Life hinges on small things that have a big impact
In this episode, we talk about the impact of being intentional in our everyday small acts. Considering that “the door of history turns on small hinges, and so do people’s lives,” as one of my mentors wrote, we talk about the three gates that only we can open, and that will lead us into a successful life. We go through these three gates, exploring them and understanding how they can change our lives: the gate of preparation, action, and gratitude.
Steve Shallenberger: Welcome to our podcast, guests. Wherever you may be in the world today, it is an absolute privilege to be with you. And I’m honored that you would join in today because it says so much about you. And the only thing that would be better is if we could be together in person and talk about this great subject today, which is that life hinges on small things that have a big impact. The pursuit of happiness is a lifelong journey for many people. And while there are many roads that you can choose to take one of them is through performing a series of small acts each day. You may not see it now, but over time, you will come to realize how these tiny details add up and create value. I love the example of compound interest. In other words, a small investment over a period of time ends up having a huge impact and return value at a later time in your life. Or if you think about saving up small amounts or having just a little bit more in sales each day, these really add up to be a huge amount. And when this happens, this compound interest over time, which is cumulative, imagine the impact on your business: more ideas, more solutions, higher performance; imagine the impact on your personal life and on your relationships: better health and rest, stronger and happier and satisfying relationships. So, these little things can make a big difference. And these are the things that often only take a moment, yet have an impact for life. So, I like this thought that one writer shared that the door of history turns on small hinges, and so do people’s lives. If we were to apply that maxim to our lives, we can say that we are the result of many small decisions, many small acts. And in effect, we are the product of our choices, and we must develop the capacity to recall the past to evaluate the present, and look into the future in order to accomplish greatly in our lives.
One of my mentors was Thomas S. Monson, an extraordinary individual. He was the president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. But in addition to that, so many other things and how he blessed lives, and my life included, totally inspired me and I’m grateful for the impact he’s had in my life. He gave a talk one time and really talked about this notion that we just visited about, that the gate of history swings on small hinges, and of course, so do people’s lives. So, today, following his example – which I love in this subject, generally – I’ve chosen to discuss three gates which you alone can open. You must pass through each gate if you are to be wonderfully successful in your journey of life. And the three gates that I’ve chosen to discuss today are the gate of preparation, the gate of action, and the gate of gratitude, love, and service.
So, first, let’s speak of the gate of preparation. If you are prepared, you shall not fear. And fear is the enemy of growth and accomplishment. So, let me share with you this time-honored advice, which has never been more applicable than it is right now. And it is not the number of hours you put in, but what you put in the hours that counts. So, what are ways that you can maximize your preparation? Two powerful things that you can do to be prepared is to have a clear, inspiring personal vision that points the way in life. And as you identify your top five to seven roles in life, and describe how you meaningfully choose to live your life, this kind of preparation – having a vision by each of these roles – will help you prosper in the times of the storms of life. And it’ll help you weather the challenges and end up prepared regardless of what comes down the pike to be in a better place.
I love the example of Nelson Mandela, who did this. He established a vision early. He was on Robins Island, but he created a vision of lifting and improving the world of having the love of creating equality. And through this perseverance over almost three decades of being a prisoner, not carrying malice in his heart but seeing holding to this vision of goodness and having one unified nation is what allowed him to accomplish that eventually. Certainly, Abraham Lincoln did the very same thing. So, I love these kinds of examples.
The cousin of personal vision – this is the second one that helps you in the gate of preparation – is to have a clearly written set of roles and goals each year of your life. That’s the practice. So, your vision points the direction – the inspiring, wonderful direction, the template of what you choose to do. The goals are what you do each year, what’s the specific set of actions by each one of these roles that represent magic, that represents magnificence – the very best that you can do, and you feel it within your heart and you say, “This is good. This is what I want to do.” And of course, when we say clearly written goals, it’s really following the research that suggests that you’re 90% more likely to accomplish something when you have clearly written goals. And yet the research shows that only 10% of people have clearly written goals. And one of the little acronyms that you can follow that seems to help having better goals, you can just hold it up next to each goal, and that is, is it a SMART goal? So, Specific – is it written specifically? Is it Measurable? Achievable? Is it Related – relevant to your vision? And then Time-related – does it have a timestamp of when you’ll do it? By doing that it helps you have more effective goals.
These two things really make a difference. And taking the time to prepare for the upcoming year with goals like this, regardless of where you are in the year, will help bring out the best within you and will lead to a richer, fuller, more abundant, healthier, happier life. I love Shakespeare and in Julius Caesar – the quote is, and it said by Brutus as they were assessing how they could be victorious in their civil war and there was a time delivered to them. Here’s the quote:
“There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.”
What an aspiring quote. Shakespeare is so wonderful and has a way to put in the words that we can see it happening. Well, as you contemplate and prepare for the upcoming year or the remainder of this year, what represents the best for you and each role of your life. Here are just a few examples. And literally, these are things where you’re taking the flood, and the sea is full right now in terms of life. So, how about your personal role, one which we all share, which encompasses physical, mental, spiritual safety, financial and emotional? What really represents the best in each of these areas? What do you desire and how is it a reflection of realizing your vision over time? Or how about your relationship ships with a spouse, partner, significant other? How about children – son or you being a son or a daughter? How about grandchildren or friends? What are the things you can do to enrich this and enhance this, the rest of this year, this coming year? Having family reunions, or sending somebody a memorable photo, or going on to many retreats with your partner, writing them a note of appreciation for times during the year. So, you see that you start articulating what represents greatness. How about your work? How can you be exceptional in your work? And how can you be among the very best at what you do? And what does that look like? What’s the key performance indicators so that you’re able to move from point to point and doing little things? A 5% improvement, a 10% improvement. Well, over time, these really become compounded and make such a difference. And perhaps as you’re thinking about these things, how about your bucket list or something grand that you might enjoy doing or accomplishing together? I can hardly think of any great, wonderfully noble accomplishment that was not preceded by a vision and a goal which lent inspiration to it. This kind of preparation will set you apart from those that missed the tide and wallow in the shallows.
Well, may I now turn to the gate of action? Armed with the preparation of a written and inspiring personal vision and clearly written annual goals by roles, which provides you with both a direction based on meaning and passion from within you and the inspiration of annual roles and goals that describe the best things that you can do during the upcoming year or the remainder of this year, you are ready to make it happened. And so your mind and energy have a place to go. And even if unforeseen challenges come up, you will be moving forward in a positive, powerful direction and can adapt as needed. We all admire a bias for action. And as it is the motor that helps us to achieve greatly. JK Rowling shared:
“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all.”
Well, that is an enlightening quote, really. In other words, we’re out in the arena and failing is a natural part of life. And it’s okay to get knocked down and it happens. But what’s not okay is to not get back up. And so that is the whole idea of this action is we’re out there, we’re doing it right. And failure is the pathway to success. Plato commented, “Good actions give strength to ourselves, and inspire good actions in others.” So, what is the best way to take this kind of good action in your life? Well, one of the best ways that I’ve seen is to build upon your vision and annual goals and adopt in your life a habit. And this habit is pre-week planning. So, pre-week planning, you might ask, “Well, what is it? How do I do it? How long does it take?” It’s something that you do during the weekend. You might start at 04:30, say, on Friday afternoon. And you might do it in several steps during the weekend. But I assure you it’s a simple process. You do need a couple of things that helps you to be good at it. It takes 20 to 30 minutes, maybe a bit more, but not a lot more.
So, there are four simple steps that allow you to implement a deliberate good set of actions in your life and business. And I mentioned a tool – it is helpful to have a tool to assist in this process to make it easy. And so Becoming Your Best does have a Becoming Your Best Planner. It has a digital Google extension and Outlook extension where you can do all of this electronically as well in a paper base. But to help you get going and seeing it, we have a weekly view template that is designed to help you do pre-week planning and make it simple. It’s scientifically designed. And if something like that is helpful or if you want a planner or the extension, just write to support at BecomingYourBest.com, or you can go directly to our website and you’ll see the resources there. But we’ll send the template along which you have an idea of what it is complementary.
Now, here are the four steps that make it easy. Imagine yourself sitting down, Friday afternoon, 04:30, you hollow out just a few minutes. The first step is just reflect upon your vision and goals that you set up and look at your calendar and commitments that are coming up for the coming week, and even on an extended basis for weeks to come. And then write down those commitments into this weekly view of your planner. And now you have something starting to get sketched out. And in that background, the second step is across the top, you’ll just see seven boxes across the top where you can write in each of your roles. And now this immediately starts changing your whole perspective because these are the things that matter most in life to you. And as you do this, it causes you to start thinking in terms of not only excellence – the things that matter most – but it causes you to start thinking in balance and excellence along the various areas of your life. Step three is, under each role, there are a few boxes under each one vertically, where you can think of and write down the actions that represent your very best by each roll this coming week. You can imagine it. You can innovate around these things. And this is a glorious time. It’s actually magical and fun to do this. And as you come up with good ideas that you know are really amazing, it resonates with inside of you and get back to Plato’s counsel, “Good actions give strength to ourselves and inspire good action and others.” And so you just record down what these actions look like for yourself, or your significant other, or friends or family, or children, or you as a son or a daughter. And definitely, professionally, what does it look like – the excellence – that puts you in a different place and your team in a better place.
And number four, pretty simple, decide when you will do the action items that you just put down,discovered, wrote down, and write them into your weekly view; “When is the best time to do them?” That’s it. That’s all there is to it, week after week after week. This is a game-changer, and is something that you can leverage going through the gate of preparation that hinges on the small hands but has a wide swath and impact on life.
And now you go through the gate of action. Sit back and reflect and have fun making it happen. The mental creation is definitely half the battle. Many people do not take the time to create this transition from preparation to action, the thought to reality however the reality will become. And what you think about is what you bring about. I love the quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson, “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” And when your mind is full of becoming-your-best kind of ideas, doing the best you can think of, you are far less likely to do little things that can damage your life. I mean, just one drink, just one indiscretion, just a little more can lead to ruinous results if they’re the wrong thing. So, we’re talking about the good things, and having a mind that’s focused on the good makes all the difference in the world.
And now continuing with the third gate, the gate of gratitude and love and service. Leading a life by design versus living a life by default is exactly what we have been talking about here. With a clear vision, annual goals, and with a weekly plan in mind, you’ve chosen a pathway that you are taking action on the best. And many of the very best things that happen in life, especially in the area of reflecting upon your blessings and serving others, happen as we are living life. Gratitude, love, and service take joy and satisfaction and happiness to almost a celestial level. That makes so many other things bearable and worth doing frequently. These are things, actions that take only a moment, little things that make a big difference in life. One example of those things is something that our daughter-in-law, Tanya, shared with me a couple of months ago when our son, Rob, an F-16 pilot Air Force Officer was deployed. Tanya and he had three young children at the time, the oldest being seven: Robbie, Bella, and Lana. And her hands were full. And sometimes she was pushed to the max. She related that one day they’re at the grocery store and the kids were running in all different directions, and she was on the edge, the outer fringe, and saying that she was really just feeling like the worst mother in the world. And Robbie, they had purchased a goldfish. It was in a plastic bag full of water. And she looked down the aisle way, and he was swinging the plastic bag in the air, just swinging it around. And all of a sudden, she looked up, and the bag had slipped from his hands and was in the air. And as she was running down the aisle way towards him, the other two girls gone other directions, the bag hit the ground and exploded. And there the fish was flopping on the ground. And she was down on her hands and knees, in tears, trying to scoop everything up. And she looked down and there was a pair of feet there, and looked up and there was an older gentleman, and he just leaned down and he said, “You sure are a good mom.” It was exactly what she needed. He turned away after being sure everything was okay. And she never saw him again. But she never forgot that moment. And this is what we’re talking about – passing through the gate of gratitude, love, and service. We just take moments as they are presented in life, something that might be a split second. And she’s never forgotten that; “You are a good mom.” Well, her kids are growing up. And yes, she is a really wonderful mom.
Just a couple of weeks ago, I had a good friend that I’ve known for 30 years, the president of a large, successful organization. I’ve always admired him. He just wrote to me an email out of the blue, indicating that he was at a conference and they had asked him to think about a positive person – Bob is his name – and he just said, “I thought of you.” And then he wrote down the things that he appreciated about me. Oh my goodness, I just can’t describe what a wonderful gesture that was. And I already, of course, really treasured my friendship with Bob. But this made such a difference for me, it really lifted me. And it wasn’t just the lift for a day, but a week. And I’m sure, as I look back on life, it’ll be one of the special things. I shared with him how important he was in my life. Another good example. And think how long it took Bob to do that – not very long.
I can think of so many others. When I was a young boy, Grandpa Amos, David Shallenberger. My grandpa, who just I was looking for a job, he thought about this, I didn’t even ask him to look but he knew I was looking. And he introduced me to a wonderful man by the name of Dave Conger, who was a successful real estate broker and had five real estate offices in the San Francisco Bay area. That introduction, as I started working for Dave, changed my life. The whole trajectory helped me in so many ways. So not only did he become a mentor and help put my feet on the pathway and business but also was a lifelong friend with him and his family. So, that’s just a little thing, that’s helped me say, “Hold it. By taking a little moment, as a grandpa, I can have an impact in the lives of my grandchildren and others.” So, these are simple examples. I’ve called Dave’s wife. Dave passed away at 92. And his wife is 98 today – clear mind, wonderful. The wife of another mentor, gardener, Russell Dorothy is 95. I’ve stayed in touch with them, I call them. But what’s really been fun is when they call me, I’m just blown away, and we have a little visit and catch up.
So, of course, it’s helpful to have these as planned activities as well as spontaneous. You can put in your annual goals or pre-week planning, notes, or how to improve your team or a program you’re working on, a project sending flowers or scheduling in a lunch, call and getting feedback from a program manager and a client, letting them know how much you appreciate them, acknowledging the work of others. So, these are all important little things that that really have a big impact.
Now, I might say that memories can also be little things that greatly enrich your life. And so think on those things. And those are things that you retain either in your memory banks or it can be augmented by photos or video clips – things that help you relive this. But just reflect with me, for a moment, on the following: fall colors, rain, the sound of rain, the freshness of rain, the smell, snow, fresh air, the beauty of a sunset or a sunrise, remembering laughter together, the inviting smell or thought of your favorite food in the air, a smile, a hug, just holding hands and sitting quietly together, looking over the ocean or a grand mountain range. These are all happy memories and experiences. These are small things that happen to impact our lives a lot. Notice the small things, the little things, and the joy they provide you, even if for only a moment. And as you collect these little things and treasure them, you will feel greater contentment and happiness in life. And they will also put you in the upper tier of performance and achievement because of the mindset that you have. This helps elevate everything else that you do, and rarely are you alone because of it.
So, in that day, that you may no longer be able to experience these little things, these collections of memories, you will cherish forever. James and Barry shared: “God gives us memories that we might have roses in the winter.”
Well, it has been a delight talking about these little things. And just a little recap as we think about Life Hinges on Small Things That Have a Big Impact. And we’ve talked about the gate that opens on these small hinges of preparation and the big field that it opens to us. So, having a personal vision and annual goals that we recreate year after year. And then the small hands of pre-week planning that opens the gate to action of doing the things that matter most in life. And then last of all are the small hinges of gratitude, love, and service that opens wide the gate to a wonderful, full life. These are things that help you and I become our best to find great joy in life.
Well, it has been wonderful to visit together with you on this podcast. We admire you every single day as you work on these things. You too are blessing and influencing other people’s lives and we wish you a great day. This is Steve Shallenberger with Becoming Your Best Global Leadership.
Founder, Becoming Your Best
CEO, executive, corporate trainer, and community leader.