Small Efforts Can Yield Big Results

Recently, I joined an online auditioning site for voice over (VO) talent.  The site provides a way to bring VO talent together with clients needing VO services.  Before joining this site I spent very little time actually practicing my VO skills, since I was primarily focused on where to find clients.  As a result, my VO skills didn’t improve as much as I would have liked.

Immediately after joining the site, I created a system for myself where I audition for a certain number of VO gigs per day, every day.  It’s not a large number of gigs.  It’s actually on the small side.  However, one thing I’ve been surprised by is how much my reads have improved after such a short time of consistently following my system.

The act of daily auditioning, which equates to practice, has started to compound.  It’s this compounding effect of relatively small numbers done consistently over time that will yield significant results.  This principle is true for anyone, whether you’re seeking to improve your VO skills, lose weight and get in shape, start a business, or become a better parent, spouse, or friend.  Never underestimate the power of small effort consistently applied over time.  It’s an often overlooked strategy.

Are there areas in your life where you could stand to make progress, but perhaps feel you can’t commit large amounts of time to commit to it?  Decide on a small amount of time, or other measure of output, that you can commit to working toward your objective on a daily basis, and get started today.  Don’t worry about how small your efforts are, or how big your objective is.  Just focus on causing a consistent effort.  You’ll be amazed at the progress you make in 1, 6, or 12 months and beyond.

Slowly Coming into Focus

Our lives should be moving toward something.  That “something” should be the life we envision for ourselves that consists of using our talents and skills applied in service to others, doing something we’re excited about.

Although this sounds good, what if you’re currently not living this life?  What if there’s discouragement caused by the gap between your envisioned life and the reality of your life today?  If that’s the case for you, I have encouraging news.

Here come some obvious truths about achieving our desired life that often get lost:

  1. We need to apply specific and consistent action that incrementally moves us toward our objectives.
  2. It takes time.

I heard the process of creating your desired life described recently as seeing a Polaroid picture coming into focus.  Remember those?  You take a photograph and wait several minutes as the picture comes into focus, revealing the image you just took a picture of.

It’s like that with achieving your desired life.  Most likely, the change from your current situation to where you want to be isn’t going to occur over night.  However, if you’re persistent, your life, like the Polaroid photo, will begin to come into focus and take shape, until it matches the vision you have been persistently pursing.

If you feel like you’re not where you want to be in life at this point take the following steps to cause progress:

  1. Have a vision in your mind of what you want your life to look like.
  2. Take action every day, no matter how small, which moves your life closer toward how you envision it.
  3. Remember that it takes time, so be persistent and stick with it.

Following these steps will not only cause the picture of your desired life to come into greater focus, it will cause the picture to become a reality as well.

Continue to Dream

What do you dream about?  A better question might be, “Are you still dreaming?”  When you envision your future, do you think of your dreams and all the possibilities that lie before you, or do you have thoughts about opportunities lost, time squandered, or the feeling that it’s too late to pursue your dreams?

 

Here some really great news:  there’s’ no such thing as being too old to dream!  We’re not required to jettison all our unrealized dreams when we reach a certain age.  Nor are we restricted from picking up new dreams after a certain birthday has passed.  We are free to dream and pursue those dreams as long as we have a pulse.  That is so encouraging and inspiring to me!  It’s encouraging because it reminds me that life is an adventure to be lived until our very last days, and inspiring because it causes me to realize that each of us should, at all times, have at least one dream that we are actively pursuing.

Dreams give purpose, excitement, and direction to our lives when we are actively thinking about and pursuing them.  The mere acts of having and pursuing our dreams make us interesting as people both to others and to ourselves.  How boring it would be to just drift along without any dreams or ambitions to help guide and direct our lives?

Perhaps you’ve had dreams at one time that you’ve neglected, or maybe you’ve never really given much thought to a dream you have buried inside of you.  If you’ve been distracted from your dreams, reconnect with them today.  If you don’t have any specific dreams, spend the next several days, or even weeks thinking about what you’d like to accomplish with your life.

Once you’ve reconnected with, or defined your dreams, think about them every day.  See yourself working toward your dream and ultimately achieving them.  Then, with this vision in mind, begin making progress every day toward the pursuit and fulfillment of those dreams.

Begin living an interesting life by identifying, visualizing, and finally pursing your dreams.  Today is the perfect time to start.

Cultivating Fallow Ground

Every day I read the chapter of Proverbs from the Bible that corresponds to the day of the current month.  I do this because Proverbs is filled with such practical wisdom and guidance that I can apply in my life the same day I read it.  On February 13th this proverb struck me like it never has before:

“The follow ground of the poor would yield much food…”   ~ Proverbs 13:23 (ESB)

Fallow refers to something that is resting, inactive, or used.  As I read this Proverb, I though not about a fallow or inactive plot of land, but rather about how our thinking, talents, and abilities can also become fallow.  I also thought about how, if I changed my thinking or utilized my talents more, I could be producing greater riches in my life, and not simply from a monetary standpoint but from a productivity and fulfillment standpoint as well.

So why do we allow our thinking and talents to become fallow?  I think it comes down to 3 basic reasons:

  • Fear of rejection.
  • Fear of breaking out of our comfort zone.
  • We try to avoid the struggle and unpleasant feelings and experience that can come from stretching our thinking and offering our talents.

Fallow thinking holds us back, and keeps a lid on our potential and the contribution we can make to our careers, families, and communities.  If your thinking has gone fallow, even if only in a certain area of your life, be encouraged.  Just like a fallow plot of land only needs to be cultivated and tended to begin producing a rich harvest, our thinking and talents can also become productive by simply deciding to begin cultivating them.

Here are 3 steps you can take today to cause something to happen to cultivate your fallow thinking or talents:

  • Identify your talents and offer them in service to others, either paid or unpaid.
  • Change your thinking toward a positive bent.  Instead of initially focusing on the negative or allowing your thoughts to park on what is negative, be mindful of cultivating thoughts that are positive and action oriented.
  • Think of the simple things you need to do that day to move you in the direction you want to go, and then do them, no matter how small.  Do at least one small action per day.

Don’t let your mind or talents lay fallow a moment longer.  Put them to use today and set yourself up for a fruitful harvest in the future.

Watch Your Language

If I were to ask you, “What language are you using?” how would you respond?  I imagine most folks would say something like, “English” or “Spanish” or list some other language at which they are proficient.  I doubt many would respond with something like “negative”, “self-defeating”, or “discouraging”.  In fact, I doubt many people give much thought to what type of message their language is conveying beyond the words they speak.  The language we chose to use is powerful, and has a significant impact on our thinking and our outlook on life, as well as our influence on others.

Take a moment and think about the language you use.  Do you have favorite “go-to” phrases you often rely on in your conversations?  What language do you chose to use in describing the world around you?  Does your language consist of phrases like:

  • “That’s just not in the cards for me.”
  • “What’s the point?”
  • “Another day older and further in debt.”
  • “The little man just can’t get ahead.”

Consider the impact a diet of this type of language has your thinking, and on your outlook on life.  Regular use of this kind of negative language can become a vicious circle in your life.  It’s like this…

  • You use negative language that sends a discouraging message…
  • With continued use of this language, you start to believe the negative messages you’re sending…
  • As you begin believing the negative language you’re using, your thinking changes to incorporate these negative thoughts and beliefs…
  • You use even more negative language…

Where does it end?  Furthermore, what kind of people will this kind of language cause us to become?

What if we were to watch our language for the next week with the intent of making it more positive and encouraging?  What if we actually gave thought to the type of language we use and chose our words and phrases as carefully as we chose our next smart phone or automobile?  I’m certainly not saying we have to stop and spend several minutes contemplating everything before we say it.  What I am saying is that using positive (or negative) language is a habit, and we should be mindful enough to ensure that our language serves to improve our outlook and thinking as well as to lift up and encourage ourselves and those we interact with.  Ultimately, we want to build the habit of using positive language.

If you need some help watching your language, cause something to happen by focusing on the following:

  • Begin replacing negative phrases with ones that are more positive and uplifting.  For example, instead of saying, “I’ll never be able to do that.”  Say, “I don’t know how to do that… yet.”
  • Be mindful of the triggers that cause your language to be negative.  Maybe it’s events, locations, or certain people.  When you know you’ll be exposed to one of these triggers, decide in advance that you’ll use language that is positive.  Maybe it’s even time to remove some of these triggers from your life.
  • Remove words from your vocabulary that have a negative connotation and consider reducing or eliminating profanity in your communication.

If you’ve been in the habit of using negative language, and you seek to use more positive language, realize that the change won’t occur overnight.  It will require continuous effort, but don’t let that stop you.  Stick with it!  For as you begin to watch your language, and consciously choose to make it more positive and uplifting, note the change that is also occurring in your thinking and your outlook on life.  Changing our language for the better will change our thinking for the better as well.  And changing our thinking is the beginning of great things.

To begin, we need only to watch our language.

Glacier-like Persistence

I love glaciers.  Living in the Pacific Northwest, I have several opportunities to see them throughout the year.  They’re remarkable objects of nature that come in all sorts of sizes and make up some of the most beautiful, striking, and unique landscapes on the planet.  Still, the characteristic of glaciers that I admire most is their persistence.

Glaciers aren’t the fastest moving things in the world.  In reality, they quite slow.  Even so, a glacier’s movement can forever change the landscape it travels crosses.  A huge valley can be left in a glacier’s wake.  Enormous alpine landscapes are reshaped as a glacier makes its slow decent down a mountain’s face.  The results don’t happen quickly, but the evidence of their steady, persistent progress can be staggering.

Have you ever thought of yourself as a glacier?  No, I’m not asking if you move at speeds that would make a tortoise look like Formula 1 race car, but rather have you ever thought of yourself as a powerful force, which is persistent in applying continued effort in the direction of a long term dream or goal?  Our dreams are usually not achieved in a minute, an hour, or a day, (If they are, then we need to dream bigger!)  Their achievement is usually the result of daily effort applied over a long period of time.  If you observe the results of only a few days spent perusing a long-term goal, you’re likely to be left unimpressed and under whelmed.  If, on the other hand, you look at several weeks, months, or even years of consistent daily effort, you’ll likely to see significant results.  That’s the power of glacier-like persistence, and it’s available to each of us.  We only need be willing to apply it.

What areas in your life could uses some glacier-like persistence?  Is there a habit you’d like to start or stop doing?  Perhaps there’s a lifestyle change you’d like to make.  Determine today what that is for you and commit to making small incremental progress every day.  And not just when it’s convenient, or only when you feel like it, or until you’re tired.  No, instead choose to move ahead with long-term glacier-like persistence, knowing that one day you’ll be able to stand back on look at all that you were able to accomplish.

The Positive and Negative Sides of “I Don’t Know”

“I don’t know.”  Sometimes it’s true.  Sometimes we truly don’t know the answer to a question that’s posed to us, or to a decision we need to make.  In either case, I love this answer when it is coupled with a plan of action or next steps to get the information needed in order to answer the question or make the decision.  In this scenario, “I don’t know” shows a confidence in ourselves, knowing that we don’t need to have all the answers.  It shows that we are willing to investigate and learn in order to increase our understanding.  It implies humility, self-assurance, and a willingness to be taught.  I love that!

As much as I love a genuine “I don’t know”, at other times, it can also be an extremely frustrating answer.  Specifically in response to a question that is asked in order to gain a person’s thoughts, opinions, or ideas.  “I don’t know” can often be used to hide behind when we want to avoid having to think or come up with a thought or idea.  For some, this response is almost automatic.  Before their brains have even begun to grapple with the question, their mouths have shut down the thought process completely with a simple “I don’t know”.

For me, when I initially get this response I gently encourage people to give some thought to the question and consider another answer.  Usually it’s as easy as saying, “No, really.  What do you think?”  Often, this is all people need to know that you really are interested in what they have to say, and will cause them to open up and share a well thought answer or opinion.  For others, their “I don’t know” stands.  When this is the case, I politely, but quickly, either change the topic or end the conversation.

Cause something to happen in your own communication starting today by trying the following:

  • Be quick to say “I don’t know” when it truly applies, and be open to gaining the knowledge or understanding needed.
  • If you ask someone a question and they come back with a quick “Oh, I don’t know”, press a little by asking them “No, really.  What do you think?”
  • When you’re asked for your opinion, thoughts or input, engage your mind and exercise your ability to think and reply thoughtfully versus giving a knee-jerk reaction of “I don’t know”, simply to avoid having to think.

Be mindful of these suggestions during your conversations in the days ahead.  By doing so, you’ll be making an effort to better engage the people you’re communicating with.  Who knows, you might even be putting yourself in a position be an influence in someone else’s life.

Do the Things That Are Easy to Do

We tend to think greatness and big achievements come from huge effort and doing things that are hard to do.  Actually, the effort and degree of difficulty it takes to achieve something significant is usually quite small… and easy.  More important than the degree of effort, is the consistency of the small effort that’s put forth doing the things that are easy to do.

Suppose we have a goal of losing 20lbs.  There is not Herculean effort you can make in one day that would enable you to lose those pounds.  Instead, what’s required is doing things that are easy to do, and then doing them on a consistent basis over a period of time, like eating smaller portions, drinking fewer sugary beverages, and getting your heart rate up every day.  These aren’t difficult things to do. In fact, they are rather easy!  What we need is to do them every day and we are practically guaranteed to see results, as long as we are consistent.

The results may not come not come right away.  In the beginning, it may not feel like your efforts are even making a difference.  However, if we consistently do these easy things, we will begin to see results.  Probably sooner than we think!

The problem is that these small things that are easy to do are also easy NOT to do.  It’s easy not to exercise.  It’s also easy not to have a glass of water, but to have a soda instead.  The truth is that you won’t really notice if you exercise or not… at least today.  However, after several months or years of drinking soda instead of water and failing to exercise, you will notice.

The point is that the things we need to do to cause something to happen that we desire in our lives, like lose weight, build wealth, start a business, or improve our relationships, are actually quite easy.  They just need to be done consistently over a period of time.

What easy things do you need to begin doing consistently over time in order to take your life in the direction you want to go?  What would you be able to achieve by doing so?

For more on this topic, I’d recommend reading The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson.  The concept and principles are so simple and so effective.  We need only apply them to see significant results.

Don’t Break the Chain

I heard a podcast recently about how comedian Jerry Seinfeld would set aside time everyday to write jokes for his routine.  He wouldn’t focus on writing the best or the funnies jokes.  His focus was simply to spend time EVERY day writing jokes.  When he first started, he noticed he had strung together a chain of 3 consecutive days where he had carved out time to write jokes.  In an effort to keep this trend going he set a rule for himself.  It was simply, don’t break the chain.

For Jerry, the “don’t break the chain” rule ensured that he would spend some time every day writing jokes, thus causing him to focus daily on becoming better at his craft.  Skipping a day was not an option.

I like that.  I’ve since adopted this rule for my own pursuits to help me focus on making daily progress toward my own goals.  Success rarely happens in one day.  Behind the large majority of successful people you’ll find a long chain of consecutive days of consistent effort.  Rarely are goals attained without such discipline.

Where in your life do you desire to see the results that come from consistent effort?  Determine the answer to this question and then commit to applying effort in that direction on a daily basis.  You don’t need to make huge leaps every day.  In fact, just focus on showing up every day and putting forth effort that moves you closer toward your goal.  Focus on not breaking the chain.

If you want to cause something to happen that is significant and meaningful, nothing will do that quicker than a long chain of consistent effort.

Don’t break the chain.

What’s Essential?

Why is it so easy to get distracted from pursuing our goals?  Even more so, why does it often seem like our progress is moving at glacier-like speed, leaving us feeling like we’ll never get where we’re trying to go in life?  I think it’s possible that we’re concentrating our efforts on tasks that won’t yield the high level of results we’re looking for.

I was reading Pamela Slim’s book “Escape from Cubicle Nation” recently (yes, I’m planning an escape!) about a person who was gaining control over their finances.  When asked what the most important thing they did to gain control over their finances was, they responded with, “Simplify to identify what’s essential, and then eliminate as much as possible everything that isn’t essential.”

That makes perfect sense in the context of personal finance.  It also got me thinking about how this same principle could be applied to the pursuit of goals.  I find plenty of examples in my own life where my focus is on something that is non-essential to an objective I’m trying to achieve.  The result is usually wasted time and delayed results.

For example, I recently signed up and created a user profile on a social networking site for voice overs.  As part of creating my profile, there was an option to add a photo.  A photo wasn’t required, it was optional.  Stated another way, it was non-essential to creating my profile.  Would you believe I wasted close to an hour trying to decide on the right photo to use?  What’s wrong with me?!  I had plenty of other essential tasks to do, instead of wasting time on this non-essential task.  (In my own defense, I learned this concept AFTER the incident I just described)

It’s amazing how quickly an hour can be lost to a non-essential task.  Imagine doing several non-essential tasks over the course of a day, a week, or a month.  Carry that out a year, and it’s staggering to see the negative compounding effect of wasting time on things that aren’t essential.

If you really want to cause something to happen in your life, start identifying what’s essential and what’s not.  Strive to spend the large majority of your time on essential tasks, and seek to eliminate, or at least drastically reduce, the amount of time you spend on non-essential tasks.  You’ll notice a marked increase in the progress you make toward achieving your goals.