Get 1% Better Every Day with Incremental Progress – Part 1
A word to the wise:
People are always surprised when someone else becomes famous after one hit song, forgetting that the artist wrote many songs in the past. We are often shocked at how fast someone rises to fame, ignoring the years and years of work that individual put into their craft. We look at a professional athlete or musician and think how lucky they are to be so talented, forgetting that they worked their whole life to achieve that title. Skill and results come from constant effort over an extended period of time, not one-time efforts.
Instant gratification. That is the new norm in our society. Unfortunately, that is often what is holding us back from our goals.
Sunday evening, we think to ourselves “This is my week to become a more productive person and stop wasting so much time!”
You wake up super early Monday morning for the first time and workout before breakfast. Next you do some chores and check your emails. You are feeling pretty great and head off to work.
At work you are super productive; you don’t look at your phone, you don’t check Facebook, you stay focused and catch up on all your work.
Once work is over, you run some errands and pick up some groceries. Your groceries are completely healthy. You’ve decided that eating junk food has to stop.
Usually you grab fast food on the way home, but instead you cook a nice dinner. After eating you sit down for a meditation, which you’ve heard is great, before heading to bed.
What a great day! You’ve completely changed your life around.
By the time it hits Wednesday, you’ve started hitting the snooze button in the morning. Not only that, you had a massive sugar craving and grabbed a bunch of junk food and a burger on the way home from work.
Work also went back to normal. You still worked hard but spent a lot of time distracted by your phone.
So, what went wrong?!
The reason this life-changing Monday didn’t work in the long run is because it was aimed at a huge dramatic change in one day.
This is the reason that so many people set New Year’s Resolutions that only last a week. Significant life changes, in a short period of time, are extremely hard to do.
Doing something once is not the path to success.
To achieve true progress, you must master Incremental Progress.
According to Merriam Webster’s dictionary, an increment is the process of increasing quality or value. It is the degree in which something changes in either a positive or negative way.
The question is, how do we harness the power of Incremental Progress?
It’s quite simple actually. Making small improvements regularly, that will produce great results in the long term!
For example, if you decide to start scheduling every hour of your work day to increase productivity, you will quickly feel overwhelmed by the tight schedule.
However, if you made the small change to not open your emails until you’ve worked for 1 solid hour, you will increase your productivity a small amount each day. That little change each day will have a greater impact on your entire week and month because you will quickly start catching up on your difficult projects before getting distracted by your email.
For some people, this will take a mental shift in perspective for it to work.
Having big goals is important, but if we get focused in on the big goals and forget about the little tasks along the way, we are likely to never reach our overall goals.
American Author Seth Godin had a great statement for incremental progress:
“The thing is, incremental daily progress (negative or positive) is what actually causes transformation. A figurative drip, drip, drip. Showing up, every single day, gaining in strength, organizing for the long haul, building connection, laying track—this subtle but difficult work is how culture changes.”
What’s really important about this statement is how he highlighted the negative and positive aspect.
Incremental Progress can be extremely positive. If you make the choice to not have dessert tonight. And again, make that choice tomorrow and the next day. Before you know it, you will be eating much less dessert and becoming much healthier.
However, it can also be negative. If you are a health person who rarely has junk food and you decide to have a treat, that’s fine. But than you decide to have it again tomorrow. And again, the next day. Before you know it, you are gaining weight and becoming unhealthy.
Celebrate the little wins:
It is human nature to crave progression.
When you learn an instrument, it can be quite difficult and easy to give up. However, when you finally learn your first full song, you feel a rush of excitement from the undeniable progress.
When you are learning a new language, it can feel like an unimaginable goal. But in the moment that you order your first coffee in that language, or order your first meal, it will reinforce your original goal and make it seem more realistic.
In a interesting article on Harvard Business Review, they look into James Watson and Francis Crick’s experience of discovering the structure of DNA. Along the way they had many ups and downs. Eventually, they had a breakthrough which boost their motivation to continue.
After researching this story and others like it, HBR discovered what they call “the progress principle”:
“Of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work. And the more frequently people experience that sense of progress, the more likely they are to be creatively productive in the long run.”
I want to emphasis “the more frequently people experience that sense of progress, the more likely they are to be creatively productive in the long run”. This is critical to remember.
Take a step forward every day:
Think of Incremental Progress as taking one step forward each day. Becoming 1% better at whatever, you are doing.
The frequency of little successes will have the greatest impact. With frequency comes momentum. With momentum comes sustainable progress.
The goal is to pick something important to you; physically, mentally, productively or goal oriented and make a little bit of progress each day.
What Incremental Progress would you like to incorporate into your life?