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Big Change, Small Change

Reaching your goals inevitably involves change. Change of your actions, change of your habits, change of your environment, maybe change of your mindset, but hardly ever change of other people.

Change can be hard and uncomfortable. Change means effort. And, change may also require overcoming your fears. When you want to reach your goals, change (by definition) is necessary. You need to change the status quo.

What? How? And Why?

Let’s start with Why. This is the foundation and you need to be absolutely sure about your Why. Why would you want to reach your goal? Is this the ultimate goal or just a step towards achieving a different, higher goal? For example money might just be a tool to get a house and a house might just be a tool to feel safe and secure.

If you are clear about your Why, you come to you the What part. This is your SMART (Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Realistic, Time-bound) goal statement. You also need your When, so you need to set a deadline.

The How part is your goal-setting plan. A simple but powerful plan is essential to know your direction and to stay on track.

Now, what about the How? Sure, you have a plan and you (theoretically) know what to do. You should know your next action. So, why don’t you do it? It is not a big deal, so you will do it later, right? Or, maybe it is quite a big deal and you are uncomfortable, but maybe tomorrow you will do it? Let’s see how we can tackle change in the next paragraph.

Oh, and by the way, if you wonder about the Who? Yes, it is you.

Big Change and Small Change

If you want to reach the mountain top you can walk there slowly but get there late, or you can sprint and get there exhausted.

In other words, for any of your goals, you can approach it with mini steps or you can take a big leap.

Let’s consider another example. Let’s say you want to stop eating chocolate and right now you eat one chocolate bar each evening. Now, the big change would be to stop eating chocolate from now on. That’s it. The small steps might involve just eating one piece of chocolate less than the day before. So, if you ate one chocolate bar yesterday, today you can eat one chocolate bar except for the last piece (or the first piece if you want).

Both approaches will eventually lead to your goal. What approach is better depends on your preferences. What is easier or harder for you? What has a lasting effect? You need to experiment a bit.

Big Change

Big change might lead to quicker results. On the other hand the risks involved might be higher.

Sometimes radical changes are used as a final solution to a long standing problem. For example, if you hate your job and it gets worse and worse and then one day it is enough and you can’t stand it anymore, you rush into your boss’ office and say you hate everything about your job, you quit, you run out and you never come back.

That is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. It might be a good chance to start over and maybe sometimes these triggers are needed but it is usually better to plan and to act in a more controlled way.

So, in our situation, when we hate our job it would be better to work on a plan B in the meantime and quit when a more or less smooth transition is possible.

By the way, to not hate your job is not a goal. But maybe your goal is to have your own business. You can then work on it until you feel it can work, and when you are ready you can quit without burning bridges. This lowers the risk and if it does not work out you still have a chance to come back with a fresh mind and fresh ideas and maybe the job will be less frustrating than it was.

Set a Deadline

A powerful method is to set yourself a deadline and an if-then condition. This goes as follows.

If you cannot change an unbearable situation before a certain deadline you will make a radical change.

Let’s go back to our example again. You will try your best to improve your working conditions. You will talk to your boss about the situation and suggest ways how you can improve it for mutual benefit. You talk to your annoying coworker. You look for interesting projects you can work on. If the situation is still unbearable at a certain point in the future (make it a bit further in the future then tomorrow), then you will go for a radical change, for example quit and look for something else.

Your Plan B

It is very helpful to have a Plan B available, a safety net so to speak, if you go for a radical change. So, just quitting without any idea of what to do next is a bad idea. Your Plan P does not need to be totally risk-free or elaborate. If your plan is just to take two months off in order to work on your next bigger plan this is fine.

Small Change

On the other hand you can also take baby steps towards your goal. This is the Kaizen-way of doing it.


Kaizen (改善) comes from the Japanese and means something like “improvement”. It is a philosophical concept that can be applied to work and life involving constant improvement.

In his book “One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way”, Dr. Robert Maurer mentions the example of sugar-free tea. If you have your tea with a lot of sugar and your goal is to omit the sugar altogether, you can of course decide to drink your tea sugar-free from now on. The Kaizen approach, on the other hand, would be to go for constant, steady improvements. Each morning when you drink your tea you can add one grain of sugar less to your tea. You probably won’t recognize the lack of sweetness but after a couple of months you will end up with no sugar at all. You can accelerate the process by removing two or more grains per day.

Constant Improvement

Let’s do the following thought experiment. Your goal is to improve by 100% in 70 days in some area of your life. Sounds hard right? You need to become twice as good in two months and ten days.

What about just becoming 1% better in one day? Doesn’t this sound much more doable?

Let’s do the math. We can calculate the number of days we need, to become twice as good with the formula for the compound interest.

P: Initial principal balance = 100 (this is our current rating)

A: Final amount = 200 (because we want to improve from 100 to 200)

r: Interest rate = 0.01 (1% improvement per day)

t: number of time periods elapsed: The number of days we are looking for

So we can calculate like this.

That means the result is the following.

So, if we improve by 1% every day for 70 days we end up becoming twice as good.

Isn’t this amazing? OK, maybe not for everyone and probably there are some flaws in this thought experiment. In any case, the idea is that you can still reach your goal even if you just take small but continuous steps. The continuous part is essential here.

So next time you feel like taking a big leap that might be too scary or too risky, you might want to try the Kaizen approach.

What Is in It for You?

What to do when you know you need to change something but you are stuck? Love it, leave it or change it? If you decide to change it, you hopefully have some helpful information available now to help you go ahead and reach your goals.

Happy goal setting.

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