No. 17 – Incremental Progress

No. 17 – Incremental Progress

Dear One,

With my intention to offer you ideas that may assist you in moving through adversity and/or adding improvements to your life, this share is about ‘Incremental Progress.’

For me, reaching healed and gratefully back to life and work occurred by Incremental Progress instead of my formerly perfectionistic way of attempting to fix issues and/or reach goals completely and in a jiffy – or not at all. 

As UCLA’s renowned basketball coach John Wooden said, “little things make big things happen.” 

Taking small steps regularly or even daily instead of big leaps occasionally or sporadically added up.  Slowly, trials may be broken down or accomplishments can be achieved.  Much is figure-out-able one wee portion at a time.  Credit to Marie Forleo for the figure-out-able term.

Formerly, my brain might prod that ‘this has to all be done perfectly and completely ASAP’ or I’d think ‘well, if it can’t be done perfectly, what’s the use?’  This sometimes got me “bogged down trying to find the optimal plan for change… so focused on figuring out the best approach that [I] never [got] around to taking action” per James Clear in ‘Atomic Habits.’

Physical or emotional fallout or even unwanted dings to relationships resulted when perfectionism came into play when I attempted moving through challenge or completing a large seeming task.  Procrastination, occasional avoidance, or misaligned priorities were perfectionistic tendencies that called for Balancing.   

Herculean efforts utilizing aspects of perfectionism had merit occasionally.  Operating this way regularly though?  It was exhausting, requiring rest and recovery afterwards.  Running on the hamster wheel without pause or rest for stretches created burn out.

After a rough decade, it occurred to me thanks to those smarter than I, that this inconsistent push-through-to-achieve method of action didn’t quite serve me well.  Instead of all or nothing thinking, an alternate system of Incremental Progress hatched and grew.  It involved doing less, in itty pieces, yet consistently – instead of doing much in a short time frame and then losing steam or possibly doing nothing.

Incremental Progress involving tiny steps, often, one after another, on and on added up over time.  “Small incremental improvements make a huge difference over the course of your life” per Thomas Waschenfelder in this Slow, Incremental, Constant Progress article.

This Tanzanian Proverb sums up my new system for getting through; ”little by little a little becomes alot.” 

Like the slow add up of compounding interest, constantly or quite often adding small amounts over time results in large amounts. 

Using Incremental Progress, more may be accomplished in an easier fashion by

• breaking a meaningful goal into the smallest steps possible.  I’m talking minuscule here,

• taking steps consistently – like daily.  Or regularly – such as Monday through Friday.  If it’s something I’d like to form into a habit, I aim to do it following an action I already do regularly,

• when the whole tamale feels paralyzing, maybe it’s due to over focusing on the big picture.  Refocusing on even smaller steps can help with inching forward,

• using the 1% Method of doing something for just 15 minutes/day adds up.  After a year of these daily 15 minute ‘steps’, you’re 37 times ‘better’ than 365 days prior per ‘Atomic Habits.’  Wow, right? 

• and/or, recognizing progress along the way and celebrating mini wins.  Even a hot cup of favorite tea or an out loud atta-girl counts and feels good; I find this aids in continuing to inch along.

Working towards whatever via Incremental Progress has a more relaxed and less hamstrung feel while reducing starting fear.  Small tasks seem less ominous and more possible to complete than huge tasks. 

If you’re still thinking, but “nothing seems to help, [I hear you.  Perhaps consider this …]  A stonecutter hammering away at his [or her] rock, perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it.  Yet, at the hundred and first blow, it will split in two … It wasn’t the last blow that did it – but all that had come before.”  Thanks again to James Clear in ‘Atomic Habits.’

For achieving anything or making it through hardship, incredibly although generally, this same process applies.  Incremental Progress is a more tolerable, feasible way to succeed. 

If a miss occurs or perfectionistic old habits show up, self-compassion, reapplying Process Over Perfection, self-care, and Acceptance can ease disappointment.  Gently dusting off and returning the next day to little by little efforts works.  Mistakes are practice for possibly doing differently next time for us humans here on earth. 

The aim is for positive trends instead of trying to perfectionistically complete mammoth tasks in a red hot minute.

Most-of-the-time practice of Incremental Progress ends up with tangible and non-tangible benefits and “every action Action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become” per ‘Atomic Habits.’   

With my earnest belief in your ability to make Incremental Progress to achieve your heart’s desire one little vote at a time,


Original Email Date:  August 5, 2020

Click to listen to audio podcast of above post