Of Milestones and Halfway Marks

A photo of a rusty bicycle chain in winter

I’ve done this blogging thing before, on a variety of platforms and with a variety of names. Approximately two blog versions ago, I used to bike to work. Biking to work was good for me, it kept me in better shape than I am right now, gave me time to think, and inspired a small series of blog posts about things that I observed about biking that I thought would be useful. As I think back on that time, and since so many people are doing resolutions and other commitments to a better life in 2016, here’s a thought that I don’t think I wrote down then, but I hope may be useful now.

While I said that biking kept me in better shape than I am right now, it shouldn’t be taken to imply that I was in particularly good shape. I was never a natural athlete. Biking 6 to 8 miles everyday, while not a big deal to a lot of my friends who bike, was an effort for me. As I figured out my preferred route along which I could huff and puff to work I started to figure out where the approximate halfway mark was between my apartment and work. On any given day, I figured that if I could make it to that point, I knew I could make it the rest of the way. Even making it to that halfway point was hard, so I found a point halfway to that, and figured if I can make it to the quarter point, then I could make it to the halfway point, and so on.

It turns out, that I had stumbled upon a pretty decent way to keep myself motivated through long projects. We’ve probably all heard the idea of breaking up a large project into achievable chunks, this is just a variation on that same theme. It’s about strategically setting up the first set of those milestones so that they are proof that the next milestone is achievable.

So, if your resolution is to exercise 3 times a week, then if you make it through the first week of 2016, take it as proof that you can make it through the second week of 2016. If you make it through the second week, then it means you can probably make it through all of January, etc.

So here’s to your resolutions and goals for 2016. I wish you all the best at achieving them.

Photo Credit: Dusty J via Compfight cc

Empowerment, Creative Confidence, and Small Victories

David Kelley: How to build your creative confidence | Video on TED.com.

There’s a lot of things that I learned from seminary, about the Bible, church history and the like, but I also learned a lot about myself and about others. One of my professors said something that stuck with me. He said, “The best way to motivate someone is to catch them trying to doing good, and praise them for it, the best way to demotivate someone is to catch someone trying to do good, and berate them because they didn’t do good enough”

I recently read the book Switch by Chip and Dan Heath. It’s a great book about making change in both personal and organizational contexts. In this book, Chip and Dan tell the story of what happened when researchers told a group of hotel maids about the benefits of exercise, half of these maids they just told about the benefits of particular types of exercise, the other half received the information, but were also told that by doing all the physical labor they were doing (the bending, pushing, walking and lifting that comes with cleaning several hotel rooms a day) that they were already doing pretty well at exercise. They came back a month later and found that the second group had lost an average of 1.8 pounds. The first group hadn’t lost anything.

This story has something in common with the story that David Kelley tells in the video embedded above, of the patients who after successfully confronting and overcoming their fear of snakes begin to have less anxiety in other areas of their lives. They work harder and perform better.

These stories illustrate the power that small victories (and sometimes defeats) can have on our self-perceptions and how those self perceptions can help us to do better. If we see ourselves as exercisers, we’ll probably exercise some more. If we see ourselves as people who can face our fears and come out better, then we’ll face our fears more.

If you are reading this, you probably care about changing the world. You’re probably some sort of activist or advocate and you are passionate about your cause. The big problem that I’ve often seen with those passionate about their causes is that there is a lot of good that simply isn’t good enough. Somebody wears a pink ribbon, or tweets a link to a video and we berate them because they don’t know that the organizations that they have supported don’t actually do as much good as they think they do. The problem is that we do two things when we do that. First of all we present the idea in their mind that they aren’t activists. Secondly we place the goal for doing good so far over there that the journey from here to there is overwhelming.

Maybe you should consider where in your advocacy, activism, development and ministry you can create the opportunity for small victories. Where can you build in places where people can begin to see themselves as world changers, as advocates, as ministers, and as activists. Those small victories can lay the foundation for significant victories later on.

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