James Lawrence completed 50 Ironmans in 50 days in 50 states. It is an impossible bar set for anyone to achieve(An Ironman is 3.86 km swim, 180.25 km bicycle ride and 42.20 km run, raced in that order without a break). For the first three days, he was traveling from one state to the other on the flight. By 4th day he only had 6.5 hours of sleep altogether. He was stressed and sleep deprived by the 4th day itself. He got overwhelmed when he thought about the next 47 Ironmans yet to complete. But he took it one step at a time and focused only on the next step to do to achieve the bigger goal.
When trying to achieve big goals, you need momentum and initial momentum is usually small. Google Books started with Larry Page scanning a handful of pages himself. Amazon started selling books at the start. Jeff Bezos too had the vision to make Amazon as ‘The Everything Store. He used to pack those books for deliveries.
Dale Carnegie’s book ‘How to win friends and Influence people’ got published in 1936. Till date, it sold over 15 million copies. It may be still in circulation even after 2036(100 years from 1st edition). He once gave a short lecture about human relationships which turned into a checklist. After a few sessions, it turned into few pages and then into a small booklet until it turned into a whole book.
Taking small steps helps you get the momentum in everything you want to achieve big. Mother Teresa said, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one. “
Leonardo da Vinci did not become great overnight. He was good in sculpturing, painting, hydraulics, designing war machines, birds, anatomy. Many of them did not work but few which did became great. He followed his curiosity and started every new skill one step at a time. He became great by putting in hours from his childhood until his death, almost every day.
James Clear beautifully wrote in his blog – “Rome wasn’t built in a day, but they were laying bricks every hour.”
For achieving bigger goals, you need to break them down into smaller goals. Here are a few points on why smaller steps will help you achieve big.
Sets low bar
Great things are achieved by making them a habit. Habits need a specific time and place to execute plus it needs consistency. The best way to do it is to have a very low entry barrier. So low that you can’t even complain about not having time to do it (unless you are in a coma). Acting small is a low entry and helps you be consistent.
If you want to be a better writer, have your target to write only one sentence every day. If you want to get fit, keep your target to show up at the gym every day, or one push up. Nothing more. The point here is to make you think of a place and time to do it every day so it becomes a habit.
Once the habit kicks in, your mind won’t settle at one sentence or one push up. You want to give it more You will write a paragraph, then a page and a lengthy article. Maybe a book in the future. To become fit, your one push up will become five, then ten and after few weeks you may be doing a 45 min exercises every day. Don’t have guilt to write only one sentence or one push up. Many people don’t even do this but you do now.
Many great companies spun off as side projects. Khan Academy, Twitter, Box.net, they all have two things in common. 1) They all started as side projects 2) They have millions of people using their products.
Paul Graham says – “Don’t even try to build startups. That’s premature optimization. Just build things that seem interesting. The average undergraduate hacker is more likely to discover good startup ideas that way than by making a conscious effort to work on projects that are supposed to be startups.”
The founders of Box.net were experimenting with projects one after the other. They shut down many projects before box.net because they found little or no audience. When you start something grand from the start, you will have pressure to push growth. You will spend less time innovating because you don’t want to fail in the start and you don’t want to fail in the growth stage. Innovation needs experimentation and failures. Seeing them as side projects(read as acting small) will help you take off the performance pressure and work on what works.
Tim Ferris has 5 routines he could do every morning and he does at least 3 of them to count his morning as accomplished.
According to a Harvard Business Review article – Small wins in meaningful work will motivate you to do more while negative set back can demotivate you. They surveyed 238 people with 12000 diary entries about how they described their day. One programmer told his day was great because he was able to fix a bug that was bothering him from a calendar week. It’s a small win but he is very motivated about his day and achievement.
In Video games your entry levels are so simple(remember Mario?) that you hardly will take any time to get till 3rd stage. Once you get a hang of winning, you are hooked until you finish even the difficult levels. Acting small helps you to have small wins that will motivate your mind to do more.
More Time for Feedback
Andy Weir is a software programmer by day and writer in the night. He started his website in 2000 and by 2009 he has 3000 people in his mailing list. He would write science fiction and post a chapter on his website every two months. Every time he posts, he got his story fact-checked by 3000 people along with feedback on his story. After completing his series of writings on his website, he released it into a book on kindle. It became a bestseller there and then attracted tradition book publishers. Soon it got adopted as a movie starred by Matt Damon. The movie name is Martian which made $630.2 million dollars worldwide.
When you divide your work into small parts, you get the opportunity to take feedback and quickly fix it. Over time, your work will compound its quality reflecting on overall great results. Imagine Andy Weir writing the whole book and asking for feedback? A minor chunk of the audience would have given notice. Even when a few people do, the feedback would be diluted.
The same can be applied to your work. Small and consistent feedback will help you improve your skill every day. You can apply it to your writing, workout routine, startup, new product or any skill you want to build on.
Getting over analysis paralysis
Karnak is a character in Inhumans marvel series on Amazon Prime by Marvel. He has the ability to see every flaw and see how it would affect him in the future.
In one scene he sits in a room and he keeps looking at the chessboard without playing. He is analyzing all the moves in the game and looking where things can go wrong. His brother comes and says – If you keep analyzing what will go wrong, you will never start playing the game( I am writing this from my memory, I don’t have an Amazon Prime account now).
Groundwork is fine, research is good but you should start at a certain point too early. Steven Pressfield in War of Art book writes about getting started. He suggests, if you want to write a book start writing after reading only 3 books and that is all. He suggests to read more at a later point of time but the important thing is to get started. Small steps will help you get started and avoid analysis paralysis (and even procrastination in some cases)