Small and Steady

Small and Steady Progress

You've set a goal. You want to lose 20 pounds. You immediately go to the pantry and get rid of all the sugar. Then you go to the fridge and get rid of the soda and juice. Next you get rid of all that ice cream you have stashed in the freezer. You dust off your hands feeling quite pleased with yourself.

Fast forward to a week later. You're pacing the kitchen thinking of anything sweet you can get your hands on. You don't have anything at home so eventually you decide to call the nearest bakery and have them deliver those delicious cinnamon rolls. You haven't had anything sweet for so long that you can't just stop at one.

Scenarios like this are all too common when we create a goal and then change our whole lifestyle in one fell swoop. We may start off with momentum only to realize a short time later that we are not motivated, we’re distracted, or we have withdrawals, which lead us back to square one. In their book The Progress Principle, Steven Kramer and Teresa Amabile explain how big events create big reactions whereas small events trigger small reactions. That makes sense right? But the opposite appears to be true as well. They found that, "over 28 percent of the small events triggered big reactions."

When it comes to our health, Kramer and Amabile's discoveries prove very useful. When we make great big leaps to achieve our goals, we are likely to end up feeling burnt out and deprived. However, with small, consistent changes we can combat failure. Rather than bombing your life with too many big changes, let your mind and body ease into a healthier lifestyle, which will lead to more permanent changes. Take the previous scenario as an example. You still want to lose 20 pounds. But rather than eliminating everything at once, you decide to only have a bowl of ice cream on the weekend instead of every night. This seems more achievable, right? Once you feel comfortable with only eating ice cream on the weekends, maybe you can challenge yourself further by only eating it once every other weekend. And then maybe you decide to start walking for 30 minutes three times a week.

Small steps allow us to build confidence in ourselves and our ability to accomplish our goals. And with each small success and increase in confidence, we will have more motivation to continue challenging ourselves. Health coaches can be an important piece in helping us complete the puzzle of our health. Through continuous contact and by building a meaningful relationship, a health coach and their client can work together to set an overarching goal and then make and achieve smaller goals and challenges along the way that ultimately lead to long-term success.


Kramer, Steven, and Teresa Amabile. The Progress Principle. Harvard Business Review Press, 2011.