Why Tiny Actions Work Best

by @deanyeong | Sign up to weekly newsletter here

Often, when we discuss goals – to make more money, to lose 50 pounds, to shred that few percent of body fat, or to build a startup – we talk about massive actions. Massive actions are what lead us to success.

I heard about this once in Tony Robbins’ seminar. “In order to achieve success, we need to take massive actions, massive actions, massive actions…” – Tony Robbins said that in that seminar. I can’t argue with that because it’s true.

Massive actions are the main ingredient to make things happen, but consistency is much more important. With that, there is a serious problem.

Resistance & Eenergy Requirement

Every action comes with resistance.

We want to start a new business but we can’t give up the security of our job. We want to live healthier but we can’t resist the temptation of fattening food. We want to nurture a better relationship with others but we all have the fear of rejection.

Even just to start taking action, we need to break through the resistance of our procrastination.

To break through those resistances, we need energy. We need a certain level of energy in taking every single action. It looks something like this:

illustration1

The blue line represents the resistance for every single task we have, every action we plan to take or every behavior change we want to make. In order to make thing happen, we need sufficient amount of energy to break through the resistance. It looks something like below.

illustration2

That’s the perfect scenario, but that’s not the reality. If our energy level is always linear and above the resistance of any particular task, we’ll have no problem to do anything. We can literally achieve almost everything we desired.

But here is the reality.

illustration3

The truth is that our energy level is not linear, and it will never be. You can find ways to improve yourself to stay at the peak state most of the time, but even so, we will still have down time.

So, what if we focus on massive actions that seem so far stretch for us? We will need more energy because the resistance is higher.

It should be easy at the beginning because our burning desire to achieve that goal push us forward, but then we got exhausted and fall back to our original level of energy.

illustration4

Most people will start to depend on external motivation. Which is exactly what I did during my first 2 years of lifting, watching motivational videos for 2 hours every day to push myself forward.

But that’s clearly not a good solution, simply because that’s not sustainable. This is why people often start with something big and always slip off after sometimes.

  • Start working out 6 days a week with unrealistic heavyweight and give up 3 weeks later.
  • Start jogging for 8km every single day and stop walking for even 10 minutes after 5 days.
  • Start a business with a huge plan and big capital, but not consistent with their marketing and management effort.
  • Force himself or herself to come up with 10,000 words in 3 days for half of his or her book, then never work on it again.

The graphic above illustrate why motivation doesn’t work, and why most changes don’t stick.

Sustainability & Consistency

First, I don’t want to argue that Tony Robbins is wrong here. Instead, I like to put his point in a different perspective.

Massive action is not about huge goals, huge plans, or huge leaps, but it’s about consistency. And what brings consistency? Small, tiny, simple and sustainable actions.

illustration5

Why tiny actions work best? Let’s get back into the relationship between resistance and energy of every single action, smaller actions simply have lower resistance.

With lower resistance,

  • You need less time and effort to get things done.
  • Fewer excuses for you to skip or ignore your action step.
  • No require of motivational spikes most of the time.
  • You can focus your energy on things that are truly important.
  • You are flexible to pivot and adjust.
  • Able to experience more wins (even they are small).
  • Achieve consistency and progressively improvement.
  • Even if you fall off the routine, it’s easier to pick it back up.
  • And much more…

Always Think Long-term

This had helped me to read more book, exercise regularly (based on schedule) and publish an article on my blog every week.

Most people never thought of or focus on this because most of us used to think short-term. We are wired to crave for instant gratification. But the truth is that small sustainable actions create the biggest impact in the long-term.

Start thinking long term. Start figure out ONE important goal you had set aside for a long time, break them down into smaller goals, and draft tiny actions around them.

You don’t set out to build a wall. You don’t say ‘I’m going to build the biggest, baddest, greatest wall that’s ever been built.’ You don’t start there. You say, ‘I’m going to lay this brick as perfectly as a brick can be laid. You do that every single day. And soon you have a wall.

Will Smith

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  • Ben

    Great job on your blog man. Really enjoyed this piece and love the graphs. Keep up the good work – brick by brick.

    • Thanks Ben! It’s my hope that you found some value from these articles. Slowly building this blog up!