“Perfection is not attainable. But if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence.” — Vince Lombardi
The smallest step towards your goals can lead to your greatest breakthroughs. Yes, I realise you’ve heard this message before, however have you ever contemplated its significance? We all want to achieve our goals and highest aspirations, that’s why you’re reading this article. But few are willing to put in the work and hours to realise success. Only a few will sacrifice their time and energy for weeks, months and sometimes decades to achieve their vision. How about you? Where do you stand in the grand scheme of things? Have you been labouring away at a goal for a while? Have you experienced any breakthroughs or is it still a work in progress? Don’t despair if you haven’t achieved the success you desire; it doesn’t mean it’s not coming together.
Cultivating greatness involves attending to the smallest details that may show little results initially because they are foundations that lead to the realisation of our goals. Let’s face it, the smallest tasks can be laborious and tedious at the best of times. Mostly, they are tasks that must be attended to daily, yet many find excuses to skip over them because of the boredom involved. How do you feel about this? Are there tasks you dislike doing, yet know they must be done because they contribute to your goals? It is what author Robert Maurer refers to in One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way as looking for solutions in uncomfortable places: “When life gets scary and difficult, we tend to look for solutions in places where it is easy or at least familiar to do so, and not in the dark, uncomfortable places where real solutions might lie.”
Small continuous improvements lead to achievement because just like the compound effect, if we focus on real improvements and constant practice, the success we yearn for may be closer than we think. Now, let me clarify what I mean by success in this context. Success denotes achieving a desirable outcome related to a goal or effort and may not result in an intentional victory. It is what the Stanford Professor of psychology Carol Dweck refers to in her acclaimed book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success as a Growth Mindset vs a Fixed Mindset. I’m certain you’re familiar with the concept so I won’t go into much detail other than to say, when we have a Growth Mindset, our focus turns to continuous improvement and excellence. These are the building blocks to success as long as we assess and refine our practices to achieve our desired outcome. Similarly, undesirable outcomes may also be beneficial providing we learn from them. You no doubt know how the Post-It Note came to be invented? Through a series of accidents, Dr. Spencer Silver, a chemist at 3M was trying to invent a strong adhesive, but instead came up with a weak one which became the Post-It Note as we know it.
In a similar vein, the Japanese are well known for a method called the Kaizen approach which involves small, continuous and incremental improvements to achieve a desired outcome. It involves a process of iterations like many software companies and apps undergo today. If we improve at 1% a day, consider the result of that improvement over 12 months. Few people focus on small improvements because as alluded to earlier, it can be tedious, and it rarely delivers immediate results. This same process works in just about every area of our life, particularly our health and well-being. For example, when was the last time you set out to lose weight and became discouraged by the third or fourth week? Most people abandon their health campaign at this point preferring to find an easier way that delivers immediate results. But as you know, immediate results don’t translate to long term efficacy. Author Robert Maurer reminds us once more that the Kaizen principle is not something to be forgotten, but used often in our daily tasks: “Try to see Kaizen as a process that is never done. Don’t put it in a drawer, forgotten, once your goal has been reached. Kaizen invites us to see life as an opportunity for continuous improvement, for ever-higher standards and expanding potential.”
If we want to cultivate greatness, we must focus on activities that deliver results and sometimes these can be tedious tasks, which explains why many people abandon them. If we set out to pursue a goal, then gradual and continuous improvements is something we must take into account, even if we cannot see the signs of success early in the piece. The goal is much too important to leave to chance and so we must give it life by attending to the smallest tasks. Equally, we ought to focus on the personal growth that takes place within us while pursuing our goals. Success is of little value if we have worked hard to achieve it and are unfulfilled once attained. So be purposeful in your intentions towards your goals. If you work towards it with a concerted effort, success may be closer than you think.
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