Small steps can change your life

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In our last blog we talked about the ‘Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,’ and how this principle-centred, timeless, universal and self-evident approach can affect every aspect of your life and make you so much more effective, and of course successful.

The reason we talked about the seven habits was because we asked ourselves the question:

‘What actions can we actually take in order to be more successful?’

That question came out of an earlier blog about ‘The Essence of Success’ by Albert Grey, who stated, in simple terms that:

‘Successful people are successful because they will do the things that unsuccessful people don’t like doing. They don’t necessarily like doing them themselves either. It is that their strength of purpose gives them the motivation to create the habit to do these things anyway.’:

Ie, successful people create habits of taking the right actions to give them successful outcomes, whether these actions are easy or difficult, (and of course, in many situations they are often the more difficult choice) whereas normal people take the actions that they like and put up with whatever measure of success they can achieve as a by-product – which of course, on average, will tend to be not very much.

So we put those together and decided that the successful actions that we can take should be based on research and principles of success as outlined in ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

But again, it leaves us with the problem of ‘Yes, that’s nice and easy to say, but how do we actually do it?’

The answer to that, I believe, is small steps.

In particular, I have studied a piece of work called ‘One Small Step can Change your Life – The Kaizen Way,’ by Robert Maurer. I’ll give you a very brief overview of what he says in that book, and then how we can use the ideas in it to actually take the steps to make ourselves more successful on a daily basis.

The purpose of this is to give you some ideas and to give you some confidence to enable you to take effective steps every day, and to start your journey of higher effectiveness, higher success.

Of course, you may recognise the idea of ‘One Small Step’ is also the same as the third principle of slow selling: ‘Go the Extra Inch.’

The whole idea behind the ‘Go the Extra Inch’ principle comes from the research activities, tools and results that have been so eloquently outlined in this book by Robert Maurer – ‘One Small Step can Change Your Life.’

So here we are, a little bit more information and the background behind the thinking behind ‘Go the ‘Extra Inch and Small Steps Changing your Life.’

The essential idea in this book is that in setting a large goal we often face inner resistance and overwhelm, and we quit or even fail to start. Whereas if we use the small step approach to accomplish great things, we can use very small steps continually that will help us achieve much larger goals without resistance, without overwhelm, and without wanting to quit or even failing to start.

There are six strategies that Robert Maurer outlines in his book.

  • No 1 – Ask small questions to remove fear and inspire creativity.
  • No 2 – Think small thoughts to develop new habits, (without even moving a muscle!)
  • No 3 – Take small actions towards larger goals so that you cannot fail to start or continue.
  • No 4 – Solve small problems even in the midst of an overwhelming crisis.
  • No 5 – Grant yourself and others small rewards.
  • No 6 – Recognise small moments. They may be ordinary, but crucial and often ignored by everyone else.

So the idea is to make change easy by using these small steps to tiptoe around your fear, and to get stuff done that over time will enable you to achieve success.

To tiptoe around the discomfort of taking the steps you don’t want to take, to change your habits and to develop new habits in tiny steps that will not cause you to panic and back away.

The idea is to take such small, seemingly trivial steps that you cannot fail to start or achieve it.

For example,

  • If you have a goal to lose weight, but feel resistance at the thought of doing an hour’s exercise each day as it feels too much, then why not just start with one minute a day?
  • March in front of the television and see where the success of these small steps will take you as you continue to improve by one minute a day!

The issue is that attempting to take large radical change often fails because it heightens fear. Small, seemingly insignificant change helps our human mind circumnavigate the fear that blocks success, and allows us to create new ideas and solutions.

There are even many examples of alternatives to spending years in counselling trying to understand why you are afraid of a particular thing, or resistant to change or achieving a goal, and then using the small step approach to take these small, easily achievable steps to go around or under these fears.

When life is scary or difficult, we tend to look for easy, familiar or avoidance solutions rather than the dark, discomfort where real solutions may lie.

For example, someone who fears intimacy may constantly change jobs and cities to avoid deep or long lasting relationships, or someone in an unsatisfying marriage may focus on a new venture, such as moving house or having another child to avoid the real issues in the relationship.

If we expect fear to arise and see it as a normal part of life and a natural sign of ambition and progress rather than seeing it as something going wrong in life, or something to avoid, we can then embrace it and continue to achieve our goals rather than resist, self-sabotage or quit.

When we care about something, the more fear shows up. There is a gift in fear. It alerts us to a challenge and we can rise to challenges by adopting one or more of the six small step strategies rather than remain paralysed or overwhelmed by crisis.

So how could we possibly apply these ideas, these six small steps, to the ‘Seven Habits of Highly Effective People?’

Let’s look at each habit in turn and put one or two ideas together of small steps that might help us achieve the habit.

Habit 1 – Be proactive. The idea of being responsible to anything that comes our way and to taking control of ourselves and the way that we act in our lives. I think there are two small areas that we can work on here.

  • First of all, small thoughts. We can catch, challenge and change our thoughts little by little, step by step, one by one. For example. If we are with an annoying person at work, we can catch that thought and say, ‘This person isn’t annoying. They are just trying to get on with their life in the same way that I am. It’s just that I find their manner very difficult.’ We can challenge ourselves. We can say, ‘Well, how could I look at their manner differently?’ and we can change to say, ‘How can I respond to them in a way that’s going to defuse their anger and make life easier for both of us?’
  • And then we can be proactive and choose the small actions to take that will start to solve the problem rather than just react and make the problem worse.

So small actions and small thoughts in Habit 1. 

Habit 2 is ‘Begin with the end in mind’.

The clear, small steps we can take here are:

  • Firstly challenge and change our small thoughts in every small situation to ask ourselves, ‘What are we trying to achieve here that will benefit everyone, (not just myself), for the long term in what really matters?’… rather than in the short term trying to get a small-minded win.
  • and secondly, to solve small problems by continually focusing on the end in mind. Rather than getting into arguments, or getting bogged down in alternative points of view, we can massively influence conversations, meetings, discussions and plans by solving small problems by asking small questions dictated by small changes in our thoughts.

Often, I teach about open questions and how to challenge things and be clear on the end in mind at all stages, because otherwise we so often get lost in the argument or discussion that we forget what we’re trying to achieve.

This is both in the short term, the medium term and the long term.

In the short term we get lost in the argument and in the problem that we’re addressing. In the medium term we put projects together that are ill thought through and in the long term we spend our lives in the thick of thin things, doing things that are not going to give us satisfaction, or success, and are not going to get us where we are trying to go.

Habit 3 is ‘Put first things first’.

And of course, the key for habit 3 is taking small actions, as in making sure we plan our week, and our day, and our interactions effectively using effective time management tools because after all, failing to plan is planning to fail.

And secondly, putting first things first, the first thing to do is to make small changes in our thoughts, and then take small actions and ask small questions in whatever circumstance we find ourselves.

And lastly: giving ourself small rewards for planning properly, executing our plan and sticking to our priorities… throughout the day.

Habit 4 is ‘Think win / win’.

Now this is a very easy one to understand where small changes can make a big difference.

Of course, it’s all about small thoughts: making small changes to how we think, to get away from thinking about what’s in it for me, how can I get my own selfish needs met? And instead to progress towards how can we get a great outcome for both of us that we are both truly committed to so that we work together effectively, and get continually better outcomes through enhanced relationships, and much more enjoyable experiences along the way?

Habit 5 is ‘Seek first to understand and then to be understood’.

The place to start here is change our thoughts from seeking first to be understood (which is what we all desperately want when we have a strong opinion on anything), turning it upside down and asking small questions always starting with open words like ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘where’, ‘when’, ‘how’ or ‘which’.

And using these small questions to genuinely try and understand the other person empathically, ie from their point of view not ours, so that we can use that understanding to build a relationship and find win / win solutions by applying the small steps of small thoughts, small questions, small actions, and solving small problems little by little.

Rather than rushing to try and solve everything all at once, it’s taking your time to understand them.

And giving small rewards to them for opening up and being willing to share ideas and build a relationship with you.

That’s the first problem to be solved in every aspect of every relationship and negotiation, and then taking the time, in small steps, taking small steps to ensure in everything they also properly understand you – it’s all small steps!

You may also be familiar with the option of going for ‘no deal’ along the way when things start to get problematic, and this itself is just a series of small steps: indeed, I always teach that ‘no deal’ is just one more small step along the road to effectiveness and success. And in the right circumstances it’s a hugely effective step.

As Churchill famously said:

No success is final, and no failure is fatal, the courage to keep going is all that matters.

Habit 6 – ‘Synergise’.

Synergy is the fruit of all the small steps we’ve already discussed.

It’s about small actions working together continually to multiply together to produce great results, and about a continual procession of small rewards, small agreements and small steps building relationships, that we recognise in each other, give to each other, congratulate each other for, and help each other out with.

So we consistently get better results than either of us had thought about beforehand.

And lastly, Habit 7 – ‘Sharpen the saw’.

This is very much about taking small actions to improve yourself in each of the four dimensions of the human experience, giving yourself small rewards as you continue to get sharper and sharper in these dimensions, recognising small moments where things are going right and you’re becoming sharper, and taking small thoughts forward to help you get yourself more proactive, more clear on the end in mind, and more able to put first things first going forward in the future.

So there we have it, a series of ideas and examples of how to apply the seven habits in your life using this fantastic tool of small steps to change your life, ie, go the extra inch:

By the inch it’s a cinch, but by the yard it’s hard.

Use the small inches to effectively apply the seven habits to every aspect of your life little by little, step by step, and to influence others around you.

And through all of that to develop a lifetime of the habit of doing the things that unsuccessful people don’t like to do (but successful people DO do), because you have found the tool to enable you to do them, which is to start off in small steps and keep pushing on, step by step.

Small steps can change your life, and if you’d like any more information or coaching or training on these matters, please as usual just contact us and we’ll be pleased to chat with you.

Slow Selling is a UK based not for profit organisation for leaders and managers in independent businesses.

It is a set of principles to help you slow down, set up systems for long term success, and use these to grow sales and profits through reputation, attraction, recommendation and referral.

To find out more, please click here

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Guy Arnold

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