Have you ever thought the following?
I won’t go back to school until I can go full-time.
I won’t open that investment account until I have a few thousand dollars to invest.
I won’t start reading that book until I go on vacation and have a few days to finish it.
I’m not going to start contributing to my 401(k) plan until I can defer at least 10%.
It’s not worth starting piano lessons until I have at least three afternoons free a week.
I’m going to quit exercising because I can only make it twice a week.
I’m not going to cut down on smoking until I can quit cold-turkey.
One donut a day isn’t going to ruin my diet.
When the kids move out and I retire, I will start writing my book.
If some of these statements hit close to home, you may be suffering from this debilitating belief. You’re not alone. This is one of the most pervasive and limiting beliefs and is guaranteed to prevent you from reaching your goals and financial success.
It’s easy to dismiss small actions as trivial and inconsequential for two reasons.
- First, we’re impatient and expect immediate results. In the short-term, the results our small actions create really are unnoticeable. On the surface, these small actions don’t appear to matter because you can’t see any meaningful and immediate results. We want today’s actions to produce visible and measurable results today, not tomorrow or a week or year from now. If we’re putting in the effort now, we want the results now!
- Second, we only expect big results from big effort. If you dedicate a lot of time or money to something, you expect the outcome to reflect your contribution. If I hire a tutor to teach me Spanish five days a week, I expect to learn Spanish quickly. If I bring a book with me on a plane, I know that I’ll be able to get through most of it by the time I land. If I invest my entire bonus, I’ll be able to make a lot of money on it. This kind of one-for-one tradeoff makes sense. Put in your time or money and get an equal result.
The problem in thinking that only big efforts produce big rewards is that it prevents you from taking small steps today.
This kind of “big or nothing” thinking stops you from taking action that could, over time, lead to greatness. If you always stop yourself from taking action because “it’s not worth it” or “it’s not going to matter,” then you may quit or never begin.
Do Small Actions Matter?
While we expect big rewards from big effort, we don’t expect big rewards from little effort. It goes against everything we are taught. You’ve heard the clichés:
If you want something, do whatever it takes to get it.
Pull out all of the stops.
Make it happen.
If at first you’re not successful, try again. If you still fail, you’re not trying hard enough.
Put in more time.
Get behind it 100%.
Focus all of your energy on achieving it.
Don’t stop until you succeed.
What if you could put in a small amount of effort and get big results?
It’s not about getting something for nothing or about being lazy or winning the lottery. Your big dreams will require work, effort, and deliberate action, but probably a lot less than you’ve ever imagined.
If I asked you to go to your kitchen and walk in a straight line from your dishwasher to your stove, you’d reach your destination easily and successfully. If I asked you to do it again, but this time said to change your destination by one degree, would you still make it to the stove? Yes, of course. The one degree change is so minuscule that you wouldn’t even notice the difference. To miss your stove entirely, you would probably need to vary your destination by more than 20 degrees. Anything less than that, and you would still reach the stove successfully.
So far it doesn’t seem like small changes matter. Certainly one degree didn’t have any effect in your kitchen. Does such a small change ever amount to anything meaningful? Let’s get out of your kitchen and put you on a plane. You’ve buckled in and are getting ready to embark on a summer vacation when the pilot casually mentions that because of high wind speeds, it will push the plane just one degree from your course. Who cares, right? Well, unless you packed warm clothes, you’d better care. That’s right. A tiny, seemingly insignificant one degree change has a dramatic effect over a long distance. In your kitchen, the impact was a few millimeters. In the plane, the difference was thousands of miles.
Archimedes’ Principle – How Small Actions Produce Big Rewards
Thousands of years ago, Archimedes said, “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it and I shall move the world.” If Archimedes were alive today, he might say, “Give me consistent small actions and enough time on which to build them, and I shall accomplish anything.”
We’ve all known people who, in their free time, produced a record, learned a new language, earned a Master’s degree, learned how to play the guitar, or started a small business. Or the friend who you know makes less than you but just became a millionaire. How did they do it and how can you do it?
Whether they know it or not, these people are using Archimedes’ Principle to achieve their goals and reach financial success. The difference lies in small consistent actions. Even if the most you can save right now is $100 a month (that’s just a little over $3 a day!), do it! Doing this will accomplish three things:
- It will create momentum. The biggest battle we all face is inertia. The fact that you are doing something will provide you with momentum to continue.
- It will motivate you to do more. Even if you only start with $100 a month, you may find you want to save more and more as you see your account grow.
- You’ll reach your goal. That small contribution of just a little over $3 a day doesn’t seem like much right now; but if you start young enough, it will grow into a million dollars.
This same principle works just as well with non-financial goals as it does with savings and investing. Want to lose weight? Cutting out that seemingly insignificant breakfast donut each morning decreases your caloric intake by nearly 21 pounds per year! What seems like a harmless little pastry can wreak havoc on a diet over time. Want to learn a new language? If you’ve got twenty minutes a day to spare, you could be fluent in a new language in a few years. The average adult watches 4.5 hours of television per day. Just think what you could do with just a fraction of this time.
How has the limiting belief that small actions don’t matter affected you over the years?
Where could you be today if you took those small consistent actions a year ago? Five years ago? Twenty years ago? Better yet, how many of your personal goals could you reach in the future by taking minor and seemingly inconsequential actions today? With just a small commitment and enough time, what could you accomplish?
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. No matter how small or insignificant your actions, over time, they can have a tremendous impact on your financial and personal success. The trick is to just get started.
The proceeding blog post is an excerpt from The Six-Day Financial Makeover: Transform Your Financial Life in Less Than a Week!, available now on Amazon.
About the Independent Financial Advisor
Robert Pagliarini, PhD, CFP®, EA has helped clients across the United States manage, grow, and preserve their wealth for the past 25 years. His goal is to provide comprehensive financial, investment, and tax advice in a way that was honest and ethical. In addition, he is a CFP® Board Ambassador, one of only 50 in the country, and a real fiduciary. In his spare time, he writes personal finance books, finance articles for Forbes and develops email and video financial courses to help educate others. With decades of experience as a financial advisor, the media often calls on him for his expertise. Contact Robert today to learn more about his financial planning services.