Small Wins, Incremental Progress, and Momentum

In the pursuit of grand ambitions like publishing our books, selling our companies, and creating art the changes our culture, we tend to overlook our smallest wins.

- Instead of celebrating hitting our word count, we only celebrate the hitting a best seller list. 
- Instead of celebrating the first $10.00 we make selling something, and only celebrate the first $10,000.00
- Instead of celebrating 20 subscribers, we celebrate 1000. 
 
We completely neglect progress because we’re so focused on achievement. But if we celebrate small wins and incremental progress, we achieve momentum and eventually experience the big wins we’re seeking. So why and how does this work?

Progress and Momentum

In any given moment we’re making a choice between two lives. One that moves us closer to whatever it is that we ultimately want, and one that moves us further away from it. Let’s call that thing the mountain for the sake of having something concrete to imagine.

We know this to be true when it comes to our really big choices and decisions like the job we take, the person we marry, etc, etc. But throughout our days, we actually make micro-choices that are also having an impact. But because they’re so small we tend to underestimate their significance.

Take the simple example of something we all have a bit of experience with: digital distraction and wasting time on the internet.

The time you spend looking at cat videos or mindlessly scrolling through your newsfeed might only be 10 minutes/24 hrs which is only about .69% of your day. No big deal right? But this is a bit like taking a few steps towards the mountain and taking one back. If you attempted to climb Half Dome at Yosemite that way, it would be kind of a disaster.

Seemingly inconsequential choices added up over a long enough timeline can cost us years in lost productivity and progress.

Each step back is kind of like a cigarette. One won’t kill you. But over the course of a lifetime, it’s a recipe for lung cancer.

Fortunately, the opposite holds true. One of the questions that I was asked recently in an interview was “how do you create a momentum window?” I didn’t have an answer at the time, but I’ve realized that momentum is the result of incremental progress.

Implementing the Progress Principle into Your Life

There are a few straightforward ways to implement the progress principle into your life. But first it helps to understand a concept that Shawn Achor refers to as success accelerants. The basic idea is this:

Your brain makes progress towards a goal based on how close it thinks it is to that goal.

So let’s say you have a goal to make $10,000 and you’re currently at zero. You would be better of trying to get from zero to 100 because it’s not as daunting as zero to 10,000. And each time you hit a new milestone you can reset the goal.

Our team at Unmistakable Creative has done a few things to implement the progress principle.

  • We signed up for a service called iDonethis. Every day you simply reply to an email with the things you’ve done. It’s a way to measure and see visible progress on a daily basis.
  • Another thing we’ve done is created video game characters on Steve Kamb’s site for his new book. The idea is awesome.You create quests, assign point values for each quest and as you earn points you level up.

And if you want more insight into this process, our interview with Steve Kamb goes into detail on how to use incremental progress.

I’m the host and founder of The Unmistakable Creative Podcast.

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