“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

 I thought I would avoid the sappy New Year’s post about making good resolutions for 2020. Last week, I ended my post on Generosity suggesting that a good resolution would be to try and become more generous in 2020.

I reflected on how few resolutions stand the test of time, and a better idea is to suggest ways to make a resolution a reality.

Most annual resolutions don’t last a month. For decades, I have watched the annual crunch at health clubs and Y’s which occur in early January because people have made a resolution to become more fit.

By mid-February, health clubs have returned to normal. The “fit” resolution is well intended. But instead of becoming a year-long habit to good health, it is put in the rear-view mirror – at least until another New Year when it is likely dusted off and renewed.

Studies show that only 2% of New Year’s resolutions are kept, which means, that there is a 98% failure rate. One reason:  people bite off more than they can handle and set their expectations too high.

The old joke is how do you eat an elephant?  The answer:  One bite at a time. This is more profound than you might think because imbedded in this silly joke is the key to having success at achieving a lot of goals: start with small steps.

One man who had a job that kept him at a desk all day. He had a small paunch around his waist wanted to correct it.  A friend told him to start small by doing 2 pushups a day and to do an exercise called a plank for 20 seconds (it’s an exercise that strengthens stomach muscles).

A year later, he was up to 50  pushups a day and  could hold the plank position for 5 minutes. Oh, and his paunch went away. Why do small steps work?

Mark Twain put it this way: “The secret of getting ahead is getting started.”  If you focus on small steps to get started, they don’t feel overwhelming. Inertia begins and it’s easier to keep moving ahead.

From a small start, our mind is geared to being positively reinforced by having early success. It’s the ability to see results one step at a time. It also helps create valuable habits, which help us achieve larger goals.

Progress creates its own momentum. Teresa Amabile, author of The Progress Principle, found that progress creates the best work experience. The idea is that forward momentum in meaningful work creates the best result.

Stanford Professor Szu-chi Huang says, “When you are just starting a pursuit, feeling reassured that it is it’s actually doable is important, and achieving a sub-goal increases that sense of attainability.”  Going back to pushups, starting with 2 is achievable. Trying to do 20 might seem impossible.

Small steps which aren’t overwhelming means that they are more likely to last. “Sudden radical transformations don’t have the same staying power” according to Ann Gomez, a productivity and leadership consultant in an article in Thrive Global.

I took up riding a bike when I was 71. I started with short rides in our neighborhood – mostly 5 to 7 miles. From there I steadily increased them. To be honest, I did not set out to do long distances, but as I increased my stamina and strength, I was able to enjoy the experience.  Now, I consider a 20-mile ride a short ride.

The picture above is from the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina. It commemorates the first power driven flight by man.

The complete inscription reads: “In commemoration of the conquest of the air by the brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright conceived by Genius, achieved by Dauntless Resolution and Unconquerable Faith.”

It took the Wright brothers years to achieve success. They started with unpowered glider flights in 1899, leading to the first powered plane flight on December 17, 1903.

Their achievement is really a study of trial and error through small steps.  To get to the powered flight, they had to succeed at glider flights. It was one small step of many incremental steps leading to success.

The challenge is to make goals that we can achieve, like an annual New Year’s resolution. Starting with small steps is the best secret to long term success.

The lesson of starting small should be passed on to the next generation. They often have lofty goals and want to tackle big things, yet they need to realize that the best avenue to success may be to “think” small.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  Helping your mentee achieve a larger goal by getting them to focus on small steps may be an important lesson.

FURTHER READING: The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement and Creativity   by Teresa Amabile

WORSHIP: Listen to You Make Me Brave by Bethel Music.

MentorLink: For more information about MentorLink, go to

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