Do a Little a Lot

When I was a fledgling jogger, I joined a marathon training group.  My goal was to meet fellow joggers, who would inspire me and accompany me on weekend runs. I had no intention of completing a marathon; my longest run up until that point was seven miles.  The goal post continued to move as I increased my mileage one mile each week.  Before I realized what was happening, I was running 20 miles.

Reflecting on that process of transforming myself into a long-distance runner, I understand this is one example of how the brain and the body respond to doing a little a lot. The brain learns best through incremental practice; this is true whether we’re developing a new skill, a new behavior or a new attitude.  In fact, doing a little a lot can be an effective strategy for learning or unlearning everything under the sun.

Physical Fitness

Weekend warriors are notorious for overdoing: running too hard too fast, pumping too much iron, playing too hard -- resulting in strained muscles (or worse) and burnout.

I used to believe that if I didn’t have at least an hour to spare, suiting up for a run, a walk or a workout made little sense.  My attitude changed when I met a building-mate who had an exercise routine that consisted of 30 minutes before work and 30 minutes after work.   As the months rolled by and I persisted with my lame excuses for not exercising, I watched my building-mate become strong and buff.

Fiscal Fitness

Little and often fills the purse is an idiom that speaks to saving small amounts of money -- even when one doesn’t have much to spare.  The savings can take the form of depositing a portion of one’s proceeds into a savings plan (or piggy bank) or saving by eliminating daily lattes, scaling back on cable viewing plans or frivolous purchases.  Last year, I added up all my coffee dates with colleagues and was shocked to discover I had dropped hundreds of dollars on this less-than-memorable activity.   

The danger in overdoing saving is feeling deprived or feeding a scarcity mentality. By starting with a small savings plan, chances are you won’t miss the ten bucks a week or the lattes.  I know I don’t miss the coffee dates I was scheduling with abandon.

Deliberate Practice

Learning a new skill or behavior bit by bit is the most powerful application of doing a little a lot.  Practicing a musical instrument, a new language, or a dance routine requires practice but being deliberate and focused during that practice is the only way to really improve.  A focused ten minutes of practice is more effective than mindless hour-long sessions.  Similarly, practicing in short increments every day is more beneficial than a “marathon” once a week.   

Baby Steps

Doing a little a lot can help us grow emotionally, recover from trauma and build resilience. We don’t heal from our emotional wounds and fears overnight but we do mend poco a poco.

Although we expect babies to take small steps while learning to walk (aka baby steps), we often place unrealistic expectations on ourselves and other adults to learn or unlearn behaviors. Move on, get over it are some of the most unhelpful bits of advice to give to someone recovering from a major disappointment or difficulty.

Moving Forward

When disappointment strikes (job loss, heartbreak, rejection), we need time to feel our emotions and find ways to restore our balance, whether that means seeking professional help, asking friends to support us and/or taking action to get back in the game. Reframing disappointment is essential for reclaiming one’s life. Instead of seeing rejection as losing something good, viewing it as redirection to something better helps us recover and move forward.

Sometimes a preposition makes all the difference.  For example, moving on from the death of a loved one implies that one must leave that memory behind, whereas moving forward means continuing with recovery and life.

“Life is like riding a bicycle, to keep your balance, you must keep moving.”

                                                                               ---Albert Einstein