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Progress is a Game of Inches

By April 26, 2021No Comments

Progress is a game of inchesThis last week I’ve been reminded about the power of habits to achieve progress and in particular how progress is actually a game of inches, of incremental steps towards goals.

This weekend, I did a little happy dance as I got one step closer to my “run 10 kms before I turn 50 in June” target.   

I used to be a consistent runner. With  a couple of Tough Mudders, a Spartan and a number of  City to Surf’s under my belt, my mornings or evenings were often spent pounding the pavement trying to get the distance up – until my knees decided otherwise!   For me, the pain got so intense that I chose to replace my love of running with the consistency of strength training at F45. But the Northern Beaches lockdown at Christmas and consequent gym closures combined with no knee pain and a want to train saw me hitting those pavements again – and I loved it!  

And so the target was set.  I pulled in an accountability and running partner and we set the ultimate goal of 10km by the end of May (knowing anything more was a killer for my knees). Together we broke down the big goal into smaller weekly goals and this weekend we hit 8km.  With only 2km to go I reckon we will smash our target.

As I reflected yesterday nursing my sore muscles, this personal achievement reinforced for me once again that it is only through continuous and consistent behaviours that the compound effect of the activity and action kicks in to create traction. 

In the movie, Any Given Sunday, Al Pacino’s character, Tony D’Amato describes improvements as inches saying,

“You find out that life is just a game of inches. So is football. Because in either game, life or football, the margin for error is so small … when we add up all those inches that’s going to make the fucking difference between winning and losing.”

Jeff Olson reinforces this concept of progress being a game of inches in his book, The Slight Edge:

You already know how to do everything … to make you an outrageous success. All you have to do is keep doing the things that have gotten you this far… Simple daily disciplines—little productive actions, repeated consistently over time—add up to the difference between failure and success.

Olson even goes as far as codifying his thinking into a formula: 

‘Consistently repeated daily actions + time = inconquerable results.’

There’s one common thread that connects Olson, Pacino’s character in the movie and the achievement of an 8km run over the weekend –  you can’t sit around waiting for success to happen, you have to make it come to you through the actions you take (I wrote about the concept of Progress Delusion here). It’s up to you to take control because everything you do matters. 

You can either choose to consistently fuel your habit tank or deplete it.

There’s no instant win, but rather the accumulation of daily habits, of inches,  over time that deliver massive progress.

Winning at business and success in life isn’t something you simply stumble upon.  It’s a reward for having ceaseless tenacity and a consistent and repetitive commitment to the right behaviours.

3 x Things to think about this week

1.What are your daily success habits? 

So what are your daily habits? Calling five potential clients a day, posting one blog a week, reading 20 pages of a book every day, exercising for 30 minutes, or just 10 minutes to sit and think? The critical thing is to own the habits that you know will fuel the inches you need to make progress.

Where are you now (Point A) and where do you want to go (Point B)? 

The gap between these two end points is where the right action and right habits have to live. 

Decide what you need to do more consistently this week to fuel your habit tank to move from A and get closer to B? Remember – progress is a game of inches.

2. Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming

There’s a special place in my heart for the movie Finding Nemo. This was ‘The One’. The one movie I could play on repeat to my kids and they could recite the script nearly word-for-word. My favourite line is when Dory sings to Nemo:

When life gets you down, you know what ’chu gotta do?

Just keep swimming.

Just keep swimming.

Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming.

The same can be said for our behaviours! When we fall off the good-behaviour train and land on our faces in a whole heap of, ‘I’ve done it again’, we have to acknowledge, learn and get back up, reset and get back at it—or in the wise words of Dory, ‘Just keep swimming’.

In my Unleashing Brilliance podcast with Jack Delosa, founder of The Entourage and listed in the BRW Young Rich List since 2014, we discussed the benefit of daily habits and tracking performance. Jack agreed that, like many of us, it’s hard to achieve 100 per cent every day and that on those not-so-great days, you stumble, acknowledge what happened and move on. He said, ‘Don’t beat yourself up and then use this as an excuse to give up—accept, note the learning and move forward’.

Paying attention to your goal, track your progress and try for that 1 per cent.

Identify up to five daily habits for this week. Ones that you know drive better performance for you. Is it five sales calls, 10 minutes’ meditation, taking a lunch break?

3.Celebrate the inches

Celebrate the inches.  Seeking and acknowledging small improvements one day at a time fuels the feeling of forward momentum and achievement.

Give yourself something to look forward to this week:

  • a walk on the beach
  • dinner with friends
  • an early pass at work
  • reading a good book
  • a bottle of your favourite wine
  • snuggling on the sofa and watching a movie.

In the article, ‘Pieces of the leadership puzzle’ for the Institute of Managers and Leaders, Daniel Flynn, co-founder of Thankyou—the social enterprise that directs its profits from sales of water, food, body care and baby products towards ending global poverty—states that celebrating the small wins as well as the big ones is critical.

In the article, he shares the story of being challenged by his mentor on how he celebrates the small wins. Flynn recalls, ‘I had nothing. I am so driven by the future and where we need to go, the next opportunity, the impact we can make, the markets we could and should be in.’

Flynn recognised that by not celebrating the small wins—the progress being made—but rather always focusing on the big end goal and breakthrough, he was creating the same push and drive among his team. While this may seem okay, the reality, he recognised, was that he was risking team burnout.

So what could you celebrate this week and how will you celebrate it?

2 x Things I loved last week

1.HBR – 6 leadership paradoxes for the post pandemic era.

This article got me thinking about my own leadership style and the leaders I know.  As authors Paul Leinwand, Mahadeva Matt Mani and Blair Sheppard state, “We believe those leaders who have the humility, courage and commitment to reinvent themselves will become the champions of the digital age.”

2. It’s an oldie but a goodie – the Everyday Leadership TEDTalk from Drew Dudley. 

I shared this 6 minute talk during a training session I ran for a group of incredible leaders in the child care industry on Friday. As I shared, each of them is doing one of the most important jobs ever. The ripple effect each of them has on the next generation of leaders, game changers, politicians, inventors, parents, friends, community makers is one not to be taken lightly. And actually, this talk sums up the responsibility we ALL have in terms of the impact of our everyday actions on others.  

1 x Action to take

✅ Create a Daily habit trackerIdentify up to five daily habits that you know drive better performance for you. Is it five sales calls, 10 minutes’ meditation, taking a lunch break? Why not use a pen and paper and create your own sticker chart? Stick it in the fridge and pay attention to those goals.   Alternatively, go digital and download an online habit tracking tool. Some suggestions include Streaks, Habitshare, Tally and Strides.

Until next week

Janine Garner

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