I’ve been using these first weeks of the New Year to reflect and set intentions. With introspection has come a growing awareness of the faulty beliefs I’ve held in the past. Principles that sounded like universal truths, but when applied, didn’t result in success. When I would fail, however, I wouldn’t question the belief. Instead, I internalized it as a personal flaw, lack of discipline, or whatever else might be wrong with me. It took many years to see I had bought into an idea that wasn’t serving me.
One belief I am letting go of is the ‘go all in’/‘go big’/‘take massive action’/’110%’ mentality. You’ve probably heard these or some variation. It might have been typed on some inspirational post accompanied by a picture of someone climbing a mountain, bungee-jumping off a cliff, or swimming with sharks. You know — stuff I do all the time.
The notion seems to make sense — dive into something fully to see the largest results. The downside — it made me believe that small approaches would only lead to small outcomes. If I had any energy or time left at the end of the day, it indicated I wasn’t committed — I was lazy. Even forward progress, when small, seemed like steps backward.
Extremes like this are dangerous for me. I already deal with issues of perfectionism (a combination of my personality type and first-generation immigrant upbringing). To add a ‘go all in’ mindset on top of this sets up some unhealthy, unrealistic expectations. Under the weight of such pressure, I can’t win — I wasn’t working hard enough or precise enough.
In reading books like Atomic Habits and How to be an Imperfectionist, I am starting to understand the power of small victories. Small, seemingly inconsequential steps can be the spark to massive change. I was initially skeptical of this new truth. I had both heard and told myself that the hard way was the only way. Feeling balanced or relaxed was not my picture of success.
Weeks into setting smaller intentions, I see how flawed my previous perspective had been and how this new mindset is helping me.
Save time and effort
I struggle when faced with two options. Option A may be a more successful path than B, but I don’t know at the present moment. My old model of thinking would lead me to pick one and drop the other entirely. Now I’m okay doing a little of both, feeling them out and seeing what makes the most sense. I can always divert more time and resources where it makes sense.
Taking small steps makes tasks less formidable and builds the habit of building habits (something I’ve underestimated the importance of in the past). Showing up each day to do five pushups is easier than going to the gym five times a week. And if I can’t commit to the former, I will undoubtedly fail at the latter. Starting from where I am allows me to build on where I am trying to go and increase my confidence to tackle the next challenge.
Take on more responsibility
This area is a continuation of building consistency. When I thought about what was stopping me from writing more, freelancing, or teaching myself a new skill, it was my thinking that I couldn’t do it halfway. I know a lot of people who have wanted to take on another role, go back to school, learn an instrument, etc. Often what hinders us from acting is thinking the new commitment will immediately take hours of our day that we don’t have. But what if you started with an extra five minutes or taking one class rather than a full semester’s worth. Yes, it would take you more time overall. However, if you are only waiting until you have free time to begin, you’ll still finish sooner starting small than never getting started.
There are some areas where action is proportional to success. But the length of time I can act might diminish as I wear myself down. Steven Covey in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People calls this the Production vs. Production Capacity balance. If sending personal emails grows your business, you can be more successful at first by spending more and more of your hours sending emails — foregoing sleep and personal time. Eventually, your capacity to do the task diminishes as you get tired and you desire to do it might vanish altogether as you burn out. In taking on something new, I now ask myself, can I do this for the next x years? If it’s not sustainable long term, I’m setting up future failure.
And you might say, ”Hey, Kunle, didn’t you quit your job to jump into your passion?” That’s going all in. You’re right, I did. It was a few years ago when I thought that was the only way forward. If I could speak to myself back then, with the knowledge I have now, I would advise taking smaller steps to my leap. I would tell myself that balance is okay, and although, time may be short, it’s a lot longer than we give it credit for. If I achieve a significant milestone at 40 instead of 35, it’s still a victory … and I might be in a better state of mind to enjoy it.