Here are two good (and opposite) ways to break a nasty habit:
- All at once
Depending on the situation, or your personality, you might choose one or the other. Toward the end of this chapter, we will look at a third way, which may be the best of all.
Gradually is the default way. In many cases, it is the only way. You can’t lose 100 pounds over the weekend, but gradually, step-by-step, a pound this week, and two pounds next, you can lose a hundred pounds over time. My friend Steve Reynolds, author of Bod4God did it and you can too. You just can’t do it quickly.
You can’t learn to play the piano quickly, but if you want to, if it matters to you, you can learn to play the piano gradually. Let’s say you want to play Amazing Grace. You work out the melody line first, going over it day after day until you can do the melody line without mistakes. Then you work out the base line by itself. This may take several weeks as well. Then, you put the two together. Then you and learn the harmony line of the right hand. Again, this may take several weeks. Once you have two-part harmony in the right-hand, you add the base line back in. Once you get that song, the next will be easier. Step-by-step, gradually you can do all kinds of things.
I think it was Zig Ziglar who said, “Yard by yard, life is hard. Inch by inch, it’s a cinch.” How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Break down any big task into bite-size pieces and you can accomplish a great deal over a long period of time. You just can’t do it all at once. In many arenas of life, gradually is the only way to go.
Jim Collins has a great example of this in his classic business bestseller, Good to Great. He talks about the principle of the flywheel. Imagine a huge stone wheel. Your job, and the job of your company, is to get the flywheel spinning. You come to work and push on the wheel. Because it is so big, and so heavy, you can only push it one rotation in your eight-hour shift. The night shift comes in, and because the wheel has a little momentum, they are able to push the wheel two rotations. The graveyard shift comes in and they are able to speed up the spinning wheel to three rotations per shift. Days go by and the wheel keeps spinning faster and faster and faster. At some point someone asks, “What was the key to getting the wheel spinning? Which was the push that really made the difference?” If anyone asked this question you would look at them in bewilderment. The question doesn’t make any sense. There was no one push that made all the difference. There were 1000 tiny pushes.
I see this in the church world all the time. I have spent a good deal of my career talking to churches about how they can grow. Invariably someone will ask what is THE KEY to church growth. Here’s the answer I’ve come up with. THE KEY to church growth is embracing the idea that there is no one key to church growth. Church growth, like a lot of endeavors in life is about doing 1000 things right. One baby step after another and you can get there, but there are no easy fixes.
One more story from the church world.
A pastor came to a church that had the pulpit on the side of the stage. He had the conviction that the pulpit should be in the center, representing the centrality of the Word. So, he moved the pulpit to the center and summarily got himself fired. A few years later, he came back to the church and was shocked to discover that the pulpit was in the center of the stage. He asked the pastor about it after the service. “How are you able to get the pulpit moved to the center? I tried doing that at this very church and got myself fired. How did you do it?”
Answer: “Two inches per week.”
So, the default way is to reduce the big goal into tiny baby steps and take a few baby steps every day. This works, except when it doesn’t.