It all adds up!

(From Edition 22 of The Upleveler, our weekly smartletter)


Some of you have read about our Reading compound and know why we started it. For those who haven't heard about our Reading Compound, well, in 2018, we initially wanted to just build a reading habit as a group. We have been following the work of B J Fogg for some time - he is a Stanford behaviour scientist who invented the tiny habits method. We applied B J Fogg’s idea of tiny habits to our situation. According to Fogg, a tiny habit is a personal behavior is one that

  • you do at least once a day,

  • takes you less than 30 seconds, and

  • requires little effort.

Great! We could apply these principles to the habit we wanted to build (with some modifications). We created a WhatsApp group so that the daily reminders from the moderator could serve as timely triggers and positive peer pressure would also keep us on our toes. If someone had set a target of reading 365 book summaries at the start of the year, we would have dismissed it as wishful thinking. Wasn’t ‘daily life and work’ supposed to inevitably come in the way? The goal should have petered away after the initial high. But, we are on a long hot streak, well over a year now. From the humble beginnings of trying to build a reading habit, we graduated to specific themes of Innovation, Future of Work etc. So what was different?

While we modified some of Fogg’s recommendations to suit our challenge, the one thing that we followed religiously was to acknowledge and celebrate the small wins. While we knew the target was to read every day, initially we celebrated each day’s successful completion and other milestones like the first week, month, fifty days and so on.

In Test cricket, when a team is required to bat out a whole day to save a match, commentators often talk about taking it over by over, session by session. This is no different. In fact, what separates the rookie from the seasoned pro in sport is this understanding and appreciation of the importance of the small win. It all adds up! It’s the same with winning a boxing bout or a tennis match or gaining market share in business. The single sale seems insignificant as compared to the annual sales target but it’s these single sales that accumulate over time to give you the big number that makes the pie chart at the end of the year look good. In many cases, a change or a 'big' win can be detrimental to the cause, for e.g., a large amount of water in one go will flood the farm and destroy the crop, the drip irrigation system maintains the soil moisture content just right!

Yet, most people are uncomfortable with celebrating the small wins. It may seem trivial to celebrate something seemingly unimportant as one day of avoiding sugar, for instance. However, tracking any accomplishment, small or big, activates the reward circuitry in our brains. When we celebrate wins, a neurotransmitter called dopamine is released, which gives us a sense of achievement and victory. This is the same substance that gets people hooked on to drinking, smoking or gambling. So when you celebrate the small wins, you are essentially getting yourself addicted to the wins, in pursuit of that larger goal you have in mind.

One of the biggest lessons we learned in 2018 was to appreciate the small wins – they all add up and eventually bring about the result you had originally sought out. So celebrate them!

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