I was teaching a spooncarving lesson this weekend when I found myself saying, in different situations, the same thing: shift your hand a half inch. Sometimes it was when axing, or using a knife, or how to hold the spoon being carved. Each time, it increased power, or control, or just flat out made something possible that the student was struggling with. I was struck at what a small change each of these instances was, and what a huge difference they made. What had been a struggle became easy. What had been impossible became possible.
Of course, me being me, I'm not satisfied to let this just remain a lesson inherent to spooncarving, but feel the need to extrapolate from it to life at large. So many times, the smallest of changes have an outsized affect on the outcome, or our abilities. We make some small change to our habits, and then everything flows differently from there.
I recently installed a chin-up bar in our house. I had originally purchased one of those ones that hang from the door trim, only to find when it arrived that all of the doorjams in our house are too wide for it to fit. After sulking for a day or two, I just went and made one from a section of ash sapling and two chunks of 2x6. The rule (or habit shift) is that every time I go through this doorway, I do one pull up.
Now, I can't remember the last time I did pull ups regularly. Maybe never. We had one in our house growing up but I didn't use it in any habitual way. I'm strong, but I quickly found that pull ups use a set of muscles that I am currently lacking. One pull up, at first, was hard. And one might not seem like much, but the way we use our house (and the location of the bar) means I now do 10-20 pull ups a day. I used to do zero.
In the last week, then, a single pull up has no longer become hard. It's too early to see any other ripple effects from this small change (although I realized the other night that my stomach muscles are sore, another good sign), but I suspect, so long as I continue the habit, that they will be many.
Often when we want something different in life, we think that we need to make drastic changes to achieve it. The problem is, drastic change, unless you have no choice and your life is just different now, is unsustainable. No amount of momentary desire will keep you on that diet and crazy exercise plan. But one tiny change? That's where all the power and control flows from, strange as it sounds.
So go ahead. Nudge your hands over a half inch. See what happens.
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My blog has evolved into a series of short essays on the nature of entrepreneurship, craftsmanship, and their overlap. If either of these topics is something you think about, you will probably like this.