The Power of Incrementalism

Uncategorized Feb 20, 2020

So, I have a confession to make. 

I'm doing something and about to do something that many people advised me against. In fact, when you hear it you may say “you're an idiot” or you may say “you're pretty brave, go for it” or you may say “you're a little of both”. I'd be interested in your comments when I tell you what it is I'm doing. 

Let me back up a little bit and tell you first that I'm about ready to do Ironman number eight. I'm going to race Ironman number eight in about two months. I'm right in the middle of training. I'm a bit challenged right now because I'm not a young man anymore. 

I'm going to turn 58 this year. I'm not complaining. I think the decade of the ’50s has been great to me and I've done some wonderful athletic things. As I said, Ironman number eight's coming up, and I've done all my Ironman races in my 50’s. 

But, I'm challenged right now with a little shoulder issue. Three of the four tendons in my rotator cuff are torn. It's quite a bit painful, and as you can imagine, doing any type of swimming at all or any type of overhead work with my arms is tough.

I just finished a long training swim, and here's the deal…this probably happened to me over the years I am an ultra-distance open-water swimmer, and for those of you who don't know what that is, ultra-distance is anything over 10 miles. 

I've done many, many swims that are over 10 miles long, and I love it. You know, it's a great passion of mine. It is my favorite sport, but there's a lot of repetition. So that's probably what happened with the shoulder. I'm going to power through the pain. I've got two months of training to go, I've got that race. 

Race day, for those of you who aren't Ironman triathletes, you know, some of us would call it "race day", but most of us call it "pain day" because it doesn't matter whether you are an amateur or a professional, you're putting everything out there on that course, and it's a painful day. 

For some of us like me, it could be 13, 14, 15, maybe even 16 hours of pain. but we know it's temporary, so we get through it and we get to the other side. I've had a couple of doctors now, including my surgeon, tell me that I probably shouldn't do this race. 

But they all know that I'm a Type A. They all know that I'm passionate about this. They all know that I'm going to do this anyway. So I'm getting some great guidance from them. and I'll power through it. 

But here's what came to me and here's what I learned from the experience. Not that I'm stupid, that I shouldn't be doing this, but something completely different. Something that I want to share with you that I think you could take into your life and use. It's called the power of incrementalism. 

You see, I just timed myself and I'm so much slower than I ever was in swimming, and a lot of it has to do with this shoulder. I never was the fastest runner. I would never do a marathon on its own, never. I only do the marathon because it's part of the Ironman. I don't really enjoy running, to be honest with you, but I do it, so I'm not really fast, I'm not great at it. 

I'm an okay cyclist, but I'm not the fastest either. So if you look at any three of those sports, I'm not very extraordinary at any three of those sports. I can do them and I think it's great, if you're doing those kinds of things, I think it's great. You don't have to be the fastest and I'm not. 

But here's the deal. When I add them all together, when I add the 2.4 miles swim along with 112-mile bike ride, and then when I'm done with those and I add the marathon on top of that, it's pretty extraordinary. It's something that only one one-hundredth of 1% of the population has completed. Now, all on their own it's not a very extraordinary feat for me, but putting them all together, that's something pretty special. 

Here's the lesson. That incrementally adding things together you can do big things. 

Most people, overestimate what they can do in a week, but they underestimate what they could do in a year. 92% of the people who set a goal fail at those goals. 

You want to know why?

Because we get all excited about them and we go out strong, and then something happens, and we get frustrated, or we get tired. We'll just say, you know what, it's not worth it. 

But if you were to break things down, big things that you wanted to do, into small pieces and do just a little bit every day, oh, you'd be amazed at what you could accomplish. You know, I'm a big believer in continued education. A lot of people after they get out of high school or college, they never pick up a book again. I think it's sad. They just, you know, get their news from Google or the television and they get their information there, but I love to be continually learning new things. 

If you were to take just 30 minutes a day every day for a year and learn something new that would be the equivalent of taking three college courses, including study outside of class for the exams. Three college courses in just 30 minutes a day! 

So you see, the incremental approach, a little bit at a time, is not as hard, and you can do great things. 

Go ahead, next time you've got a big goal or there's something you want to tackle or there's something you want to accomplish, write it down and then break it up into little pieces, and then think about doing those little pieces just a little bit every day over time. 

Never quit. Just keep doing a little bit every day over time. You will be amazed at what you'll accomplish. 

Go ahead, send me an email ([email protected]).  

Tell me if I'm an idiot, or if I'm brave, or both. And, tell me what you like about incrementalism. If you've used it in your life, I want to hear your story. 

So go ahead, send me an email. If this is the first time you've ever used this give it a try. I want to hear about your success.


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