Focus on the Process For Long-Term Success.

By:Michelle Klieger
Photo by Suzanne D. Williams on Unsplash

Saving money and losing weight are very similar processes: success is slow and requires a lot of deliberate steps. There are get rich quick schemes and fad diets, but these don’t deliver long-term, sustainable results. Also, success in both areas is hard to see mostly because change happens slowly. The problem is that if change happens too quickly, it doesn’t last (remember the fad diets?). People are most successful when they make small changes to their lives which over time make a big impact.

I’m slowly realizing that the same idea applies to starting a business. It’s hard to really appreciate the small wins. One new follower feels as inconsequential as $5 more in my savings account. It’s a small number, it’s hard to understand why it matters, but I know that stacking those small blocks together is how you eventually get big wins.

I feel like I need big wins to justify my efforts. I need to sign the next big contract. I need to post the next story that gets 1,000 views. I need to add 100 new people to my email list.

I don’t.

need to keep growing. I need to keep challenging myself. I need to keep focusing on the things that are in my control and stop worrying about how other people will interact with my work.

Hitting pause

This morning, I could feel myself falling into one of these self-destructive fits. Refreshing social media a million times was increasing my frustration, not making me feel better about myself. What did I think would happen between those refreshes? Would the Economist throw up a link to my recent article and promote it on their website? Suddenly, I’d look back and have 1,000 new followers and 10,000 new reads? No, of course not. But it would be nice — right?

It’s not realistic. I know that. I also know I needed to hit the pause button and stop obsessing about stats. Normally, that means taking my dog for a walk. Today I decided to open a new document and start writing out all the small wins. By writing them, I would have to see and acknowledge them. Hopefully, even be proud of them.

Here’s a few

  • Less than a week after creating my Goods & Services publication, I had a new subscriber to my website, a new follower on LinkedIn, and a new follower on Facebook.
  • Two people wanted the slides from my recent presentation in Singapore. These people went to my website and filled out the form required to access the slides. Maybe the most important point is that they gave me their email addresses and agreed to receive future emails.
  • One of my Medium articles was picked up by several news aggregators. These websites are sharing my content with their readers. That’s the first step to viral, right?

With each of these achievements, I want to downplay my success. Even now as I am writing, I want to put a comma after each success and explain why it’s really not that big of a deal. Why it’s not enough. That urge to minimize small wins frustrates me. It’s not good for my mental health, but honestly, the logical, economist side of my brain knows that small steps are how you build lasting change.

There are dozens of pop psychology/behavioral economics books like The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business that support this theory. One of the examples in this book is flossing your teeth more. No one wants to floss. So, what if you commit to flossing one tooth every day. It’s small, it’s possible, and eventually flossing (your whole mouth) will be part of your daily routine. One tooth is not big or scary. It’s not overwhelming, which makes it unsustainable.

One small step

I’ve focused on incremental improvements in the past and they’ve worked. Each month I put $100 in a savings account. That account has grown to several thousand dollars over the last few years. That small step has been effective and has contributed to my financial stability.

Similarly, my most successful diet is a bowl of non-frosted cereal for breakfast, a salad for lunch, and a normal dinner. Plus, all of my snacks during the day are fruit. It’s boring. But it works. It required small changes that I could live with and that’s why it works.

I believe that deliberate, manageable changes over long periods of time result in significant improvements to waistlines and wallets. Today, I’ve accepted (hopefully) that this same principle applies to my business. While it’s easier to look at the big picture — the checking account balance, the weight on a scale, and the number of followers/clicks/views — those metrics don’t tell the whole story. They are individual data points that can be manipulated and they fluctuate.

To be happier and more successful, I need to focus on the process and not just the headline number. I need to look for networking opportunities, spend more time writing every day, and be a lot nicer to myself. I have control over the process. I can refine it. I can’t control individual outcomes, and trying only makes important but small wins feel meaningless.

What is one small success you’ve had today?
What is one small change you can make today to improve your life?
Share them in the comments.