If we have a goal in life, whether it is to write a book, move house, start a new business, change careers, or get married, these kinds of projects can feel overwhelming. The fight/flight part of our brain (the amygdala) can start to activate very quickly if a task feels too big and insurmountable, and we can feel anxious.
According to Professor Steve Peters, this survival center in your brain is known as your ‘chimp,’ who wrote The Chimp Paradox.
Like a screaming child, your chimp tells you everything likely to go wrong. Your project cannot move forward if this part is still unresolved. Otherwise, it will be a constant interruption and sabotage your efforts.
What can we do to settle this primitive part of our brain? To accomplish this, we can work in what we call increments. The concept of incremental working is to set a goal and break it down into smaller tasks that are easier to accomplish. To write a book, for example, there are the following steps:
1. Coming up with ideas
2. Research and creation of content
3. Outline of the book
4. The writing of the book
5. Proofreading and editing
What may at first appear to be a big undertaking (writing a book) is easily broken down into seven more minor phases, which you can then schedule into your diary or onto your calendar. This approach involves introducing incremental changes. As a result, you have the tools to ensure you are under just the right amount of pressure to accomplish the job without getting overwhelmed. However, you need to be aware of a few tricks.
The trick is to find a balance between impatience (wanting to achieve your ambition too quickly) and procrastination (delaying the inevitable). Overly large projects can be challenging to comprehend, and thus it’s easy to put them off for later or toss them to the side.
Herein lies the beginning of procrastination due to your brain being overwhelmed. Generally, the longer you leave your project, the less time you have to complete it to a sufficiently high standard. Additionally, you have fewer opportunities to work through inevitable setbacks.
By breaking your project down into steps you can handle on a day-to-day basis and systematically progressing through those steps, you can find that balance. If you know how long each step will take, you’ll learn how long your entire project will take. You are freed up and can better plan your life.
Furthermore, starting the process as soon as possible will give you more time. The longer you delay starting your project, the larger the blocks of activity you’ll have to complete it. It will make you feel more out of control of your project the bigger these blocks are.
Getting the balance between making your steps too big and too small is another trick. You can devise more creative measures the more extended your timeframe allows. The steps should be large enough to keep you motivated but small enough for you to feel as confident as possible that you’ll complete the whole project on time. You can either write the steps down on paper as a plan or keep them in your head, depending on whether you’re a visual person who needs to see things written or graphically.
As you work in this manner, you feel much more in control, have more freedom, and feel as if you have a lot more time to work on your projects. In neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), this method of project and life management is called chunking. The field of NLP studies how our language and physiology affect our brains. One can either ‘chunk up’ – create more significant steps to make you more strategic – or ‘chunk down’ to facilitate the management of details.
Incremental Change Process
The key to incremental change is:
1. Determine what you want to accomplish (be clear about the end goal)
2. Break down the goal into chunks (phases)
3. Break the phases down into smaller and smaller steps until you can begin
4. Put the steps in your diary or on your calendar
5. Work towards your goals until you achieve them
You should be aware that incremental change can also work against you. No one wakes up one day and is an alcoholic, 150 pounds overweight, or unable to walk 50 feet without falling short of breath. In most cases, incremental changes are the seeds of our destruction and many of our chronic health problems. Most marriages and relationships end thanks to gradual changes and neglect. When we recognize this truth, we then have the power to change direction and steer our lives in the direction we truly desire.