All or Nothing?

“You don’t understand, I want to run a marathon in a month…” said one of Shawn Achor‘s clients.  

This week we are looking at some of the key lessons to be learned from Shawn’s book The Happiness Advantage. We’ve probably walked (or in this case, run) in those shoes. We decide on a big goal and we want to achieve it now.  Right now. 

How’s that working out for us?

An all-or-nothing mindset often leads to failure. Instead, by focusing our efforts on small, manageable goals, we gain a feeling of control so crucial to high performance. By initially limiting the scope of our efforts, then watching these efforts work, we gain confidence to expand our efforts.

This idea is fundamental to Kaizan, the strategy Toyota uses to improve operational efficiency: each tiny fix adds up to over a million tiny fixes a year.  

In the 1990s, New York City reduced crime dramatically. Did they do it by hiring thousands of new police officers?  No.  Instead, they started by cleaning up subway graffiti, an example of the “Broken Windows” policing strategy where communities focus on the small things. As Shawn tells us, small successes can lead to major achievements.

We can use this approach in our lives as well.  When we feel overwhelmed, we can focus on small, micro-actions.  This allows us to build our confidence and motivates us to move forward in a positive direction.

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Reflection: When in the past have I used small actions over time to achieve a major goal?

Action: Consider a big project I’ve been putting off. Take a small step forward today.

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