by Ruth Pearce

Have you ever found yourself looking back and realized that, somewhere along the way, something changed? Have you found yourself asking, “When did that happen?”

I remember my mother in her seventies being always amazed by the sight of herself in the mirror. She still felt like someone in her thirties, and was shocked to see her wizened features and wavy white hair every morning. I would hear her say, to no one in particular, “When did that happen?” Of course, there was no point in time when “that happened.” There was no specific moment when she changed from that thirty-something woman with auburn hair to the 70-year old with white hair—although she did say that having children turned her hair white overnight!

Every day there was an incremental change.

I also see it where I live. We are a small town, and we have been reviewing the 20-year master plan that was developed in 1996. At that time, forecasters confidently predicted that, in our area, the population would increase. Instead, it has actually fallen. “When did that happen?” people ask. There was no one event, no watershed moment. It was gradual, incremental.

It is interesting to see how our perspective changes, too. People in our town who were once concerned about schools, safe roads, and places for children to play, are now focused on how to get around without a car, managing on their retirement income, and what to do with their house that is too large. Where they once wanted growth and youth-focused activities, they now want some peace and to preserve the past. They too changed incrementally, in their opinions and beliefs.

So what does all this have to do with achieving goals?

We consider our goals from thirty thousand feet, but we accomplish them in the weeds. We measure our progress from that same level of thirty thousand feet, but make progress on the ground, putting one step in front of the other. There is a reason that Confucius said, “Every journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.” And, while that is true, the secret to reaching our goals is not just to take the first step, but to keep taking the next step.

At the beginning of this year, some of my goals were:

  • 1. To understand and practice mindfulness and to develop a meditation practice
  • 2. To deepen my appreciation and broaden my application of character strengths
  • 3. To build my community connections and learn to rely on others more
  • 4. To manage my energy, my focus, and my time
  • 5. To become more aware of my physical and spiritual needs
  • 6. To start writing a book on character strengths for project managers.

During the Certificate in Positive Psychology program, we discuss the delicate process of building rituals and turning them into habits. We use the 30-Day Practice to develop a routine. We are encouraged to link a new routine to an existing one—consider our character strengths as we brush our teeth, meditate as we take the dog for a walk.

At the time, I did not really pay attention—building mindfulness, in my case, has been another gradual change—but now, as I look back over the last few months, I am astonished by the lasting transformation that has occurred, incrementally, step by step, through adding new routines and changing old ones.

Some new habits for me are:

  • 1. When making my tea in the morning, I do a short mindfulness exercise. I breathe for 10 to 15 seconds and consider which character strengths will help me most during the day.
  • 2. When asked if I will take on a new task or project, I pause and ask myself, “How does this serve my purpose?” Sometimes I even say no!
  • 3. When walking the dog, I chant—admittedly under my breath; the neighbors already think I’m strange—and it helps me really appreciate the beauty around me.
  • 4. When the alarm goes off in the morning, I no longer reach for my phone and start reading e-mails. Instead, I use an app and do a guided 10-minute meditation while lying in bed.
  • 5. In every activity and encounter, I look for character strengths. Whenever I can, I share these observations and try to help people to understand their innate strengths even in the worst moments.
  • 6. I ask for help: I found a local coach who was able to give entrepreneurs free coaching; I joined a neighbor once a week to meditate; I asked a project manager friend to manage me in my book-writing endeavors.

Of these six new habits, five were created and supported by tying them to another well-ingrained habit. Each new practice was a small change, but when I look at all these changes together, I realize that my goals are starting to be met. I am like my mother looking in the mirror and not recognizing herself. Although I am happy to say that one of the changes I have enjoyed is that I look younger than I did seven months ago!

What goals do you have in mind? How can you start making those incremental changes?

“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.”


Ruth Pearce, is Business Unit Director of Conferences and Special Events at Wholebeing Institute, where she is currently working on the 2017 Embodied Positive Psychology Summit. She also runs ALLE LLC (A Lever Long Enough), where she works on ways to integrate project management and positive psychology. With a focus on character strengths, ALLE’s mission is to build a world of engaged teams. Ruth is currently working on a book for project managers, The Project Manager Effect: From Organizing to Energizing. As part of the background for the book, she has been researching the role of the project manager as well as the attitudes that project managers have to team engagement.