The power of small steps

The power of small stepsToday Dorie Clark is a successfully published author and highly regarded marketing strategist who can charge clients like Google, Microsoft and Morgan Stanley $6,000 dollars a time for her half-day workshops and is frequently asked to speak at high profile events.

But roll back ten years and her life was very different. When she started her marketing consulting business in 2006, few people beyond her professional network had heard of her and her client list and fees were in a very different league.

So how did she achieve this transformation? Well her story is one of small steps – lots of small regular activities that gradually built up a momentum over time.

As a former journalist, Dorie knew the value of PR and created a writing habit for herself, focusing on getting her articles published everywhere from local chambers of commerce newsletters through to the Harvard Business Review and Inc. You can see the list of articles on this page, over 700 articles published over a period of ten years, which is very impressive.

Each time she wrote an article and got it published, she effectively took a small, but important step to grow her career. Over time her reputation grew, making it easier to get articles published in higher profile publications and enabling other opportunities, like being asked to speak at events.

As things progressed she slowly built an audience of email subscribers, which provided a receptive audience for her thriving consulting business, three books and her own online training courses.

Home runs and small steps

Reaching big goals in life takes dedication and often the sheer scale of the task can be daunting; which deters us from even trying to start.

For example, if you have ever tried to pay down a big credit card debt, you’ll appreciate how hard it is to start making the extra repayments (especially when money is tight), which is why so many people just live with the debt, hoping to one day receive a windfall and repay it.

Another deterrent is perfectionism; being scared to launch a personal project, in case other people will criticise or make fun of it. So instead we avoid the change and keep working on our project privately, which prevents the necessary feedback to make it work.

When things do look unachievable, it’s also easy to look for the shortcut or the miracle cure that will solve the problem for us in one single sweep.

You only need to look at the weight-loss industry to see this happen – every couple of years a new celebrity diet does the rounds promising to help people lose weight fast and achieve their ideal beach body.

The lure of the home run, that single event that wipes away all our problems, is very strong and it is easy to fall into the trap of fantasying an imagined future where we are richer, fitter and happier, all because of one or two home runs.

The problem is, home runs just don’t happen like that. Nobody sits down one day, writes the novel that has been swishing around in their head and instantly becomes a New York Times best selling novelist. As all successful authors will tell you, it takes years of writing and platform building to become a best seller (just like Dorie Clark did).

That is why small steps are so important. Not only do they allow you to make a start on your journey, they also help build the momentum that can result in a home run and even if that home run doesn’t materialise, the combination of lots of small steps over time will still compound into a great outcome.

For example, one of my goals is to achieve financial independence, which means I have enough money to support my family well, without having to work if I don’t want to.

The quick win fantasy for achieving my goal is selling a business for a seven-figure sum, but just in case my day-dream doesn’t become a reality I’m also taking the more conventional approach of saving and investing a significant proportion of my income each month.

Every time I invest, I’m taking a small step towards my financial independence and who knows maybe my investments will soar into home run territory; but if they don’t at least I know that as time progresses, all of those steps will begin to compound and the returns increase, which means that even if I never get my home run, I’ll still have made considerable progress over time.

How to utilise the power of small steps

In order to tap the power of small steps, it’s vital to be clear on your destination, which means you need to be able to answer these questions:

  • What are you trying to achieve?
  • Why are you trying to achieve it?
  • How will you know you have achieved it?

This requires the need to set outcome goals for yourself. These might be long-term goals like financial independence or they might be shorter-term like getting your next promotion or mastering a new skill.

Tip: Limiting the number of goals you actively focus on at the same time, increases the probability that you’ll achieve them.

Next you need a way to ensure you remain on track for your outcome goal; because as time passes, it is easy to become distracted or to veer off the path without even realising it. By setting performance goals that mark the pathway to the outcome, you are giving yourself a feedback loop to continuously improve and stay on track.

Finally you need to create process goals. These define the daily habits you need to develop to achieve your outcome over time. Examples of process goals include:

  • Going to the gym each day
  • Doing 30 press-ups a day
  • Writing 1,000 words a day
  • Spending two hours a day working on your personal project

More in-depth information can be found on outcome, performance and process goal systems here.

One change at a time

Just as important as not taking on too many outcome goals, is avoiding the introduction of too many new habits or process goals into your life at the same time, as the level of change can be overwhelming.

Ideally if you can limit yourself to just introducing one small change at a time and building it into your daily routine, you give yourself a much better chance of retaining it.

I’ve found this approach to be particularly successful with my own goal to become healthier. Slowly but surely, over the last two years I’ve introduced more and more daily habits into my life; such as doing weights at the gym, using the rowing machine, making changes to my diet, limiting alcohol and ensuring I do my 10,000 steps each day.

For the most part, these habits have all stuck and I’m really starting to feel the benefits as they compound; but I know that I had I tried to stop drinking, whilst cutting down on my food portion sizes and starting the gym all at the same time, I would have run out of energy within a week or two and given up!

Your challenge

If you’ve been inspired by what can be achieved with small steps, why not select one big goal that you have been putting off for ages, define the small steps that will help you get there and begin making those steps every day for the next thirty days to build a daily habit that will yield long-term success?

Good luck 🙂