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Small Steps, Big Changes

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. - Lao Tsu

Every January, millions of people around the world set about to change some aspect of their lives. Of course, weight loss. smoking cessation, exercise and time with family are the perennial favorites. On a physical level, there's really not much difference between December 31 and January 1, but there is a psychological sense of a fresh start that experts agree can be used to give us a burst of energy in making positive changes.

Most people do tend to fall short of achieving lofty goals and while there are many reasons, one common reason is that people try to change too many things at once or they try to make too large a change. "I'll go to the gym for an hour everyday" is a rather lofty goal if you haven't been to the gym in a decade. "I'll exercise every morning, meditate for 20 minutes before breakfast, cook every meal at home, play with my kids for 30 minutes after work and read them a bedtime story every week night" is just an overwhelming list of changes.

Experts agree the best way to make any lasting change is to make small, incremental changes. Tiny changes. As a nutritionist at Canyon Ranch once said, make "laughably small" changes. If the change is not so small that it makes you laugh, it's probably too big.

What does this have to do with healthcare IT and management? I'd encourage you to find one very small change you'd like to make as a leader this year and incorporate that fully for 90 days. Need some ideas? You can try these, but I'm sure you can come up with fifty small changes you could make - so pick one and do it until it becomes a habit, then pick the next one. Small steps lead to big changes.

1. Drink at least 64 ounces of water every day. This may not have been the first thing to come to mind, but proper rest, nutrition and hydration are key to superior performance. Athletes don't reach the pinnacle of their careers by ignoring these fundamentals, neither to leaders. Your mind will be clearer, your body will be energized. Leadership takes mental and physical energy. Set a daily calendar reminder, mark a paper calendar, use the "Jerry Seinfeld" method (just search "seinfeld don't break the chain" to learn more), add hashmarks to a small pad of paper to track your daily intake, add it to your Leader's Standard Work template....whatever it takes to remind you to drink more water. You can adjust your level of intake (more or less than 64 oz.) or you can use this for some other element of your physical well-being, but if you start small, you can adjust to whatever change seems right for you.

2. Listen without forming your next thought. This one is challenging, but great leaders listen with intent. They don't start rehearsing what they're going to say while the speaker is in mid-sentence. Resolve to listen fully as often as possible and check in with yourself regularly (add a reminder on your phone, your monitor, somewhere you'll see it regularly).

3. Acknowledge the small, good work your staff does. Some people hold the mistaken belief that they "should not have to" thank people for doing the job they're being paid to do. That's a very limiting position to take. Instead, routinely thank staff for following up, for delivering the information/task/thing they've been asked to, for contributing, for participating, for being engaged, for speaking up, for pointing out problems and resolutions - yes, for doing their job. "Thank you" is a remarkably powerful and genuine leadership tool.

Now for a reality check. Is your change so small that it seems ridiculously small? If yes, you're on the right track. If no, break it down further. Find the smallest possible step - that is what will lead you to the most permanent, positive change.


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