Continuous Improvement

“Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.” – Ruth Bader Ginsburg

October 15, 2020

The Notorious RBG may not have known it at the time, but she wasn’t just speaking about societal change. She was speaking to each of us in our own lives. Real change, enduring change in our personal lives also happens one step at a time. In fact, sometimes the smaller the steps, the greater the change can be.

This morning, thanks to the Clio Cloud Conference 2020, I had the absolute pleasure of spending an hour with Angela Duckworth, author of author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. Angela who has made it her life’s work to study Grit. In her words, “Grit is passion and perseverance for long-term goals.” She is brilliant, and you need to hear her message. She was asked this morning, “What separates the truly great from everyone else?” Her answer, “Microscopic gains made consistently.” She didn’t say small steps. She said, “Microscopic gains made consistently.” Microscopic gains. Gains so small that they are nearly imperceptible, yet when made consistently, over time they add up to massive change.

Microscopic Gains Made Consistently

I often say to my clients, “You can’t jump to the top of Mt. Everest. You must take it one step at a time.” Our brains rebel against massive change. Real change happens when our brains don’t even notice that we are changing. When we make microscopic changes consistently day, after day, after day those changes will stick.

Another important aspect of our growth and change is that it is not linear. Sometimes you may feel that you are not moving toward your goal. In fact, you may feel that you are actually moving away from your goal, when in reality, you’re doing what you need to get there. There is a wonderful example of this reality in the book On the Edge: The Art of High-Impact Leadership, by Alison Levine. Levin did, in fact, climb to the top of Mt. Everest. In the book, she talks about how in order to reach the top, climbers must not only climb up – but down.

So while it is important to spend time up high on the mountain in order to facilitate the metabolic cell changes necessary to carry oxygen throughout your body, it’s also important to spend time back down at a lower elevation in order to eat, sleep, hydrate, and regain some strength. It is indeed very physically challenging to be going up the mountain… then back down… then back up higher… then back down again. But psychologically it is incredibly frustrating as well, because you know you need to be going up in order to reach the top, but you spend a heck of a lot of time climbing down. What you have to remember is that even though you are physically moving away from your goal, you are in fact still making progress toward your goal because you’re helping your body acclimatize. . . . For whatever reason, we tend to think that progress has to move in one particular direction, but that’s simply not the case. Sometimes you do have to go backward— away from your destination— in order to reach it. The mental trick is to understand that going down does not mean you’re losing ground, but rather strengthening the foundation of your effort.
– From On the Edge: The Art of High-Impact Leadership

If you want to grow and change for the better, embrace these concepts. Take small steps consistently. Every, single day. And know that in order to reach your destination, you may sometimes need to go backward, then forward again. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Just know that is how change works! Now get out there and take that small step.

Want to learn more about Grit from Angela Duckworth? Her TED Talk on Grit has more than 21 million views. You can watch it here.

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