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 ©, Image #14720530

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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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  • Anonymous

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

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  • Brian Benkle

    The ultimate example is Sisyphus.

  • 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.” 

  • Shaunie Friday

    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.
    The trick is the consistency–once you make that small move you have to keep at it, demonstrating  persistence and  endurance.  Thank you!

  • 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. 

    • Michael Hyatt

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

  • 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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  • 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!   

  • Joe Abraham

    Great post, Michael! Thanks for writing it!

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  • 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!

    • Michael Hyatt

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