HOPE, Pt. 2 - Progress: Why The Little Things Are The Big Things

“The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.”
— Confucius

“The most important shot in golf is the next one.” — Ben Hogan


Every Step Matters

One of the best books I read in 2018 was Steven Johnson’s How We Got To Now. A common theme throughout the book was the necessity of multiple inventions to finally arrive at the innovation we use today. One example that stuck with me was the creation of devices to record and project what we hear — audio devices.

While most people recognize Thomas Edison as the one who pioneered our ability to record and play back audio through the phonograph, this giant, innovative leap was only made possible by the first leap made twenty years prior: the invention of the phonoautograph. Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville (what a name) invented the phonoautograph in 1857 as a way to record the sound waves as they passed through air. In his mind, the next logical step would be to create a new language around reading/deciphering the sound waves that were transmuted into lines on paper (earliest form of transcription, albeit not very helpful when it appears as scribbled lines instead of legible letters).

In hindsight, the obvious innovation is to use those waves to actually recreate and play the sound back, but at the time, this next step was not so obvious at all. Yet, without this first, necessary, innovative leap, Edison may have never been able to make the consequential giant leap in creating the phonograph that both records and plays back the audio sounds. Each innovative step forward is crucial for facilitating the innovation that’s yet to come. Shortcuts simply aren’t an option.

The point of this example is to illustrate that the little steps add up to the big steps. The next step is better than skipping to step ten, because skipping to step ten 1) doesn’t happen, and 2) wouldn’t provide lasting footing without the first nine steps it took to get there. This is often because the problem we’re trying to solve isn’t the real problem. It takes learning what the problem isn’t in order to learn what the problem is. A necessary part of growth is first learning what NOT to do before we learn what TO do.

Each and every step matters.

From Belief To Action

The first part of this mini-series on hope was all about the foundational hope of knowing we are never finished in life — or stated affirmatively: we are always in-process. Which means, our current place in life is more descriptive than it is definitive. It means that growth is possible, whether or not it looks like the picture of growth we imagined.

In this second installment of the mini-series, my goal is to discuss what our focus in that process should be — how we can leverage hope to our advantage and add fuel to fan the flame of that hope to higher and higher realms.

If knowing that growth is always possible is the first step to living a hope-filled life, then the second step is to believe that hope and take steps forward to prove that belief.

“We only know what we act on. We only believe what we obey.”  - James Sire

Steps Are Smaller Than You Think

If the first reminder we need to preach to ourselves is that every step matters, the second reminder is that most steps are smaller than we think.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words; I’d say that’s a gross understatement. A thousand words can often be pretty cheap (like this blog post), but a picture of beauty only comes from much effort and exertion over a long period of time. It’s a journey, and a journey entails a lot of steps.

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”  — Lao Tzu

Just as every journey begins with a single step, every journey ends with a single step, and between those two points are found a whole lot more steps than any of us ever want to admit. In fact, a thousand miles is roughly equivalent to two million steps… two million. Whatever your “thousand mile journey” is in life right now, the irrefutable aspect of that journey is that it will entail countless steps, steps that by themselves seem meaningless, but stacked on top of each other add up to incredible destinations.

“Celebrating small steps triggers more dopamine than saving it all up for one big achievement.”  — Loretta Graziano Breuning

The important, objective reality about steps is: they don’t just happen. Steps require effort + intention

Just because we are in-process does not mean there is a guarantee of progress. In fact, without pairing intention with exertion, there will be little chance of growth. Decay is the natural order of the world. Entropy happens by chance, growth does not. Growth takes effort… but typically it isn’t some herculean effort that’s required.

Part of the beauty found in hope is that it has large implications. Hope can move mountains. Hope can withstand any onslaught from the fiercest of storms. Yet, the fruit that results from this hope isn’t often a magnificent, grandiose accomplishment or feat. More often, it is the small, microscopic, yet doggedly persistent movement in the direction of progress. The clawing your way forward, inching along the ground in ways that seem slower than a sloth but still amount to some measure of “forward”. This is the more common reality of hope, and it is exactly why the little things are the big things.

Any big leap is facilitated by the countless little steps that created the resulting leap. We all love to glorify the major innovation at the expense of all the innocent, seemingly invisible, baby steps that did all of the dirty work needed to arrive at the deified destination. But as we all know, the journey is the destination, it’s just not as sexy or novel.

Hope does not depend on novelty. Hope depends on conviction. Hope involves faith.

So if each step matters, and if those steps are usually smaller than they are bigger, then how does that connect to hope and progress?

Fueling Hope

Hope and progress are related because hope provides the fuel for consistent and continued progress in life, especially when our feelings or emotions are saying otherwise.

So if hope is fuel for progress, what is the fuel for hope?

As with tending a good fire, knowing the things that will help our hope remain ablaze is important. Here is a shortlist of hope-fuel from my experience:

Progress: seeing tangible signs of ground gained helps hope grow into an even stronger resource.

Promises: hearing the promised outcome of any effort brings a greater conviction to the effort that awaits.

Community: being surrounded by others who share the same hope increase our resiliency and support us in the valleys.

Reminders: reflecting on personal experiences that have reenforced our hope, as well as the lessons of history and others’ lives can all be important fuel for sustained hope.

Experiences: experiencing progress - the fruit of that hope - is undeniable evidence that can’t be refuted, even in the wake of the strongest opposition or emotion.

Inspiration: seeing the example of others’ accomplishments and achievements can add to our own hope as we see the human potential demonstrated by our fellow beings.

Positive impact on others: seeing the fruit of our influence, impact, or support on others’ lives help add further fuel to the work at hand.

Challenge: having the right threshold of challenge, a goal that’s sufficiently beyond our current reach, but not too far to be seemingly out of grasp, is a hope-inducing sweet spot.

Competition: healthy competition is one of the most consistent fuel sources for hope, as it can be in ready supply while also bringing a human element that incorporates many of the other fuels as well.

Hope Extinguishers

Just as important as knowing the things that help a fire be sustained, we must be aware of the elements that have the ability and power to extinguish our hope-flame. Hope has many opponents, but here are few that I’ve seen play an active role from my experience:

  • Slow Progress — the slower the growth, the more frustrating the process can become. One of the most difficult parts of reaching a level of mastery in golf was the fact that progress became so incremental: hours and hours of practice would hardly produce anything more than microscopic improvements.

  • Doubt — doubt is the opposite of faith, and a direct opponent to hope. The more we entertain (or give mental space) to doubts, the more hope’s flame will be reduced to a flicker. 

  • Fear — fear is the opposite of freedom, and living in fear stifles hope until it has no air to breath. When we are operating from a fear-based mindset, we tend to only focus on worse-case scenarios, not on the hope that is propelling our actions.

  • Wrong Focus — something as seemingly innocent as a misdirected focus can also hurt hope’s flame. A focus on responsibilities and duties, instead of opportunities can transform hope into a burden instead of a blessing.

  • Others’ Opinions — if we allow our hope to be based on what other people think or believe then our flame is sure to dwindle. Everyone has an opinion, and almost everyone’s opinion will differ. Sustainable fuel is found when our hope is not based on others’ and their opinions.

  • Lethargy / Laziness — defaulting to laziness and settling for less than we are capable of will naturally lead to a reduction in hope’s flame. Action is what fuels belief, and inaction will only diminish our hope until the flame is extinguished.

  • Too Hard of a Challenge — having a challenge or goal that is beyond the healthy sweet-spot will often lead to despair. Knowing the difference between what seems impossible and what truly is impossible is important to discern in order to keep hope’s flame burning strong.

  • Too Much Competition — An abundance of competition can lead to burnout or, even worse, complete loss of hope. Know what level of competition is helpful rather than hurtful to ensure hope’s flame doesn’t get snuffed out.

“Action feeds and strengthens confidence; inaction in all forms feeds fear. To fight fear, act. To increase fear - wait, put off, postpone.”  - David Schwartz

Summation

To summarize, the simplest way to live a life committed to hope and progress is to understand and believe that the small steps are the big steps. To embrace baby steps as the necessary route to greatness.


How do we live lives of hope?

  1. Live for something beyond yourself.

  2. Live attached to that vision — daily.

  3. Use the hope-fuel to increase the flame and keep the fire burning hot.

  4. Be aware of the components in life that look to extinguish hope.

As my former training group poignantly coined: Everything is everything

The little things are the big things.

Baby steps matter, and progress is the fuel that hope needs — no matter how small it may seem.

“What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.”  
— T.S. Elliot