Wanna know about one of my many character flaws? I am often an “all or nothing” type of person. Sometimes this is a good thing, but not for the most part. For example: If my wife wants to paint the house, she might suggest that we do it one room at a time, or even one wall at a time. Of course I scoff at such cowardice. If I’m going to paint the house, it is going to get painted in one fell swoop. The whole shebang in one huge, exhausting event. The result? The house never gets painted.
I only seem to read books when I know I can plow though the whole thing in short order. Read a chapter a day? Heresy!
When I decide to improve my fitness, I go at it hard and heavy, and end up sore and defeatist.
There are several books in my head that need written, but they stay in my head because I cant make myself write them down until I have enough time to do the whole thing as the sole, consuming focus on my life. Write an hour a day? Fat chance.
This all-or-nothing mentality makes some great things happen, but more often than not, it results in nothing happening.
To show that it is an ongoing thing, here is a snippet of something I wrote about 6 years ago:
….when I was in Africa, I heard an expression used several times that seems apropos for the new year. It has been around for hundreds of years, supposedly originating in Ghana. The idiom is this:
“Slowly, slowly, catchee monkey.”
The idea is that if you want to want to catch a monkey, you need to be patient, and approach it slowly. If you are hasty, the monkey will just run off. Yes, it is similar in principle to the American concept of “Baby Steps”, by Dr. Leo Marvin. (Too obscure? Perhaps.)
The scriptures say it this way:
Do not run faster or labor more than you have strength…(D&C 10:4)
By small and simple things are great things come to pass. (Alma 37:6)
Then there is a quote by an old German philosopher dude named Friedrich Nietzche. Now I’m not suggesting that Friedrich is the go-to guy for enlightenment, because a lot of what he says is whacky, but there is a phrase in one of his quotes that I really, really like. I’ll even bold that part.
“The essential thing ‘in heaven and earth’ is that there should be a long obedience in the same direction; there thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.”
Cool, dontchya think?
I like the idea of a “long obedience.” Obedience is not a flighty thing that can be tossed to and fro, but takes time, perseverance, and obviously, a path in the same direction – in a straight course.
Here I am, six years later, fully aware that this is something that I need to work on. Then General Conference rolls around, and the Brethren collectively decide to target me personally with some of their talks.
Let’s start with Elder Uchtdorf:
“Do you want to change the shape of your life?
Change the shape of your day.
Do you want to change your day?
Change this hour.
Change what you think, feel, and do at this very moment.”
“Minutes and hours well spent are the building blocks of a life well lived. They can inspire goodness, lift us from the captivity of imperfections, and lead us upward to the redemptive path of forgiveness and sanctification.”
Would you like a second witness? I give you Elder Brad Wilcox: Whern speaking of a young man and his family, he said, “They got rid of the all-or-nothing expectations and focused on incremental growth, which allowed Damon to build on a series of successes instead of failures.19 He, like the enslaved people of Limhi, learned he could “prosper by degrees.”20“
He quoted Elder Christofferson, “To deal with something [very] big, we may need to work at it in small, daily bites.”
There are two witnesses. How about a third?
Elder Michael Dunn gave and enter discourse on how we can progress little-by-little. Here are a couple quotes:
“…committed to a strategy he referred to as “the aggregation of marginal gains.” This entailed implementing small improvements in everything. That meant constantly measuring key statistics and targeting specific weaknesses.”
“Instead of trying to perfect everything, what if we tackled just one thing?”
“Truly, it is by small, simple, and, yes, even just 1 percent things that great things can be brought to pass.15“
“For example, what if in your new wide-angle awareness, you discover you have neglected a daily reading of the Book of Mormon? Well, instead of desperately plowing through all 531 pages in one night, what if we committed instead to read just 1 percent of it—that’s just five pages a day—or another manageable goal for your situation? Could aggregating small but steady marginal gains in our lives finally be the way to victory over even the most pesky of our personal shortcomings? Can this bite-sized approach to tackling our blemishes really work?”
He quoted Elder David A. Bednar, “Small, steady, incremental spiritual improvements are the steps the Lord would have us take.”
He quoted Elder Neal A. Maxwell, “Each assertion of a righteous desire, each act of service, and each act of worship, however small and incremental, adds to our spiritual momentum.”14
Well, there are six witnesses to the concept of incremental progress. (There are more)
Slowly, slowly, catchee monkey.
Then, this week I spent a couple days at the LDSPMA Conference at BYU. You know what’s taught? Incremental progress to attain our goals.
OK!OK! Uncle! I think I got it!
Now to do it. What small, incremental things am I going to begin to focus on, with the hope of attaining long-term goals? That’s between me and the Lord, but I can assure you that, for me it is a difficult process, because it require me to fight against the way I’m wired. That, however, is a lame excuse, and I don’t think it will fly at judgment day, because one of the key purposes of life is for us to overcome our natural man – or the way we are ‘wired.’
Little by little, one step at a time, baby steps, poco a poco, line upon line, incremental change. Call it what you will, but it is how the Lord and his servants have asked us to progress. (I mean, even Nietzche gets it.)
Wish me luck! If you have similar struggles, let me know what yo have found works for you. If incremental change comes naturally for you, count your blessings and be patient with the rest of us.
It has been a wonderful eye-opening, and heart-softening week for me. Hope it was for you, too.
Onward and upward!