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The Power of Small Incremental Changes

“A year from now you will wish you had started today.”

-Karen Lamb

Today I finally went for a run after three weeks of trying to get myself back to my usual workout routine. I detailed my struggles in past articles with negative emotions and a trending unhealthy relationship with the game we all know and love. I knew that a large part of the cause and solution to these problems was my physical health, and yet I was unable to force myself to work out. I have talked previously about our subconscious being the enemy of productivity. We know that eating vegetables, working out, drinking water, and getting enough sleep is good for us. Yet so few of us do exactly that. Instead we eat delicious empty carb filled food while we binge Netflix whilst enjoying caffeinated beverages. All because our brains want to keep us content at all times. If we are warm and relaxed it is highly unlikely that anything bad will happen to us in the short term and this where our brains would like to be. Today we are going to explore ways that we can make little subtle changes that will help us make longer term gains without jumping into the ring with our psyche for ten rounds of mental sparring.

A Little Better

I’ve often heard things like try to be 1% better every day or 10% better than you were last week. But I’ve always had a hard time measuring how good I was and how good I am now. For instance am I 1% better at playing Magic the Gathering than I was yesterday? Hard to tell. What I have figured out however, is that what these messages are trying to communicate is to make small incremental changes over time to achieve larger goals. Often we set off on a grand journey to win a Pro Tour or run a marathon or put down your phone when you first get in bed (seriously how do people do this?!) Most of the time we put in a lot of effort and then somewhere during the climb things get hard and we quit. Sometimes we get back up and try again, sometimes we take a little time and then continue, and oftentimes we simply quit.

Take my recent struggle to work on my physical health. Day after day I would think about how tired I was, how stressed I was, how my emotional state was compromised in all kinds of ways and then link it back to needing to work out. And yet day after day I would fail to go work out. I would tell myself there was no time or that I would do it later. Finally I realized I needed to social engineer my way out of this cycle. So, at night I laid out my work out clothes beside my alarm that I set for 8 am. The next day the alarm went off and I had to get out of bed to turn it off and saw my track clothes there waiting for me.

I would love to tell you I threw them on and ran like the wind….but I didn’t. Instead I thought of all the work I had waiting for me at my computer and went to work. I felt somewhat guilty about it all day though and last night I again had to set my alarm with my work out clothes waiting for me. This morning however, I woke up and decided enough was enough. I put on my clothes and headed for the door before anything could stop me. Despite the cold, Canadian air burning my lungs, I couldn’t have been happier to get my body moving once more. The endorphins that come with physical exercise are a welcome change and much of my previous stress and anxiety are gone.

Taking the first step is the hardest part on any journey. Now that I got some exercise today and feel good about it I am looking forward to running tomorrow instead of dreading it. I have already put out a set of clothes by my alarm and set it for tomorrow. If I had never taken this small step to nudge myself in the right direction I am not sure how long it might have taken for me to get back on the horse.

These small steps can be taken in any endeavor. The step could be as small as writing down your goal. Then the next small step would be to write down the first thing you need to do on your journey towards that goal. For your MTG goals this could be something like asking a pro one question you have about the game, listening to one podcast a day or rewatching one of your games to look for errors (even better if you can get someone else to do it with you). You could read one strategy article, you could watch a top player stream for one match or you could even set aside a small amount of time to think deeply about the game.

The point is to bite off an amount that you can easily chew. Just a small drop in the bucket that you can keep doing day after day and slowly add to. If you could do a mix of these things every day with consistency you will see your results continually increase along with your prowess as a player. This will also give you a sense of accomplishment and a path to follow, that playing ladder game after ladder game will not.

As always it’s important that you write down what your goal is and this small step of simply writing down your goal can be the catalyst for taking another step and another. Make sure you track your goals as it becomes much easier to stay the course when you have a written reminder of what you are trying to achieve. In the everyday rat race it’s easy to lose sight of what we were trying to accomplish in the first place.

Setbacks

The last thing I want to talk about is setbacks. Setbacks will happen. Life is not an escalator that moves in a straight line. It’s more like a rollercoaster that is constantly in motion. Accept that you will have bad days and you will suffer setbacks, just like everyone else. The important thing to keep in mind is that in this set back is another opportunity for growth. The faster you can move yourself back to a place where you are trying again to move upwards the better off you will be. It’s just as important to work on how we deal with defeat as it is trying to build ourselves up to win. Because the two things are so closely linked, they are two sides of the same coin. The longer you take dwelling on the past, which you can not control. The longer it will take you to begin working towards your future.

One of my favorite athletes that encompasses these principles is Tom Brady. I am not a huge football fan but the stories about Brady are what get me fired up about him. Everyone knows him now as possibly the greatest quarterback of all time. But this was not always the case. He was drafted at #199 in his draft year and scouts thought he was too slow and had a weak arm. That alone is incredible to me. When players like Crosby, Lebron or Manning entered their perspective leagues everyone knew they were special. Brady had to earn it.

Brady’s work ethic is legendary. When he finally got the chance to start for the Patriots they ended up losing one of the early games that could have spelt the end of his career. I would imagine after losing one of your first NFL games that most people would be pumped full of emotion and adrenaline just trying to come down and maintain your emotional state. Tom got back on the bus, opened up his laptop and immediately started watching tape on his next week’s opponent. No time for self pity, there is work to be done. Let’s get to work.

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