The Power of Tiny Adjustments

I met a career pilot for a major airline recently.  He’s flown with them for 25 years, and crosses the Atlantic ocean at least once a week — often with Paris, France as his destination.

Plane moving toward us

I said, “So it takes a long time to get from here to Paris.  What’s going on in the cockpit during those hours?”

“Well,” he said, “we’re making tiny adjustments.”

“What do you mean?  Tell me in non-techie terms.”

Plane moving toward usHe explained, “OK, we take off and aim toward Paris.  But once we’re in the air, the winds are constantly blowing us off course.  So we make tiny adjustments to aim toward Paris again.  Then the wind blows us a different direction, and we do it again.”

“That’s the bottom line,” he said.  “We’re constantly tweaking the direction we’re flying.  If we don’t make tiny adjustments, we’ll have to make huge adjustments later.  But every adjustment we make is based on one thing: Landing in Paris.”

In my seminars, I often ask participants, “How many of you work for a company that has a mission statement?”  Most hands go up.  Then I ask, “How many of you could recite it?” Typically, I get one hand out of every 40 people.

Companies go to great lengths to develop a corporate mission statement.  It’s supposed to guide the everyday decisions of the employees.  But if nobody knows what it is, it’s hard for it to have much of an impact.

So every few years, they go through the process all over again.

Most people actually do some personal long-term goal setting.  They’ve heard that it’s a good idea, so they think through their skills, their roles and their passion.  Then they craft a few well-scripted goals for the future.

They’re excited.  They’re moving in a new direction.

They assume that since they’re headed in a good direction, they’ll keep going toward their goal.  They’re on autopilot.

But then the wind starts to blow, knocking them off course.

A few months later, they’re surprised to see how far off course they are from their original goal.  They have to stop and get back on track, which often involves another goal-setting session.  They get excited for a while, but the process happens all over again.

We need goals, but we also need to revisit those goals often.  If we revisit them weekly, we’re able to make the tiny adjustments to ensure we’re still heading in the right direction.

We won’t be sabotaged by the wind.

Tiny adjustments take minimal effort.   Big adjustments take massive effort.  When we have to take massive effort, we’re tempted to give up because it’s too much work.  When we develop the habit of tweaking our direction on a regular, weekly basis, reaching our goals becomes a no-brainer.

Here’s the process:

  1. Start with a clear destination.  Write down where you are now and where you want to end up (like the departure and arrival airports) – and when.
  2. Take off.  You can’t steer a plane that hasn’t left the hanger.
  3. Make an appointment each weekend (on your calendar) to revisit the destination and make sure you’re still headed the right direction.
  4. Tweak your course frequently, as needed (based on the goal, not on the wind).
  5. Focus on direction, not speed. It doesn’t matter how fast you’re going if you’re headed in the wrong direction.

Goal-setting isn’t rocket science.  But we can’t just set a goal and hope we get there.  We lose our motivation when the wind blows us far off course.

The goal is important, but means nothing without the habit of intentional, tiny adjustments along the way.

If you’ve tried goal-setting before and given up dozens of time, you probably feel like there’s no hope.

But there’s plenty of hope.  We just need to develop a cadence of tiny adjustments — instead of waiting for a major overhaul.

If we do, we’ll accept the reality of the wind in our lives.  We won’t ignore the wind; we’ll utilize to achieve the incredible.

How have you found tiny, consistent adjustments to be valuable in reaching your goals?

  • Lonnie Shields

    Wow! Mike, you’ve done it again! As a pastor, there are so many EMERGENCIES I deal with on a daily basis, either I’m distracted or exhausted by the time it comes to assessing my direction and progress toward goals. Then it just feels hopeless… The idea of tiny, consistent adjustments, while obvious once you point it out, is very helpful! Thanks!

    • I think we need to hear the little reminders over and over . . . isn’t that what sermons are for? Thanks, Lonnie!