What if you changed how you “show up” in the world? I’d argue that it could positively alter your life. That said, it’s tough, if not impossible, to be a ‘new you’ in one fell swoop. But the good news is that big changes are possible if you make small shifts on an ongoing basis.
As I’ve written about in prior blogs, we all get in our own way. Self-limiting behaviors are often deeply entrenched habitual patterns that are years or decades in the making. The idea of shifting even one such behavior can be daunting and trigger significant resistance. “It’s too big to tackle” or “It’s the way I’m wired” are examples of the self-talk that emerges when we begin to confront our self-limiting behaviors.
Small Shifts Lead to Big Changes
It doesn’t need to be daunting. Think of a meteor on a collision course with Earth. Scientists believe (and hopefully they are right!) that we could send a rocket into space and create an explosion that would just nick the trajectory of that meteor…less than a one-degree course change. After that, the meteor wouldn’t just miss the earth; it would miss it by miles.
Like the meteor, your life and career are on a trajectory. Imagine a graph with potential realized on the vertical axis and time on the horizontal axis (see image above). By making small shifts in your behavior, the cumulative effect over time can be profound! Think of this as “radical incrementalism”.
Here’s an example. Take someone who frequently interrupts others. It’s pretty easy to imagine what that person’s “trajectory” will look like if s/he doesn’t work on that self-limiting behavior. But what if that person starts to make small shifts toward becoming a better listener. How much more of their potential will that person have realized in 6 months? A year? Five years?
The Simple, Real-World, Manager Test
When I present this concept to groups of employees I ask the managers in the room, “Are you more likely to give new opportunities to employees who are proactively working on developing themselves, vs their peers who are not doing so?” The answer is always a resounding “yes.”
The way you “show up,” (the way you behave, the way you interact with others), WILL influence the types of opportunities that present themselves to you in your career and in your life.
Instead of resisting this inner work because it seems too hard, push yourself to take bite-size steps that over time will add up to big changes for you.
Different Labels – Similar Concepts
I saw Robert Egger, Founder and President of LA Kitchen, present recently at a Conscious Business Leaders Forum. He talked about his philosophy of “radical incrementalism;” continuing to chip away at something small piece by small piece. Although he used it in a societal context, I love this phrase and it absolutely applies to our individual growth.
Amy Cuddy, famous for her viral TED Talk on power posing, has recently published a book called ‘Presence – Bringing your Boldest Self to your Biggest Challenges.’ She dedicates an entire chapter to what she calls ‘Self-Nudging’ which is all about making small, incremental shifts.
And there’s Jeremy Hunter, an associate professor at the Peter F. Drucker Graduate School of Management at Claremont Graduate University. He describes this process as “bending your future.”
By applying radical incrementalism – making ongoing small shifts in our behavior – we are literally “bending our future” toward realizing more of our potential and being our best selves.
Making it Personal
Over the last few years I’ve been bending my own future. I now see this as life-long work…always shifting, always bending! One of the most important things I’ve been working on is worrying less about “needing everyone to like me.” This perceived need led to many self-limiting behaviors where I took care of others at my own expense.
I’m also working hard on being more present and focusing my attention on the individual(s) or task at hand in a given moment. It is all about tiny shifts forward!
Where might you start making small incremental shifts to start bending your future toward achieving more of your potential?