It’s been a while since my last article as I’ve been in Australia promoting The Momentum Mindset book, on holiday in Italy and moving home too!
Tomorrow Jonathan Bean and I are hosting our final book launch in the Isle of Wight. It’s been an amazing journey over the past few months and today I was reflecting on all the small wins along the way. It made me think about the section regarding Radical Incrementalism in our book. I wanted to share this with you as a gentle reminder how important it is to celebrate those small victories every day.
Radical Incrementalism (Page 193, The Momentum Mindset Book)
When climbers attempt to reach the summit of a large, tricky mountain, they rarely start at the bottom and head straight for the top in one go. Instead, the route is broken down into stages. The first stage might be the walk on the shallower, lower slopes. As the ground veers upwards and becomes a wall, they may clip on and start heading up. At regular points they will either loop their safety rope through a pre-laid anchor point, or attach a new one if it’s a previously unclimbed route. This is an opportunity to ease off, take a breather, and assess the best way to tackle the next section. On an especially long climb, they may even rig up a tent, attach it to the side of the mountain, and settle in for the night. By breaking the big ‘problem’ (how to get to the top) down into a series of smaller problems, they can devise a series of smaller, sequential solutions.
This approach – breaking a big problem down into bite-size chunks – is not unique to climbing. It’s a sound, tried and tested approach that most will already be familiar with. In the business world, radical incrementalism refers to deliberately taking small steps, rather than trying to reach your ultimate goal in one big leap. This can be more sustainable, as you don’t overextend yourself financially and allow time to develop your products, services, or business systems more carefully. Over time, each of these small steps adds up to significant progress. What is less well known, however, is that in addition to being an effective method of completing a project, it may also have a positive effect on our mindset.
Robert Boice is a psychology professor who studied the writing habits of other college professors, to understand which routines and approaches were most successful. What he learned is that the most productive writers wrote in smaller chunks. Rather than chain themselves to the desk for hours on end, they wrote in small chunks, between ten minutes and four hours a day. Though each individual writing session was less productive, this lighter writing routine could be sustained for longer, with a more regular rhythm, resulting in greater productivity overall. Oliver Burkeman, a writer, highlighted Boice’s research in his book, Four Thousand Weeks, equating it with the concept of radical incrementalism.
Why does this approach work? Because it is less tiring, so can be continued for longer, and makes us feel good. If you break a project down into smaller tasks that can be completed at the rate of one a day, for example, you are giving yourself the opportunity to experience the feelings of success on a daily basis. Rather than defer the sense of accomplishment until the whole project is completed, you can get the dopamine hit of small victories every single day.
It also works because, until you reach the end of the whole project, you will always have something to start on the next day. The writer, Ernest Hemingway, is quoted as saying, ‘The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day […] you will never be stuck.’ By adopting the radical incrementalism approach to your work and personal goals, you get to finish each day feeling good about what you’ve achieved, and excited about tomorrow’s achievements.
If you are interested in reading more and gaining your ‘Momentum Mindset’ you can purchase a copy here online. The book is now available in the UK and Australia.
Robert Boice, How Writers Journey to Comfort and Fluency, Praeger, 1994.
Oliver Burkeman, Four Thousand Weeks, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2021.