When I was a young rigger, I once built a set of new lifelines for a well-known Boston area developer I’ll call “Dave.” After finishing the job, I asked him how he dealt with the slow pace of his own enormous projects. His answer has stuck with me for thirty years: “Every day, I try to do something small that takes me toward the big goal.”
That approach is now so ingrained in my daily life that I rarely think much about it, but this morning it occurs to me that unsexy plodding toward incremental improvement is a common thread through everything I do. So here are three examples to show how small but steady progress can add up to long-term growth—in pretty much any aspect of life.
Finishing a novel might take even longer than it took “Dave” to acquire permits for his largest project. The only way to complete something so daunting is to write a few words today, a few more words tomorrow, and a few more words the day after that. Eventually, I’ll complete a rough draft.
Over the years, I’ve discovered that I don’t need to do BIG workouts to stay fit; all I need is to do something, even if it doesn’t feel like much, five or six days each week. Focused movement that I enjoy (yoga ashore or afloat, wingfoiling, walking) has done way more for my long-term health and wellness than the weightlifting sessions I used to do in the gym—even though those always felt so significantly exhausting in the short term.
“When you think of someone, you should tell them,” a friend told me recently (after reaching out unexpectedly). Yes, handwritten notes are far more memorable, but even a quick email can raise someone’s spirits when they most need it. Because You Never Know.
None of this is terribly deep, which just reinforces my theory; things that look “big” are usually the culmination of multiple “small” decisions and gestures. Just as Dave the developer’s steady progress thirty years ago still transforms the Boston skyline, my own daily habits are the only way to create something more significant than a new set of lifelines.
Got a big goal that seems unbelievably daunting? Share it in the comments below, or email me—especially if you’re struggling with how to break it down into smaller parts. Maybe this community can help! And now, if you’ll excuse me; I need to go accomplish something small.