The power of small change

To clear up any confusion that the title may cause – this article is not about the collective clout of 5 and 10 pence pieces.

There aren’t many people I’ve ever met who appear to relish the prospect of change. We are, after all, creatures of habit and we tend to be comfortable with what we know. I like my coffee a certain way – quite strong, black with one sugar. If we order from the take away then I’ll almost always choose the same meal. If it’s from the Indian menu then it’s going to be Lamb Tikka Masala; and if it’s from the Chinese one then I’m having the Special Chow Mein.

Not everything needs to change does it? Some things are fine if they stay just as they are.

But when a change has been required what I’ve discovered is the bigger the effort to make the change the less likely I am to actually see it through. Whereas, when I have applied small changes, over time, I’m much more able to see the change through.

The fortune cookie wisdom on the subject can be found in countless little sayings like – “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”  Famously, back in the late 1970’s a man named Michel Lotito even ate an airplane! Over a two year period, breaking the parts down into tiny pieces and consuming lots of lubricating oil at the same time, he ate a whole Cessna 150! I’m happy with my Chow Mein, thanks.

To quote Jim Rohn, “I used to say, 'I sure hope things will change.' Then I learned that the only way things are going to change for me is when I change.” 

I follow that same sound advice myself these days and what that means in practice is that instead of worrying and fretting over the things I cannot change – as years ago I always used to do - I concentrate instead on changing ME. I found it worked really well in relation to what you believe about the type of person you are and the actions that stem from that.

For instance, are there any characteristics that you would like to change about you – for example, to have more self-belief, to be more confident, to be more focused on achieving goals, to be a kinder person, to be a more effective public speaker? Why not take some time to really think about it and commit these traits to paper? Then dwell on those characteristics and go to work on you, every day, until they are your reality. I know it sounds odd – but it is effective!

These small changes really result from different choices and, whilst they might not be earth shattering at the time, they add up over the long haul.

If you don’t believe me then take the word of the man who has led British Cycling to a golden era of success. Over the last few years Sir Dave Brailsford has championed the concept of what he calls “the aggregation of marginal gains” or the power of small change!

The idea, according to Sir Dave, is to look for “a one percent margin for improvement in everything you do.” For Brailsford and his team that meant focusing on the more obvious areas such as training, nutrition and equipment. Together with seeking for small changes in every other factor that might provide an opportunity for a small improvement. The results have equalled a truly remarkable improvement in performance resulting in Gold medal Olympic success and three Tour De France victories. Incredible!

Here’s a classic little tale about change that might resonate with you (or someone you know maybe?).

One night at sea a ship’s captain saw what he thought were the lights of another ship heading toward him, so he had his signal man blink to the other ship the message:

“Change your course ten degrees south.”

The reply came back “Change your course ten degrees north.”

The ship’s captain answered “I am a captain. Change your course south.”

Another reply came back “Well, I’m a seaman first class. Change your course north.”

By this time the captain’s angry and sends the message “I order you to change your course because I’m on a battleship.”

To which the reply came back “I still suggest you change course because I’m in a light house!”

What one small change that you’ve been putting off, taken in bite sized chunks over a period of time would alter the course of your life in a positive way? Think about it and then more importantly choose to do something about it! Take immediate action.

On this occasion the final thought goes to a truly remarkable example of what the human spirit is capable of when it comes to one individual making a difference on an epic scale:

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” Mahatma Gandhi.