blog to write several books. I mapped out the book and then wrote it one 500-word post at a time. Using this method, you can write a 50,000 word book in 100 days. At my pace of about five posts a week, that takes just twenty weeks. Plus, you get great feedback along the way.
  5. Running Long Distances. When I started running, I could barely walk a mile. Then I discovered Jeff Galloway. I started running for one minute and then walking for two. Gradually, I increased my distance and the time I was running. Within a year, I was able to run my first half marathon.
  6. Reading the Bible. The bible is a big book, no doubt. But in less than 15 minutes a day, you can read the entire Bible through in a year. Here’s an online plan I used for several years. Currently, I am reading through The NKJV Daily Bible (Thomas Nelson).
  7. Saving Your Marriage. I had another friend in a really bad marriage. On the advice of his mentor, he started practicing “5 for 5.” He simply walks in the house after work, moves within five feet of his wife, asks her about her day, and listens for five minutes. Though a small start, it has now grown to 30 minutes a day. Their relationship has reversed course.

I’m convinced you can do almost anything if you are willing to clarify your goals and then make the incremental investment over time to achieve them.

Question: What small steps could you take today to move you toward a big outcome? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • http://modernservantleader.com/ Ben Lichtenwalner

    Great points Michael. On marriage, my wife and I work with Reformed Marriage Encounter, which teaches 10×10: 10 minutes writing a letter to your spouse each day, followed by 10 minutes sharing it with each other. This simple investment has huge benefits. Perhaps everyone begins with the 5×5 (love that) evolves to a 10×10 and before you know it, they’re at 30.

    Exercise has been huge for me last year. I’d only add that to make even the small wins, they must be non-negotiable. Feeling tired? Busy? A little under the weather? No excuses. Non-negotiable. In the words of Nike, “Just do it.”

    • http://www.wol.ca/staff/lyons Charlie Lyons

      Exercising earlier in the day, I love what Stephen Covey has to say: “Mind over mattress.” :)

      • http://www.checkmatesystem.com Maryacavanaugh

        I love that (never heard it before).

      • http://modernservantleader.com/ Ben Lichtenwalner

        That is fantastic! I will definitely use it – starting tomorrow morning. Thanks.

      • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

        That’s a great quote. I’m going to use it!

      • http://natelaclaire.com/ Nate LaClaire

        I love that!

      • Anonymous

        I that quote…. will remember this on Saturday morning when I get up early to run my half-marathon.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Great point on non-negotiables. If they are negotiable, it’s too easy to put them off.

      • Tracy B

        In the  book Quitter,  Jon Acuff talks about the death to discussion obstacle.  He reminds us to crush the discussion (aka constant negotiating in our head) with a decision.   Love that!!!

  • http://www.christianfaithatwork.com Chris Patton

    I agree with Ben on the non-negotiable part of the small wins.

    In fact, Jim Collins addresses this very idea in his newest book, Great By Choice.  He talks about the 20 mile march idea from the story of Amundsen and Scott racing to the South Pole.  Read the book for the whole story, but it is the perfect confirmation of Ben’s statement.

    Thanks for another specific and actionable post!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I just downloaded Collins new book on Audible. I needed a new book to listen to while I am running, so this sounds perfect. Thanks!

    • http://www.sundijo.com Sundi Jo Graham

      Heard him talk about that this weekend at Catalyst. He had some great points!

  • http://www.timemanagementninja.com Craig Jarrow

    Great stuff…Michael! 

    Never underestimate the power of small efforts.

    I think the tip in #7 could save many a marriage. :)

  • http://www.frymonkeys.com Alan Kay

    Small steps towards a bigger goal are critical for sustainability. If we can see ourselves making progress right away, we are far more likely to sustain the effort. When I work with teams of people, they are aften keen to change a lot – they don’t realize they are taking on something that is systemic and that trying to change it quickly will automatically result in disappointment. So, if the team decides to change a part of their IT system, I ask them to think of the small things they will do differently form before in the next few days – things they can see happening. I also urge them to notice consciously what works in the changes, becasue not all of the small changes can work as they planned. This way, when there are setbacks, they can look for an alternative way and continue making progress.       

    • http://www.gailsangle.com Gail

      Sustainability is key. If we try to do a thousand small things it can be as overwhelming as concentrating on doing one small thing well and making that habit before adding a second, third and so on. Once a small thing is part of your routine it bcomes non-negotiable and easy to sustain.

  • http://www.lionstand.com Jamie O’Donoghue

    You are spot on with what you wrote Mike. Before we married, my wife and I dated for 19 months. 13 out of the 19 being apart, her here in the States and me at home in Ireland. We had a combined debt of about $16,000. It took 13 months to get all the paperwork together so I could live and work here legally and we got married with $0 in consumer debt. But we had to do it in small steps at a time.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Thanks for sharing your story, Jamie. I always find these inspiring!

      • http://www.lionstand.com Jamie O’Donoghue

        You’re welcome Mike. And congratulations on the news of Moses and Jonah coming into the family!

  • http://www.Godtaughtme.com Chris Einwechter

    This is one of the most encouraging posts I’ve ever read on your blog, thanks.  

  • Anonymous

    Love this.  Just this week I started working out 18 minutes a day.  (As opposed to 0 minutes a day). Wish I could give credit where credit is due.  I got the idea from something I read online. If nothing else, it’s making me fall asleep faster at night!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I sleep much better when I workout, too. AND, I am more productive during the day.

  • http://successbeginstoday.org/wordpress John Richardson

    Interesting take on this, Michael. I would argue that each of the outcomes above was the result of a rather “major decision” to change and then a “focused” effort to effect the outcome. To me the “major decision,”  or goal is the hard part and many times needs to involve a coach or mentor to see you through. The focused part is much easier. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve used a 48 minute focused time period on many tasks such as writing a book, losing weight, running etc.

    That’s why programs like Body for Life, Debt snowball, and many different running programs are so successful. They break a complicated task down into manageable steps that almost anyone can do.

    One of my big interests is the “spark” that effects the change. In my life, I can name the speakers, preachers, or friends that initiated this spark for me. Thankfully posts like this are the “spark” many people need to get started. Through your speaking, blogging, and writing, you are  effecting a lot of needed change, Michael. Keep up the great work.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, John. Really valid points.

      • http://successbeginstoday.org/wordpress John Richardson

        Satan is the master of incremental change. He can get us to do unimaginable things… one tiny step at a time…

        • http://www.thinking-on-these-things.blogspot.com Becky

          There’s a sermon in that point there John. Thanks for making the observation!

        • http://natelaclaire.com/ Nate LaClaire

          So true. Excellent point.

  • http://markpowellwired.blogspot.com/ Mark Powell

    Good post. Not only does this work on a personal level as you have described, but it also works within the community level as well. Small changes, subtle moves that add on rather than take away, can make a huge difference down the road. This is a way to be respectful of the past/present realities of the community, while impacting the future.

  • http://www.linchpinbloggers.com/ Don McAllister

    This is great! Sometimes the progress appears nearly invisible, but small, daily investments are the way to produce big changes.

  • http://www.producewithpassion.com Dan McCoy

    Powerful Michael.   What you describe are people’s “buts” as described well by Sean Stephenson in his book.  http://www.amazon.com/Get-Off-Your-But-Self-Sabotage/dp/0470399937

    When you choose to think abundantly instead of living in scarcity, the “Why to” becomes much more apparent than the “Why not.”  There are some nuggets in there I gained.  I love the 5×5. Thanks for reminding.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I am definitely checking out this book. Thanks for the recommendation!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I just bought the book on Audible, so I can listen while I am running. The review are terrific on Amazon: 39 five-star reviews out of 43.

      • http://www.producewithpassion.com Dan McCoy

        Yes – Sean is an awesome guy (http://timetostand.com/).   Google him (3 foot giant).   He’s a friend who I was introduced to me by my life/business coach Garrett Gunderson (http://garrettbgunderson.com/blog/).   Sean and his dad subsequently introduced me to our (my family) health coaches ( Jason and Nandi Moore http://www.vitallivingcentral.com/)  Jason’s mentor is the one who helped Sean go from breaking over 200 bones in his body by the time he was 18 to breaking nothing in the next 15 years.   For my family, I know it’s where God wants me.   The problem with diets is most people get on them to loose weight (or other goal) and then get off them when goal is reached.   They cheat on themselves (it’s a holiday afterall).   Just like business and life if you aren’t educated it will cost you.   Health is no different.   Now we live a truly educated, healthy life.   lost 20 lbs in 2 mos, energy levels higher than ever and I haven’t been sick in over a year!

        • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

          I just listened to the first several chapters of the audio book. I can tell this is going to be in my top ten of all time. It is VERY inspiring. Thank you for introducing me to him.

          • http://www.producewithpassion.com Dan McCoy

            Glad to help.  I think I sat down and read 3/4 of that book in one sitting.  I couldn’t put it down.

    • http://www.jeffrandleman.com Jeff Randleman

      Added it to my Amazon Wish List!

  • http://www.wol.ca/staff/lyons Charlie Lyons

    We are currently going through Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University on Sunday evenings at our church in Owen Sound, Ontario. It has been a huge blessing to a lot of people and we’re only starting the fifth of eleven videos this week. Step by step, the debt snowball has indeed already got us going on the right track.

    • http://www.checkmatesystem.com Mary Cavanaugh

      FPU changed our lives forever; the obvious pay off was that we got out of consumer debt and we’re making good progress paying off our house early.  The more important benefit was how it united us as a couple.  That affected so much more than finances.  

      • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

        I can see why Dave Ramsey has such a loyal tribe. His teaching has completely changed so many people’s lives for the good.

  • http://twitter.com/CheapLoveCarrie Carrie Starr

    I just wrote about this very same concept last night!  My husband and I were being interviewed about wellness.  We talked about physical fitness but also fiscal fitness.  Both are achieved through incremental change over time.  Thanks for sharing how this applies in so many areas of our life, including our faith and our marriage. 

  • http://www.checkmatesystem.com Maryacavanaugh

    We were privileged to hear Andy Stanley speak about this in a sermon series he did on time.  He called it the compounding effects of small changes that don’t appear, at face value, to do much at all.  I love the examples you cited; each one touches on an area that most of us care deeply about.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I’ll have to look for that series from Andy. I always enjoy his stuff.

  • http://joyfulmothering.net Christin

    OK, your number 4 grabbed my attention. I seriously considered using my blog as the place to write the eBook that’s been brewing simply because I can write 500-700 words at a time and find it easier to narrow things down that way.

    When I think “eBook” I get overwhelmed with information that I need to get down. Great advice Mr. Hyatt. Thank you so very much for sharing your wisdom!

    I appreciate you.

  • Anonymous

    My life is all about small changes amounting to great things. I keep telling my doctors and people about the value of baby steps. I am a marathon runner who started off years ago just by walking and then walking/running very short distances (like a few feet at a time). Eventually I kept building on that until I started running. My first event ever in my life was not a 5K run, or a 10K run. It was a full blown marathon. My first marathon I power walked it. By the time I got to my third marathon, I was running it.

    In my everyday life, I am continually breaking things down to small bits and then working with that. What a fantastic way to live!!

  • Anonymous

    Hey Michael –

    I think you are spot on here.  Every time I have tried the “radical change” path on any segment of my life, it is has never stuck.  However, when I have made small changes to my daily routine and committed to doing them even when I hated it, it has become routine and part of my life.

    I have your Life Plan to thank for a lot of it, as I think it has helped me segment the areas of my life and enforced a review cycle and accountability to myself.

    Great post, this one.

  • http://davidsantistevan.com David Santistevan

    Michael, this post is very powerful. If more people caught on to this, they would see the change they’re currently only dreaming of. A good friend of mine used to say in college, “Bible before breakfast.” That has always stuck with me.

  • http://www.VictorDumitriu.ca Victor Dumitriu

    Great points Michael. Thank you!

  • Jim

    Yes, it is important to eat a cow one bite at a time.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      And especially elephants. ;-)

  • http://twitter.com/KellyCombs Kelly Combs

    This is one of my favorite posts from you.  The big picture can be overwhelming, but in little parts it seems achievable.  

    I used to be responsible for correspondence for the CEO of a Fortune 500 company and he received a stack of mail that was literally over 1′ tall each day.  The gal who trained me said, “take it one piece at a time.” Simple and effective.

    How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.  

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Kelly. I appreciate that encouragement.

  • Anonymous

    This is truly powerful, Michael. Small observations of behavior slightly changed, and the excellent things that happen over time as a result. It’s so true that over time, investing small chunks, we can do big things. This year, mine is reading. I aimed to read 50 new books over the course of one year. With nightly reading, it is possible. Thank you for the added inspiration!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Good for you. That motivates me!

    • http://www.jeffrandleman.com Jeff Randleman

      I’m the same way.  I read a huge amount of books each year, just like this.  The hardest part for me is selecting great books.  It’s too easy to get caught up in reading stuff that doesn’t help me grow.  I keep a healthy amount of fiction in the mix, but have to remind myself that I can’t dwell in those imaginary worlds all the time.  Good luck!

  • Chris Johnston

    Reminds me of the old phrase from the 70′s.  How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time. 

    Every step forward brings you closer to a goal. 

  • http://roborr.net Rob Orr

    This is awesome Michael – and something I know I need to pay attention to. Brian Tracy talks about setting and accomplishing small incremental goals too and this is a great reminder. I know I can feel overwhelmed with the things I want to accomplish but breaking them out in to incremental changes over time is chock full of wisdom.

  • http://www.inamirrordimly.com Ed_Cyzewski

    I love these suggestions. They have proven quite true to my experience. 

    Small investments and minor changes to my lifestyle have had a profound change. For instance, I was trying to read my Bible at my desk, but I had a hard time focusing. By simply switching to a different spot, I realized that I no longer felt the pull to start work and I could focus on the Bible better. It was just a matter of a chair and ten feet, but it changed everything. 

    In addition, I have found that brainstorming and drafting writing ideas goes much better in a notebook rather than on a computer where I can click on any number of distractions. A new idea is fragile, and taking a simple step such as closing my computer can help it grow. I believe we are more creative than we think we are. We oftentimes are more distracted than we suspect.

  • latha pillai

    This was a great post and absolutely true. The one about taking a vacation is very true.
    Start small always, or else it gets overwhelming

  • http://twitter.com/RonMinatrea Ron Minatrea

    Will Rogers once said “when you find yourself in a hole, stop
    digging.”  Major life transitions over
    the last year have taken a toll on my routines – and my waistline.  For weeks I worked to take off the ten pounds
    I’d gained but didn’t see any progress. 
    Finally, I decided that if I could just stop gaining weight until things
    settled a bit I would count that as progress. 
    The change in perspective from working to lose ten pounds to just
    holding the line was like a breath of fresh air. And now with less pressure I
    am finding it easier to re-implement the long term health habits that will actually
    get me out of the hole over time.

  • http://www.lifebeyondsport.com Stephanie

    So true, Michael. One of my favorite sayings is “little adjustments make a big difference in the end.” I heard an analogy once that it’s like a plane flying from New York to LA. If the pilot makes a 2% change in the flight path, that plane will not end up in LA but in a completely different city. 

    You gave a lot of practical examples of how this works in life. We can change our final destination by making small changes along the journey. Thanks for another helpful post. 

  • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

    How about cleaning your house? It always seems to be a HUGE task for me. I feel like it will take hours doing it all at once (and it would, if I tried to do it all at once.) I am TRYING to learn this discipline of picking things up a little here and there. But if I’m honest, I’m better at training for half-marathons and writing books than I am at keeping the house clean. :(

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      That’s another great example.

    • Constance A. Buckley

      Four things I do daily besides spending time with the Lord are: Make my bed as soon as it’s empty, Put whatever I’ve just used away as soon as I’m finished with it, Wash a load of laundry early in the day, dry it later, fold and put it away before bedtime, and Do my dishes after each and every meal. These are habits I’ve picked up after years of household frustration. Psychologically, I’m ready to tackle other things, but I haven’t got the next step in my thinking yet.

      • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

        very helpful. thanks.

  • http://www.eileenknowles.blogspot.com Eileen

    What great advice.  Small intentional steps add up.  And, one of the things I love about the small steps is all the lessons learned along the way.  The reached goal is that much sweeter because of the journey taken.  Thanks!

  • http://twitter.com/Hackney_Steve Steve Hackney

    Thanks, Michael.  Great points.  I’m enrolled in Dave Ramsey’s FPU, and I’m also working through Seth Godin/Zig Ziglar’s Pick Four. 
     http://www.amazon.com/Pick-Four…
    I can set great goals all day long, but follow through is my downfall.  I’m hoping that FPU and
    Pick Four will help me take the gradual steps that add up to major changes. Thanks again.

  • Kyle Hoopingarner

    This is a great topic. I learned this lesson once when I had a huge piece of concrete to move in my backyard. There was no way I could ever pick up that big piece by itself, but I got out my sledgehammer and hit it right in the middle. After a few swings that big piece broke into 4 manageable pieces that I could carry away. Looking at the huge task at hand can sometimes overwhelm you so that you never even start trying to do what you know you want to. But by breaking the task into sections that you can complete, you eventually will accomplish the larger goal that you want to reach.

  • http://twitter.com/Juanbg Juan

    Very good post, 1000 miles journey begins with the first step. Thanks.

  • Pdavis120

    I’m a single mom running my own business. I spend a LOT of time with my children and we take weekend trips often, going camping or visiting other cities. I often tie educational experiences in for them (We visit a National Monument in the area and having them earn a Junior Ranger badge. While we enjoy the outdoor experience, they are learning about the area.). I can’t count how many people say to me, “Wow, I wish I had your vacation budget.” The reality: we really don’t spend that much money and I respond back – give up soda or smoking and you’ll have it. I give up the small things for the things that make a much better lifestyle overall for myself and my children.

  • Tonya Travelstead

    Your post is an excellent one and very insightful.  I started using LoseIt about 3 weeks ago and have already noticed the change.  I have read the Bible several times using a daily reading Bible that breaks it down in days and I leave it OPEN in our living room to encourage everyone to do so.  I’ve gradually built up my Ebay store by listing 10+ items each week over several months and now have over 500 items.  I LOVE gradual change.

  • Flettestone

    Eat an Elephant? yes, one piece at a time. great post

  • http://twitter.com/synectics Kevin Pashuk

    Michael,

    Thank you for this latest post.  Wonderful examples of how great things can be accomplished if they are broken down into achievable segments.

    I can now drop the other metaphorical example I was (over)using to describe incremental change….

    How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time!

    And animal lovers everywhere will be delighted that we don’t need to use the “how to boil a frog” story.

  • Vpdlg

    Hi I am new to your daily emails just discovered your blog a couple of weeks ago. I enjoy it very much. I would love for your friend in example 2 to write about the details of her accomplishment. I know I could use tips in that area (beyond the don’t buy coffee daily). Thanks Gabby

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Just visit Dave Ramsey’s site or buy his book, The Total Money Makeover. It is full of practical testimonies and how-to.

      • vpdlg

        thank you kindly!

  • Damilola Okuneye

    The power of consistent small victories can never be over-emphasised!

  • http://www.sundijo.com Sundi Jo Graham

    Henry Cloud teaches this in “Nine Things You Simply Must Do.” It’s called act like an ant. They build a city overtime. 

    I did this with my weight loss. I refused to go on a diet and decided it was time to change my life. I lost 145 pounds and my lifestyle is still different. I lost it over time and I keep it off over time. 

    I think you have to change in your mind before you start to take the physical steps toward the change. 

  • Greg Gilbert

    Thanks Michael. This post has just been the funeral of “How do you eat an elephant?” and the birth of “How do you read a book?” One page at a time. This should be more relateable since I hang around more readers than elephant eaters.

  • http://OneStepForwardToday.com Bryan Patrick

    Michael,

    I love this post. Taking one step at a time has been my overall mantra for 2011. With this as my compass I’ve lost over 80 pounds (I also use LoseIt - http://onestepforwardtoday.com/2011/07/using-loseit-to-well-lose-it/)

    I have also competed and completed in a 5k (http://onestepforwardtoday.com/2011/08/5k-myths-busted/)

    Next up on my fitness goals are a 10k in November and a half marathon in April. Taking small steps and “doing the next right thing” as you’ve said before have helped me accomplish more than I could have imagined a year ago.

    Thanks for the encouragement today, Michael.

    - BP

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Thanks for sharing your examples, Bryan. Very inspiring.

  • Bwatson

    Thank you for this post today, Mike. Sometimes we all need to be reminded that we just have to take the time!

  • http://blog.cyberquill.com Cyberquill

    What small steps could you take today to move you toward a big outcome? 

    I could order some of these enlargement pills various companies keep emailing me about.

  • http://twitter.com/jamespinnick7 James Pinnick

    Reading the Bible is one the biggest challenges I face each day and week. There always seems to be something in the way of my reading. Instead of 15 minutes, I need to start out with a just a few minutes, even less then 5-7, just to get back in a consistent routine!

    I know many others have the same issue or don’t read at all. I’m trying to learn!

    James
    Author-The Last Seven Pages
    http://www.jamespinnick.com

    • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

      James, when I attended Catalyst this year, there was a great resource. It was called The Bible In 90 Days, http://www.biblein90days.org/ … Talking to the creator of it, all it takes is 12 pages a day and you can do it in that time frame. I hope and pray you’re able to accomplish that goal. It’s amazing the insights you’ll gain from it.

    • Rob Sorbo

      The thing that helped me the most with Bible reading is breaking away from the whole idea of doing my devotions first thing in the morning. I’m not really a morning person, so hitting the snooze button conquered my devotions. I now do my devotions at night–I’m more alert, my critical thinking and processing is still sharp, and I still have time no matter how late it gets.

  • http://chrisvonada.com chris vonada

    Great post Michael, focusing on the “baby steps” helps make any objective obtainable!

  • http://twitter.com/Dan_Foley_Jr Daniel J Foley Jr

    I’ve been applying similar methods to my life. I just started reading Tim Ferriss’ book “The 4 Hour Body”. In it he describes the “minimum effective dose” and explains it by stating something like  “212 degrees F is all that is needed to bring water to a boil, any more is a waste of resources that could be used more productively else where.” The point is that often times we incorrectly perceive obstacles or, as you say, feel that massive action is necessary in the short run. Furthermore, in reality a person could have done less and still achieved the desired results. 

    I really like your approach to writing a book. I will find a way I can apply this to my writing. Thanks! 

    Steady onward friends.

  • http://www.emergentguys.com Seth Millican

    This is a great post, Michael.  I think part of our problem is that culturally, we live in a society that demands immediacy.  We have microwave popcorn, instant movies, express bus service, express workouts, and speed dating.  My generation has been raised to believe that if the solution can’t be microwaved, it’s not truly solvent.  

    What we have to take time to remember is that a goal achieved through time, commitment, and effort will ultimately become far more valuable in the end – and long term.  

    Conventional wisdom suggests that after we do something consistently for three weeks, it becomes more habit than practice.  If we can map out a series of small steps and commit to doing them consistently for three weeks, then we’ll soon find that they become almost instinctive.  My wife have discovered this through our recent commitment to read and pray together at the end of every day.

  • http://highpointchurch.us Andrew VanDerLinden

    This is very practicle advice.  I am trying the 5 for 5 tonight.

  • http://golfwisdomlife.com Larry Galley

    Your logic is clear and “doable.”  I have two areas in which I can begin to apply this strategy immediately.  Thanks again for all your inputs.  Larry Galley

  • http://brandonweldy.wordpress.com Brandon Weldy

    I want to run a marathon. But I do realize I cannot get up one morning and just go run the 26.2 miles to finish. I started running just 2 miles everyday and after a week I slowly work my mileage up. 
    Another goal of mine is to build a sustainable youth ministry, one that would survive, even if I was to leave. I want to see parents involved, students inviting each other, volunteers taking over some bigger roles. But I cannot just spring this into action. I have started with having a weekly event that is a little more low key for newcomers, as well as a more intensive study time for those who desire to grow their faith. I am involving volunteers in small ways and will slowly  give out more responsibility. I talk with parents who come on Sunday morning and those who don’t get a letter. I will set up times to talk with the parents about their children and how we can work together to encourage their faith. That is the basic idea.

  • http://www.spencermcdonald.net Spencer McDonald

    Today I could invest 30 minutes in creating my “Slump Buster” seminar and set a small goal to do this over the next 5 days. At the end of that time I will have 150 minutes of energy directed at helping my dream come true.

  • http://twitter.com/1WeeSpark OneWeeSpark

    This was very inspirational…especially since I work for free, and I do something that I am unaware of anyone else doing. I’m a SAHM and I often find myself feeling as though my days aren’t productive enough. This encourages me to look at small increments and to press on. Thanks!

  • Rob Sorbo

    Great stuff Michael. 

    I will definitely check out some of the resources you mentioned, specifically Loseit and Jeff Galloway. I’ve been using the One Year Bible website this year, and it has made such a huge difference. This will be the first year in my life (I’m 27) that I read the Bible the whole way through.

    I recently competed in the alumni rugby game at my alma mater’s last homecoming. I intended on starting a fitness plan months ago, but got overwhelmed by all of the massive changes I would need to make to be fit enough to play rugby. The end result is that I didn’t really try and I was so unfit at the alumni game that I could barely play.

  • http://www.cathrynhasek.com Cathryn Hasek

    My bible study group has been working through Romans 12 via a bible study by Chip Ingram.  I have found myself so moved by the calling to be “all in” with Christ.  Chip Ingram does an amazing job of explaining that to be “all in” is a process.  You must study yourself and discover where you are needing a change, needing to give up an addiction or negative activity in your life, and then overcome it enough to give it to God.  

    I have been doing some serious self-evaluation and little by little, in small increments, I am overcoming some major obstacles that are blocking my path to be “all in” with Christ.  It is amazing what Christ can do in your life if you trust Him with the worldly things you “think” are what you need and in giving them up, allow Him to give you the Fatherly things that really work and bless you.

    I will eventually be “all in.”  It’s an attainable goal, but one that happens in small steps.

  • http://www.shoutsfromthewilderness.com Cody Kimmel

    Thanks so much for this post! There seems to be a fascination with instant success in this culturem, but it is a success that doesn’t last.

  • Prem

    Hello Micheal,
    Absoultely great points. Most people (me included) wait to do something ‘big’ in order for ourselves to recognize it as being significant. When i was a kid, i was taught to respect and learn from the work ethics of ants..building an empire of colony from small incremental but consistent effort. This, i believe most people who also be aware of. However, as we grow up, we lose sight of this important lesson.
    I really enjoyed this post. Thanks!
    Prem – Malaysia

  • http://www.charlesspecht.com Charles Specht

    Michael, this is the best article I have read on your blog yet…and there have been some really good ones.  Thank you!

  • http://www.betterhealthtoday.co Kay Wilson

    Michael, great post for me, I am definitely sharing it!  I am in Wellness Industry and I also have free website,  http://www.ichange.com/group/kays-nutrition-group  that anyone can join. Free to track their calories, carbs, protein and exercise.  Stats show journalling their progress is most successful to lose those extra pounds and maintain the loss forever.

  • http://www.patrickruggeri.com Patrick Ruggeri

    Great post Michael!  As a ‘big goal, big dream’ person, it is so refreshing to be reminded “What these people don’t realize is that they could make small, daily investments that would soon lead to big results.”

    In my own life, I have been trying to take small steps in nearly every area.  In taking smaller steps, I have learned to make every one more intentional.  A smaller more intentional step is more effective than larger more generic steps.  This concept/principle helps me believe that I have accomplished something, pushes me forward and encourages me to keep the ultimate goal in mind. 

    I too have had several victories this year by losing 42 pounds, developing and living on a budget and revitalizing my professional work ethic and creativity.

    Thank you again for your refreshing post and God Bless!

  • http://twitter.com/terrymorgan11 Terry Morgan

    Excellent encouragement! Thanks for continuing to motivate us. I too lost weight this last year with loseit.com – 20 pounds – and never really felt like I was missing out.  Also increased my running.  Last year – 50 – had run 1 mile as a goal.  This year, I want to do 10 – and I should make it. Small daily discipline makes all the difference!

  • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

    In one of your recent posts (by a guest writer, I believe), someone suggested instead of carving out 2 hours on a Saturday to write to pare that down to 30 minutes daily. That creates a daily habit rather than a weekend hobby. I use the stove-top timer to help divide up my day into writing, reading, and learning chunks.

    By the way, you offered seven exceptional and crystal clear examples. I lost over 20 pounds thanks to your recommendation of LoseIt last winter. Along with losing weight, I think it also improved my outside jump shot on the basketball court.

  • http://bethmckamy.tumblr.com BethMcKamy

    Great post Michael, but I find that if I break down things into small steps or time increments that I end up not following through. It still takes much discipline and I find I can handle for maybe a week, but then I forget or find other things I need to do. It’s almost as if I need to do it all in one day and be able to see the finished product. Unfortunately, nothing I need to do can be done in one day!

    Thanks always for your great post!

  • http://joshuamhood.com Josh Hood

    I’ve been thinking about this principle a lot lately, and believe it is far more powerful than any of us realize. I even wrote about it recently. (“How Great Things Happen” http://joshuamhood.com/how-great-things-happen/) 

    Greatness is a process.

    Results are generated by activities. Manage your activities and the results you want will occur. 

  • Kay Day

    This is great! 
    Being a right-brained global thinker I always see the Whole Big Thing and it doesn’t come naturally for me to see the parts. I have to be intentional about breaking things into smaller, manageable steps. I’m still figuring this out and need all the reminders I can get!

  • http://angieward.wordpress.com Angie Ward

    This was a great reminder to get back to the little things that make a difference over time. For me, blogging each day has become a great daily discipline to improve as a writer and to clarify my thoughts, my purpose and my platform. 

    I am curious, do you still use the Galloway method when you run? I finished a half marathon using 5/1 run/walk intervals last February but for now use it only for my longer runs.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Yes, I still use it.

  • Anonymous

    Excellent post! I lost 24 lbs in 3 months because I did exactly what you mentioned. I logged everything I ate and became conscious about the incremental changes.   Love the 5×5 idea too!

    • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

      Jason, the 5X5 idea is great. Now that Michael shared it with us, I’m thinking of implementing it.

  • Melindatoad

    Fantastic advice! I love the examples you give. Baby steps add up. I wonder why we as humans are so quick to try to do it all at once or not at all and then beat ourselves up when we fail. I have also lost 11 pounds in a few months because I was watching my portions and intake but also working my tail off at our new home.

  • http://www.jeffrandleman.com Jeff Randleman

    Great input!  My big ones are already outlined in your post:  weight loss/healthy eating/exercise, and writing.

    Measurable, sustainable progress over time is great.  But it also requires discipline.  That’s the hardest part for me.  Knoing that I shouldn’t have a Snickers is one thing.  Actually doing it is another thing totally. 

    Thanks for the great advice!

  • http://www.kennishahill.com Kennisha Hill

    This was great for me, Michael, because I know I’m guilty of feeling the urge to do big things quickly instead of small gradual steps. For example, I wanted to maintain a healthy diet after I struggled with post partum high blood pressure. But, instead of making small changes first, I was ready to do big drastic changes– that I never really stuck with anyway. Once I realized I needed to slow down, examine my diet and make small adjustments, it worked out better for me and my family. It was a huge lesson I’ve learned over the years. 

    This is definitely one I can use for writing as well! Thanks for sharing!!! 

  • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

    Thanks to your blog, I’ve implemented some of the small changes and have seen a huge change. I joined loseit.com and have lost 44 pounds in the last 7 months. Using LoseIt, I’ve also increased my physical activity gradually. In fact, I’m days away from running in my first official 5K.

    As for reading your Bible, I seen a great tool at Catalyst. It’s setup to read the Bible in just 90 days. The creator of the program happened to be an atheist/agnostic who wanted to read the Bible. He had friends who told him he couldn’t do it in 90 days and he decided that he would. He found out it only required reading 12 pages a day. It’s something that changed his life and he is now a believer.

    We’ve also started to pay down our house loan. This is one that will take some time but pay off in the long run. We’re throwing a few extra dollars a month at it and we’re excited to see the results.

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  • http://specializingintheimpossible.wordpress.com/ Laura Johnson

    Fantastic read! One of the ways my brain works is automatically being able to see the value in the little things because of the payoff in the end.
    Do you mind if I reference this post in my next post?
    Thanks for sharing!! :)

  • http://ericspeir.com/ Eric

    This was some great advice. Many of these I can implement in my life. I’m looking for more ways to write and you’ve offered some great advice on doing it incrementally. This definitely offers some good ways to start somewhere. The biggest obstacle to success is starting!

  • Jennifer Scoggins

    So, so, so, so true!  I needed this reminder today – thanks!

  • http://talesofwork.com kimanzi constable

    Awesome post Michael. Last year I lost 132 pounds but I did it in a “radically” way as you said. I would only eat one meal a day and do four hours of cardio a day. Yes I did lose the weight but I was always cranky and tired, and since I didn’t learn from the process I gained it all back. Now I’m on a journey to lose the weight gradually with the right amount of excersie. This time I my wife will be able to tolerate me (lol). A great blog that deals with everything that your talking about is http://zenhabits.net/. Learning a lot from there as well.

  • http://www.gailsangle.com Gail

    One of my favourite blogs is http://www.365lessthings.com/ because it’s all about decluttering her house at the rate of 1 thing per day. Her followers are her “accountability partners.”

    I recently discovered that I have no Execution Strengths and while my Activator Strength makes me brilliant at getting things started, I’m not so good at finishing things. That’s why I like 365lessthings. It inspires me to keep doing those 1 things in my life to that will lead me to reaching my own goals.

  • http://www.rondowning.com Ron Downing

    Michael, this post could not have been more timely for me. Thank you.

  • H. Renee

    This is absolutely true, and it resonates with me.  I’ve lost 70lbs in the last year due to slow changes I’ve made in my diet to weed out wheat, something I have a terrible allergy to.

    I’ve also written a novel in the last year, some chunks done rapidly during NaNoWriMo and the rest in slow, steady increments, even on days that I’m convinced I hate writing.

    Part of succeeding is NOT punishing yourself for days you slip up!  If I miss a day or make a mistake, I shrug and keep trying.  I don’t have to be perfect all the time… just perfect enough of the time!  Punishing myself just makes the effort a negative experience which makes me more likely to quit.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I love your last paragraph. I agree. Congratulations on the changes you’ve made!

  • Anonymous

    This is such an important thing to remember. A great book that really nailed this topic down for me was “The Slight Edge.” I also believe it’s a great way to see long term results. Great post! 

  • Julianna Wu

    Hi Michael, thanks for the post!
    I agree with your suggestion of making changes incrementally. I find when it comes to things that I THINK will take a long time, I end up not bother with them at all. 

  • Mark Butler

    I heard Jim Collins speak at Catalyst last week on the “Power of Incremental Change Over Time.” His “20 mile march” concept is extremely powerful.

    A great tool for setting and tracking incremental goals can be found at http://www.irunurun.com – the world’s first “greatness app.” I’ve used irunurun for over a year now and it helps me prioritize actions over intentions.

    • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

      Mark, I agree. Jim’s speech regarding the 20 mile march was very inspiring. My wife and I were stunned to hear how setting that type of goal saved the lives of the men on that march and how the other group perished because they had no set distance goal. It really drives home the fact that the ones who are steady and consistent normally come out okay in the end.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I didn’t hear Jim’s speech, but I’ll try to get a copy.

      I agree: IRUNURUN is a terrific app.

  • http://www.bigb94.wordpress.com Brandon

    Awesome! This is so true!

  • Liz

    What a great post!  I forwarded this (I get it in email form) to about 40 people that I know who would really appreciate it.  I got back 7 heartfelt responses about how much they agree, appreciate, and are encouraged to remember this.

    Thanks for these thoughts!!!

  • http://uma-maheswaran.blogspot.com/ Uma Maheswaran S

    I have experienced greater change while running Long Distances and reading the Bible.

  • http://www.OurStoriesGodsGlory.blogspot.com Elise Daly Parker

    Just love this…so encouraging!

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  • http://www.irunurun.com Travis Dommert

    So so true.  So how do you stick with incremental change?

    1. Align DO goals with BE goals  (power your goal with purpose!)
    2. Prioritize your incremental actions (no excuses, keep taking baby steps)
    3. Balance stress w/ recovery (remember faith, family, fitness, and fun!)
    4. Set up a routine that is appropriate to where you are (small wins)
    5. Periodically change things up (at least every 90-180 days)
    6. Recruit some help: a coach, accountability partners, and fans

    Another great Collin’s quote from Catalyst: “The signature of mediocrity is chronic inconsistency.”

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Love the Collins quote!

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  • http://www.foresthost.com/ Pitch Arunsuwannakorn

    Amazing…

  • Patrick Braswell

    Michael, great points!  I use a simple tool to track my changes.   It’s called irunurun – http://www.irunurun.com.  It tracks my daily activity from work to personal things, and keeps me accountable by allowing my co-workers to see my progress.

  • http://darensirboughblog.wordpress.com Daren Sirbough

    In terms of songwriting. Beginning to write and then edit phrases and music perhaps for 5-10 minutes a day. There are many small projects that I can begin and I believe once momentum takes over, it will be easier.

  • Cyndi Culpepper

    Excellent post, Michael. I’ve always been really good at making goals but struggled with implementing them. When faced with a particularly overwhelming task, I can usually find dozens of perfectly justifiable reasons why I can’t complete it. Obviously, this type of thinking was seriously impeding my progress! I ultimately realized that I had to focus more on the process than the result. When tackling something as large (pun intended) as losing over 100 pounds, I had to constantly remind myself that I didn’t put all that weight on in one month so it’s certainly not going to come off that quickly. I rewarded myself regularly — not for my results but for my faithfulness. I got up, I worked out, I ate consciously, and then I did it again the next day. I saw results most of the time, but on the days/weeks that I didn’t, I focused on how what I was doing was making me a stronger, better person.

    Twenty months, 120 pounds, and 8 sizes later, I can say without reservation that it was totally worth it. In less than 2 years I have completely changed my life. That one change encouraged me to pursue other dreams I’ve harbored but have been too intimidated to reach for. I went back to college, found a new career, started writing again, and now reside in a city I’ve always dreamed of living in.

    Change is hard. It forces us to constantly examine our choices and our values. But a life without change closes us off to all the opportunities the universe has to offer. Anyone who knows me knows –  I don’t want to miss a thing. :)

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I am so proud of you, Cyndi. Really awesome story! Thanks. (Please greet Martin for me.)

  • Canderson

    I completely agree with these statements. The marketing team I’m on, we always talk about taking the smallest possible first step. And I think the danger for people and organizations is getting stuck in a mindset of incrementalism and completely missing some of the more disruptive changes in society, technology, etc. Neat video here, talks about it at 1:08. But, as you said, many fail in attempts at major change. I would take incremental improvement over none at all.

    Leading The World’s Largest Company

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  • http://barrypearman.blogspot.com/ Barry Pearman

    Millimetre ministry. 

    I have a calling to provide pastoral support for people with Major Mental Illness. 

    In training others I point to the fact that this is Millimetre Ministry. Things aren’t going to change over night, but little by little, peoples lives change, and they do. 
    When we change our expectations to ones that are realistic for all involved it takes the pressure off. It creates freedom for change to happen that is appropriate for the person. People come and want to change the world, but first we need to change ourselves, drop the big expectations and aim for incremental millimetre ministry. 

    Interesting that God also works incrementally.

    The Lord your God will drive out those nations before you, little by little. You will not be allowed to eliminate them all at once, or the wild animals will multiply around you. Deut. 7:22

    thanks for the post Michael, good stuff!

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  • Anonymous

    Great post!  It expresses well the biblical teaching about being faithful in the little things.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/brian.benkle Brian Benkle

    The ultimate example is Sisyphus.

  • http://twitter.com/lautsbaugh Lautsbaugh

    YES! I have this type of conversation with young leaders in Youth With A Mission often. They want the supernatural part of God without the journey part. They expect a ministry or church to drop out of the sky.

     I love the “little by little” passages in the Bible (Deut. 7:22 & Proverbs 13:11) pertaining to Josua taking the land and wisdom to acquire wealth. In our instant society, we miss out on the “God of the process.” 

  • http://profiles.google.com/fridaydreamer Shaunie Friday

    Michael,
    This is excellent!  I love the varied examples you shared that gave such vivid faces to your insights.  I recently wrote about some of my own incremental changes and being able to look back and see how those little moves add up to big movement.  http://upthesunbeam.blogspot.com/2011/09/power-of-changed-want-to.html
    The trick is the consistency–once you make that small move you have to keep at it, demonstrating  persistence and  endurance.  Thank you!

  • http://bit.ly/qJStJt Spencer McDonald

    You know…

    After reading your post I thought, “Yep, that’s me.” I have created master plans for change in my life. These plans were detailed and well thought out. I would take one step on the plan and think, “Wow, this is hard. May I better rest.” And I would never get up again and move forward on my master plan for life.

    What I realized was that there were too many steps. I set myself up for failure from the beginning. Here is an example of how it works for me and possibly others. You go the gym to lose weight, so you hire a personal trainer. You had such great intentions and after the first work out with your personal trainer you quit because he or she tried to kill you. What you really needed was to simply go to the gym and begin by using and getting used to the exercise equipment prior to diving into full on personal training. It is the theory of “go slower to go faster.”

    Small steps work better for me. And these small steps need to be link to together today in and day out to be effective. That is the discipline part of change that matters most. 

    So, I say “See the vision and move methodically toward it everyday.” Soon you will have accomplished anything you set your mind to achieving. 

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Great example, Spencer. You are exactly right: “go slower to go faster.” It works!

  • http://www.in-ruins.com Craig

    My father-in-law refers to this a “hitting singles, not home runs.” The idea is to just hit a single each time and eventually you will work your way around the bases and score. This idea shows up over and over both in business and personally.

    Thanks for the post. I just discovered the site and am looking forward to reading the posts.

  • Constance A. Buckley

    I find myself staying up too late, which affects my physical and mental state the next day. Too many late nights in a row exacerbate the problems. Since time slips away from me, I will make a conscious effort to watch the clock and start the night time routine one hour earlier than my normal time.

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  • Katherine

    How inspiring this is. Being a runner for 20 years and an 11 time marathoner, one might think it would be easier to make a plan and stick to it. I am realizing I am accustomed to my running coach telling me what to do, and then doing it. This shows tenacity and endurance, but does not take much initiative or self-motivation.

    As of today, I aspire to pen my thoughts regularly — on life, spirituality, fitness and whatever else is in between, big or small.

    Thank you.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/louise.thaxton Louise Thaxton

    Heard this same message from Darren Hardy when he spoke in Palm Desert a couple of weeks ago – from his book “The Compound Effect”!  I guess God is trying to TELL ME SOMETHING….!!!

    The “small step” I am going to take is to write every day – so I can finish “the” book – the one I have been working on for 58 years.  Well, maybe not 58 years, but a long time.  Too long. 

    So…..I love your idea of writing your book through your blog – so, I will copy you!  Thanks for the advice!   

  • http://joeandancy.com/ Joe Abraham

    Great post, Michael! Thanks for writing it!

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  • http://twitter.com/JeremySCook Jeremy Cook

    As a Christian, I’ve read and studied a good portion of the Bible, but have never read the whole thing.  Maybe setting smaller goals for it is the way to accomplish this.  Also, I think you’re right on as far as losing weight goes.  Besides never starting, I think people are bound to “relapse.”  Thanks for your thoughts!

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  • @BFichterWrites

    I just found your blog, and I’m grateful for what you’re sharing. I also appreciate the fact that you aren’t afraid to share your faith as well. I’m writing my first book on my experience with Tourette’s, and have just recently (as in, within the last two months) begun delving into the social media world as an author. I’m soaking up all the advice on getting followers and building online media relationships I can get!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Awesome. Welcome, Brittany. Glad to have you aboard.

  • http://ijeremymorris.com/ Jeremy Morris

    Do you have any previous posts that go into more detail about how and why it might make sense to write your book, broken down into 100 blog posts? Do you actually write your book content in blog posts, and then turn around and still make sales on the book? Or was that just helping shape the perspective of writing an incremental 500 word milestone on your way to the completed 50,000 word book?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      I have done it both ways. Yes, you can sell the book even if the content was previously available on your blog. People will pay for the convenience of having it all in one place and arranged in a more logical order. This is essentially what I did with my Platform book.

      • http://www.thehomemadecreative.com/ Alena Belleque

        That is really good to know!