Letters to My Children: A Little Bit Goes a Long Way

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Remember when you were young and colored a lot with crayons? You loved drawing maps with crayons. You'd color these beautiful make-believe worlds with forests and mountains and oceans. The colors were so bold and vibrant!

When you first started using crayons, when you wanted a dark, solid texture, you'd press down hard with the crayon and color once or twice across the paper. Sometimes you'd rip the paper from pressing so hard.

At some point you realized that instead of pressing down hard and coloring once or twice, you could press lightly, and color many times. After a bit, you would have the rich, vibrant color you wanted. You'd color a little bit a lot. The paper never tore when you colored this way.

A lot of life is much the same: if you do a little bit a lot, you end up with a large task done. A little bit goes a long way. And there are many, many ways this works, both good and bad.

I'm sure you remember my asking about your homework, "Did you start working on that project due next week?" You can do a great job if you do a small part of the project each day, instead of cramming all of it into two days (or even just the night!) before the due date. Studying is easier if you work a little bit each night instead of cramming the night before.

But there's more to life than just schoolwork.

If you slouch when you sit when you're little, you'll slouch as an adult, too. But if you sit up straight every time you catch yourself slouching, eventually you'll stop slouching. (Yes, sit up straight! I know you're slouching.)

If you want to want to be better at your chosen sport, don't wait until spring training to start working out. Head outside now and practice your moves. Sit and visualize your success at the sport. Practicing positive visualizations every day is one of the most underutilized sports techniques, yet one of the most powerful. But you need to do a little bit every day to see the effects.

You can clean up the house a little bit at a time. Start in a corner of a room and clean it. Then move to another place. Then to the table. Each part of the cleaning takes only minutes, but the end result is a big room cleaned. One down, move to the next room.

The same with losing weight, becoming stronger, developing wrinkles, or breaking a bad habit: do a little bit, and do it consistently. The effects are cumulative and monumental.

You've heard the story about carrying a bull to the top of the mountain right? No one can carry a bull up a mountain, that's crazy talk! Not only just the weight of the bull, either. It would wiggle around, making carrying impossible. But if you carry that bull up the mountain every day, from when the bull is but a newborn calf, as the bull gets bigger, you get stronger, and it gets used to you, not resisting the carrying. A little bit every day.

And speaking of that mountain, how would you move it? Yep. A little bit at a time.

You can train for a marathon by running a little bit. The next time you run, run a little bit more. The following week, run a bit more. Each time you add a little bit more, you're increasing your endurance. Each step helps. Just like when we hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, and had to hike back up the next day. Each step wasn't much, but we made it to the top.

Just like each drop in the Colorado River. Each one wasn't much. But all the drops added up over all the years made that Grand Canyon. And that canyon is grand.

So, go ahead and do that little bit.

Written at the start of another business trip to Colorado, 12 January 2005