We try to get a homerun.
We try to make a big move.
But those grand gestures–though very nice when they happen–are rare, and they are not the typical way the average person makes progress.
You’ve heard of baby steps, right? And that expression’s all right, it’s serviceable, it gets us places. In truth, I’ve come very far through the grace of baby steps. But I’ve always been bothered by the way that term infantilizes us and makes us feel as if we aren’t quite developed enough for the large scale progress we seek.
But recently I was listening to some self-improvement dude, and he was talking about how it’s the consistent commitment to the micro-adjustments in our habits, our behaviors, and actions that can, over time, get us where we want to go.
He called them “Tiny Shifts.”
How do Tiny Shifts work?
Look at it this way: In California, where I live, it’s the tiny shifts in the tectonic plates that keep my home state from rocking and rolling to The Big One. We benefit from the smaller, frequent modifications and alternations under the earth that keep us from scissoring off the rest of the continent like a paper doll, sliding into the Pacific, and making Yuma, Arizona into an oceanfront resort.
In short, it’s the small adjustments, over time, that matter in the long run that keep us on track for where we want to go.
But it’s the “over time” part that’s important.
As author, speaker, and super cool self-help dude in his own right, Simon Sinek says (I’m paraphrasing here), “If you go to the gym for nine hours in a single day, you won’t be in shape. But if you go for twenty minutes over nine days, you’ll be in better shape.”
You need the time to level up. A commitment to the smaller action builds the habit.
See, the thing is, if you commit to making a small choice that is just this far out of your comfort zone, you ratchet up a notch and so if you make tiny shift after tiny shift, day in, day out, month after month, in a year or so, guess what? You will find yourself in a wildly different place than when you started. And I’m willing to bet it’s closer to the goal you had. And without the pressure to make some “pie-in-the-sky-I’m-gonna-freak-out-look-out-I’m-gonna-lose-my-lunch” move.
Because it’s not a Big Move.
It’s just a tiny shift.
Over and over again.
And it’s totally doable.
Take me, for example. As a writer, I totally get Tiny Shifts because the idea of writing an entire book was completely overwhelming. But then I decided that I didn’t have to write an entire book. I just had to write a single essay of a few pages. And then another. And then another. Seven months later, I’d done that thirty or forty times and then–viola*!–I had a book.
It’s physics**. It’s math***. It’s how life works.
So if you’re looking for more Zen-inspired life, if you’re searching for a little more focus, simplicity, or peace in the classroom (or your life), you don’t have to sell your possessions, shave your head, and become a monk in a cave at the top of some mountain in China. You can, but you don’t have to.
Instead, look not for the grand “aim for the bleachers” homerun hits, but for your own Tiny Shifts that you can commit to today, or tomorrow.
*Can you meditate for five minutes?
*Can you clean your desk to create some space?
* Can you say no to a new obligation that threatens to encroach on your free time?
* Can you get up in the morning and not grab for your phone for at least thirty minutes and spend
that time reading, praying, or journaliing?
* Can you throw out ten things today to create room for positive things to enter your life?
Ask yourself, What Tiny Shift can I make right now?
And how often can I keep making such Tiny Shifts?
And where would I like them to take me?
Because if you make a determined attempt to commit to your tiny shifts and then check with me this time next year, I’m willing to be that you’ll be closer to wherever that place may be. TZT
*Not to be confused with a small, brown instrument similar to a violin.
**I’m assuming. I’ve never taken a physics class.
***And the last math class I had involved word problems and the speed of a train from Chicago.