A bird does not sing because it has an answer.  It sings because it has a song.

26 April 2010

The Butterfly Effect

Being in the business of change, I continually run across (and often use) various buzz phrases and adages that are true enough, often enough to warrant repeating. One popular one among business coaches goes, "If nothing changes, nothing changes."

It's a simple enough idea, closely related to the perennial favorite definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. If we keep doing what we've always done, we'll keep getting the same outcomes we've always gotten. That's great, if for example you've always gone to the same dentist and never had a cavity, but not so good if you've always advertised in the same outlets and never gotten the customers you were looking for.

I recently returned from, of all things, a yoga retreat at a beautiful wellness center in the Berkshires. While I was there, I realized a hugely important corollary to the "if nothing changes, nothing changes" adage. You see, I have sometimes found myself paralyzed by the magnitude of what needs changing. I decide, for example, that I'm sick of my front yard looking terrible, with scraggly weeds and patches of bare dirt. But then I contemplate what would be entailed in fixing it -- tearing out the hopeless lawn, adding new plants, setting up a water-wise irrigation system -- and I get so overwhelmed that I end up doing nothing. A few weeks or months later, I get fed up with the status quo again, and go through the same cycle. Each time it gets more frustrating, but nothing changes, so nothing changes.

Here's the thing I discovered on my yoga retreat. I came to a real, down to the depths of my gut understanding of the notion of "enough." And I realized that if I planted one tree, or mulched one small bed, or installed one rain barrel, it would make a difference. And if I took one step each time I felt ready to do so, I would accomplish the whole project. (How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!) Most importantly, I realized that doing one little thing would impact my attitude. And sure enough, when I planted a few flowers in pots, and grouped the pots together in the garden close to my front door, it shifted my attitude about it so much that in short order I had mulched a large area in front of the house, put in a rain barrel, and ordered a couple of new trees. The project is far from done, but more importantly, it's far from UNdone. Now, instead of despairing every time I pull into my driveway, I am delighted by the bright little cluster of flower pots that tells me "hey, you've done enough for now. The rest will wait."

If nothing changes, nothing changes. But if anything changes, everything changes.

What's the "one small step" you could take on a huge project that will be enough to provoke a giant leap in your attitude?

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