Baking ingredients. CC | Photo credit: Andrea Goh

The Four Ingredients of Progress

How to make lasting change, as explained by a baking metaphor.

At the Morning Shift Coalition, we help volunteers become activists by turning passion into action.

Every volunteer asks, “How can I help?”

Most organizations answer: Donate. Or call members of Congress. Protest. This is all good, but at the same time: Then what? After the initial thrill of that first donation, most people get tired, and without support we gradually return to our previous routine. We understand if we want to make a lasting change, a more seasoned approach is needed.

Our approach is called “The Four Ingredients of Progress.” In this essay, I am going to lay out a metaphor that describes the four types of work that are needed to make a lasting change in our towns. The metaphor provides a bit of flavor to our work, helps us remember the approach, and makes it easier to share with other people.

I’m going to guess that most people reading this have made cookies before. (If you haven’t, go ahead and make some now. I’ll wait.) As you know, it goes a bit like this, from start to finish:

  • You want some cookies, so you gather your ingredients. Maybe you have to go to a store.
  • Following a recipe (or some guidelines that you remember), and probably using some kitchen utensils, you make some cookie dough
  • You arrange the dough on a cookie sheet, and place it in a heated oven
  • You wait until the smell of cookies is in the air, and they have arrived

Now that we’re thinking about cookies, I’m going to put what we need into four categories. Any time we want to make cookies, we’ll need the following:

1. Your thoughts

We start with what’s going on in that head of yours. Thank you for being here, and for thinking about cookies with us.

2. Your time and work

It takes at least 8 to 10 minutes to make cookies. And we need to use our body somehow to put the ingredients together.

3. A recipe

How do we make these things? Other people have been through this before, and they’ve thought a lot about cookies. A recipe, the result of centuries of cooking know-how, has crossed our path.

4. An oven (and ingredients)

We need a few things that other people have made available to us. Thanks again for the oven and the ingredients, fellow adventurers.

The requirements of cookie making, exhibit A.

These are the four elements. It might be easy to see that each of them is needed to make cookies. I would like to bring to your attention that each element can ruin our attempt.

  • If our oven doesn’t get warmer than 100 degrees Fahrenheit, we’re going to get bad cookies.
  • If we follow a recipe that calls for dry spaghetti noodles, we’re going to get bad cookies.
  • If we only have a minute to work with, we’re going to get bad cookies.
  • If our thoughts of cookies include “walnuts,” we’re going to get bad cookies.

The failure of one requirement will cause our cookies to be ruined.

For a good cookie, all four requirements need to be of good quality. On the other hand, improving each piece will improve the cookies, but only by so much on its own. For example:

  • We don’t need a chef’s understanding of cuisine to make good cookies.
  • We don’t need a full year to make good cookies.
  • We don’t need a secret family recipe to make good cookies.
  • We don’t need an industrial kitchen to make good cookies.

If we have a lot of success in one requirement, it doesn’t necessarily lead to better cookies. To make the best cookies, balanced success in each requirement is needed.

In a more subtle way, the four requirements push and pull on each other. For example, if you have a bit more time to make cookies, that could lead you to experiment with a few different recipes, and you’d discover that you can make delicious cookies, which would inspire more cooking adventures.

The point is, our four requirements are connected. I’ll represent this connection between the four requirements with a ring connecting them all:

The requirements of cookie making, exhibit B.

Those requirements again are:

  1. Your thoughts
  2. Your time and work
  3. A recipe
  4. An oven (and ingredients)

Now that we’re experts at cookie-making requirements, let’s look at how this translates into activism, with a new diagram:

The requirements of progress, exhibit C.

The ingredients of progress are:

  1. Your worldview
  2. Your time, body, skills, and habits*
  3. Culture and shared ideas
  4. Technology and shared environment

The same rules that apply to making cookies also apply to activism:

  • To make progress, we need each ingredient.
  • Without an ingredient, progress will stall (or go backwards).
  • Success in one area leads to success in other areas, but only so much, and balanced success in all four areas is what is needed to make progress.

* Represented here by an icon of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, badass.

In summary:

Positive change requires four ingredients, in equal proportion and quality. Improving our society is connected to improving ourselves, and improving ourselves is connected to improving our society.

In general terms, the four ingredients are:

  1. Your thoughts
  2. Your body and personal resources
  3. What other people think
  4. Other people and shared resources

This is a fundamental principle of the Morning Shift Coalition, and our organization, activities, and goals are based on this idea. Take a look at our emblem again, and you’ll see we’ve put these elements into the design.

Our coalition’s emblem, exhibit D.

The takeaway:

Remember the “making cookies” metaphor.

When you are working on your Morning Shift, please consider that your work can be in any of the four categories. Indeed, work in all four is required if we are to succeed.

  1. You can work on improving your perspective.
  2. You can work on improving your habits, schedule, health, and personal resources.
  3. You can seek out and leverage culture that helps you.
  4. You can use other things to help you.

Your habits are just as important as your worldview which is just as important as the technology we have which is just as important as our shared culture and values.

With this understanding and our combined efforts, we can achieve balanced, lasting progress in our communities.

At the Morning Shift Coalition, we invite you to start each day by dedicating some time to make progress in ways that are important to you. Thank you for being here, and sharing your time with us. We look forward to seeing you on the Morning Shift.


References: The framework presented above is loosely based on Ken Wilber’s integral theory. For continued reading on the subject, consider picking up one of his books.