Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Truth and Power of Incremental Change

You’ve probably heard the story.  A frog dropped in boiling water immediately jumps out and saves its life.  But, a frog dropped in room temperature water which is gradually heated to boiling will stay in it and be cooked.  This story is often told as a warning against the dangers of incremental change.  The abrupt, life threatening change of the environment gets the first frog’s attention, and his reflexes save his life.   But the second frog doesn't notice the slow, steady change of its environment and loses its opportunity to escape.

It isn't true.  At least, not for frogs.

In reality, the frog in the slowly heated water will notice the change and become more and more vigorous in its attempts to escape.

However, incremental change does work in humans.  In his new book The 15 Invaluable Laws ofGrowth, John C. Maxwell talks about the important of daily habits.  In the Law of Consistency, Maxwell describes the importance of discipline thus:
Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishments, and that bridge must be crossed daily.  Over time, that daily crossing becomes a habit.  And ultimately, people do not decide their future; they decide their habits and their habits decide their future.

This emphasis on habits is based on the principle that great tasks and accomplishments are really the product of many small actions done regularly over long periods of time.  No one with lasting success is an “overnight success”.  The great performances we see by athletes and artists on a particular night in the big game or on the largest stage is the product of hours of practice when no one was watching.  In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell states that success in any field is a matter of practicing a specific task for a total of around 10,000 hours.

It can be easy to fall into the attitude trap of think that you belong on the big stage living out your dream right away, and not finding the motivation to do the little things that would lead you there.  If you are falling victim to this, try the approach that these little things are just steps on the path to the big stage.  The small actions you take today to grow are investments in your future.

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