A big step forward or few and smaller ones over time… Which is better?
What does it take to turn your dreams true? Some would rather see it happen in one decisive breakthrough. Others view it more like a long trip down the road of gradually getting closer and closer to the destination. Today we will look at the pluses and minuses of both approaches. And then, perhaps, you can draw some conclusions on your own.
So, a remarkable and immediate success or the longer but safer trip?
This question always takes Ivan back to his college years.
How much you can handle?
In the very first class of building statics, the professor offered a piece of advice. It is about 150lbs of salt that a human being is expected to take in during a typical life span. But if anyone attempts to consume the same quantity in one go it will be lethal.
The moral for the students was to work diligently and on a regular basis throughout the semester. The amount of information they have to take in won’t be crammed easily into their heads in few days just before the finals.
A lesson for life
This revelation stayed with Ivan throughout the college years and beyond. If you try to do everything at once it may be too much while making consistent moves forward is much more productive.
This is as simple and intuitive as true. And yet, there are always those who approach a task as if they are claiming, “I can eat 150 pounds of salt right now.”
What’s the rationale here?
We’ve analyzed what motivates people to act in that specific manner and came up with 4 distinct levels to cover the whole spectrum of behavior.
We don’t claim to know which one is right and which is wrong. We simply want to make it easier for you to find out what you are doing well and how to improve in that respect.
Level # 1
“A dream requires a great deal of effort and dedication. Smaller steps won’t do. Only giant leaps forward will. If I manage to do that it will set me for life and I won’t have to resort to the long road of incremental progress.”
This is close to the heart for those who would love to jump into a new and exciting project. Often times it is their career, finances or something they feel very strong about, i.e. a mission of theirs, for example.
Quick and easy
It is normal to want things to happen for us right away. We don’t want to wait and we require results without any delay. Pronouncements like “It’s the road and not the destination” sound to us a little bit of a cliché.
That’s why many people are willing to invest as much effort assuming there is a correlation between the amount of their work and the timetable of success.
The problem is that by investing so much in one area they equally divest from many others.
All or nothing
To completely dedicate yourself to a single thing means to put aside everything else. Which affects how you eat, rest as well as your friends and family. All of these have the important function to recharge you with energy and motivation. Once you cut off that source of strength you will soon find yourself in trouble.
Playing with fire
It doesn’t take long and after just a couple of weeks exhaustion will kick in. You will be forced to stop and won’t be able to continue for a while. Not before you recover, at least to some degree.
There is another option – not to give up and keep going. These are the people afflicted by the ills of the so-called overachiever’s syndrome.
They don’t easily give up and keep soldiering on while their productivity long has hit rock bottom.
We are all familiar with the type. And sometimes it was we who’ve done that. So, we know what comes next – giving up on the particular objective and worse, on goal-setting as well.
We have to ask ourselves:
What drives this behavior?
Perhaps it is the emotional miscalculation that after our “heroic” accomplishment we can go on a deserved vacation that will last for the rest of our lives.
But give it another thought!
Having a Pina Colada on a beach somewhere beautiful can be daydreaming for someone who has been working too hard for too long. But anyone who tried to do this for longer than a couple of weeks can tell you how illusionary this is.
Boredom comes to visit and one begins to feel the need for purpose and meaning that only real life can provide.
Level # 2
“Smaller steps are easier, but they require persistence and focus. There are cases, however, I’d rather devote myself 100% to a single idea leaving everything else aside.”
This is very similar to the first level. The difference is in the realization that lesser but steady progress is way more effective. Still, there is one misconception in that line of thinking.
What do you need to succeed?
These are the people who think they can do their utmost for only a certain period of time. They can achieve considerable but temporary success. Ultimately, they don’t see themselves to be cut out for making this a permanent part of their life. It is too much work and trouble.
The truth is that we can’t know in advance what would take to complete a task.
The uncertainty of how things might unfold could be quite worrisome to us. Let’s not forget that no one has the crystal ball to peek into the future. Therefore a grand dream might turn out to be closer and easier than it seemed.
There is something even more intriguing to be looked at here.
Isn’t it true that when you roll up your sleeves and work hard for a couple of weeks you will get many things done?
Sure it is but not quite and not always. Under some circumstances, you have to go into overdrive when there is an emergency and a project deadline looms. The point is that this is an exception and can’t be the rule. Otherwise, there will be all kind of negative consequences.
Next time you decide to put in danger your health and relationships by becoming a workaholic, ask yourself:
If your goal is really that important then it should be part of your long-term vision.
And in that case, there is no need to rush.
You have all your life to move forward with the help of the 90-day goals. It may not be very exciting at first, but it will foot the bill. In the course of one year, you will have 4 significant achievements. And in ten years it will be a total of 40 separate wins. Very few people can claim anything close to that.
The accumulative effect
Think of your target in the long run and keep in mind that anything of value takes time.
Brushing your teeth all day long won’t spare you a visit to the dentist if you forgo your oral hygiene for the rest of the week.
So is the story with any goal for improvement. It takes self-restraint as well as seeing the obvious – uninterrupted series of smaller efforts brings in bigger and lasting results.
Of course, you can always try to expand your capacity in terms of “sweat and blood”. But you shouldn’t make a habit out of it!
Level # 3
“I am convinced that I can do more with smaller but measured steps forward. Major advances are not to be expected overnight. They are to be built upon with consistency and over time.”
It’s better to look at it as a marathon, not a sprint.
How far can you run?
The one who bolts out of the starting blocks will quickly take the lead from those who enter the race with a slower but steadier pace. But it is also true that it is impossible to stay ahead for too long.
Our physical endurance is genetically encoded in us. So, we’d better use it and apply it in goal-setting as well.
What’s the catch?
Once you get your 90-day goals reflect your long-term vision and you complete the weekly steps you will become a member of the Winner’s Club.
It’s quite possible you will be tempted to work only on smaller objectives which are well within your comfort zone. No doubt, the results will be similarly unimpressive.
For example, exercising only once a week won’t get you in shape.
If you don’t pace yourself you can drop off the race altogether
One potential danger here is your overconfidence. Being too ambitious and trying to get it all done ASAP at the limit of your ability means basically that you are actually operating at the previous level.
Another mistake is to try cheating the system by attempting more than one weekly step. Building the habit for better sleep and diet at the same time is illustrated best by the proverb about “serving two masters”.
There is a solution, though.
Count on the help of the others
It’s best if you’ve already found your Goal Buddy. You can not only discuss the weekly steps but this person can also point to you that the task is too easy.
Only when you have a realistic understanding of how much you can do the next level comes within your reach.
Level # 4
“Success is built with regularity and persistence over a long period of time. The accumulative effect of many consistent steps is what makes dreams possible. There will be some occasions when I will have to make bigger strides. But I intend to focus short-term.”
At this point, very few things can surprise you or push you off track. You are fully prepared for whatever life can challenge you with. You will know what to do. It’s okay for you to go in overdrive occasionally but most of the time you are wise enough to run at more even pace.
“To ride the Mo”
This means that once you’ve started you never stop and thus take full advantage of the already acquired rate of advancement.
The “wheel of life” has a momentum which increases with each small step of yours.
Otherwise, you have to start from the very beginning each time you take a break.
Measuring how far you got
Making only incremental advancement requires a good estimate of it. By nature, it is very difficult to know for sure if you are making any progress at all.
Writing down your goals is the best way to keep track. And not only for the purpose of historical record but also to shore up your confidence. Another role of the written record is when you do the quarterly reviews. It’s the time when you make an assessment and change your strategy accordingly.
Enjoying the trip
The best thing here is that you know that your life can be one uninterrupted sequence of achievements.
You will have the attitude to patiently change things for the better. You will be advancing in a manner that’s reasonable and yet effective. And when it is needed you can do the “sprint” too. You will have a balanced life which allows you to successfully turn your dreams into reality.
What would be better than that?