On April 4, 1895, Isaac Rees wrote a letter to his college-age son. A devout Quaker, he addressed some of the spiritual challenges he saw young Emory facing. He was in particular interested in the apathy and lack of dependence on God he had noticed in Emory’s life. He gave an example from Moses’ life and pursuits to encourage Emory to be more vigilant in his dependence on God. Near the end of the letter he summed up his advice in the form of a maxim:
“Do the littles. Do them and see how they will enlarge (or multiply) in thy hands.”
“Do the littles. Do them and see how they will enlarge in thy hands.”
I’ve thought about that line a lot over the years.
There’s something about the daily drip, the ‘littles,’ of positive behavior that builds up over time – it has a power almost like no other to accomplish great things. Rarely can an individual action be pointed to as the one thing that made a difference. But it’s the diligence in the small matters that makes a difference, that ‘enlarges’ over time.
I’ve heard a pro triathlete refer to each of his training workouts as a ‘brick.’ His goal is to lay a brick every day. And eventually he knows he’ll have a wall. And then later two walls. Then a house. Then an office building. Eventually he’ll have a tower that will give him the strength to compete. Does one brick make a difference? You bet it does. It may not appear to do so from a distance, but each brick laid brings measurable progress. When we do the little things well, they multiply over time. Because each brick laid makes it harder to walk away from the project. Each brick laid multiplies thine energy. Each brick laid says “we’re not going back to ye old way of doing things.” (ok… back to the 21st century).
One of the joys of life is to dream big dreams. Yet we often fail to put the small daily things in place to accomplish those dreams. We often want quick solutions. We want big situations to turn in a hurry, but life doesn’t usually work that way. Big changes almost always occur slowly over time. Especially lasting changes. Want a radically different relationship with your spouse? Start with faithfully attending counseling. Once a week. Or maybe three times a week. One session won’t change everything, but six weeks in a row might. Then have a weekly date night. Does any one date make the difference? Who knows, but the habit over time will change things. Try praying together every night. Will one prayer make a difference? Maybe. But after a year of praying together – you’ll be in a radically different place.
If you’ve not been doing anything intentional to invest in your relationship and you wonder why things aren’t good – there’s likely a connection – and the change will take a lot of time. Probably more time than you want.
If you’ve not been doing these things for years, then you also shouldn’t expect to be discouraged by the lack of immediate results. When we moved to Fiji last year to live there for six months, I went with a burden to get back in shape. It took a month before I worked out a plan, and once I put the plan in place, it took another month before I saw any real results. I remember thinking at one point, “Why am I not seeing any results?” It felt like I had been working HARD for YEARS, maybe even DECADES. I checked my tracking calendar and realized I had only been working out consistently for two weeks. Oh. Of course I won’t see any results yet. In fact, I’ve learned that my body seems to take a step backwards in those first two weeks of a new regiment. Yet I was laying bricks beneath the sod that would lead to visible results weeks later. And without the foundation bricks there would be no visible bricks.
The same is true in relationships, in finances, in your career, in spiritual growth, and yes, even in laying actual bricks.
Last month I decided to label this year the “Year of Project Multiply.” I had moved away from doing the small things that build over time related to my health. I had let some diet things slip (stopped drinking broth everyday. Started eating some grain again), also some mental disciplines (stopped some of my go-to study practices and started watching more random YouTube videos), also exercise (had not done any regular exercise for almost two months). And guess what – I’m not as healthy or productive as I’d like to be right now. Surprise Surprise.
Was it any one of those disciplines that made all the difference in my health? Maybe – but collectively, the weight of those practices produced a momentum that kept carrying me forward to overall better health. So I want to re-establish those habits. But I can’t add in every one of those habits all at once or I’ll likely shut down and be discouraged. Instead, I’m working to layer in a few at a time. I started with two simple ones and will layer in others week after week.
But there’s an important place to start. You don’t have to establish ten habits to make a difference. One is enough. If it is the right one.
Start by asking yourself, “What is the one daily habit I need to put in place that will make the biggest difference?” Not ten (though you can write down the ten you would like to do) – but what is THE ONE that if you put in place and really did every day, it would move a few others forward? Is it write one-hundred words, or ten words, toward your next novel? Or do ten pushups? Or daily categorize your budget expenses? Maybe it’s make ten sales calls? Or for families, add one more night over dinner together a week. What’s the lowest threshold you can begin so that it’s impossible not to do it? Is it one word? One call? One pushup? You can’t NOT do that.
Some have referred to this concept as the difference between a “Lead” and a “Lag” measure (from 4DX).
Every goal has a Lag Measure – i.e. the thing you want to accomplish. A lag measure would be “Loose 100 lbs.” OK, that’s a great goal – but it’s not a measurable action. Your Lead Measure is an action that you can measure daily toward that progress. A lead measure would be “workout one hour everyday” or, “eat a maximum of 1800 calories” or whatever. It’s an action you can measure that you’re betting will move the needle on your lag measure over time. This has been one of the most helpful concepts for me to recognize over the last few years – the difference between these two aspects of goal setting and accomplishing.
So what is your personal regular (Daily or weekly. Daily is preferred) Lead Measure, that if done will make the biggest difference in your life?
Pick one – even if it isn’t the perfect one – and try it for a month. Make sure it’s something you can maintain for 30 days. Your standard might be 100 pushups a day, but if you’ve slipped out of the habit, you might have to say 20 is acceptable for the next 30 days till you build momentum.
Here’s the important part: Pick a Lead Measure, and ‘do the littles’ every day, and watch them multiply!
Emory eventually caught a clear vision for his life. He was to go to Africa and do missions. He married Deborah and they moved to Kenya and spent the next twenty-five years there. They translated the Bible into a local tribal language, they brought the first printing press to the area, and they created language lessons for the local government to use to teach their own people how to write and read their own language. Translating and language work is a slow, tedious, methodical process. He did this work one phonic, one word, one line, one paragraph at a time.
Oh and he also started a brick factory, which produced, by his estimation, “the finest bricks around.”
What daily brick can you lay to build a wall by the end of this year?