During my life as a manager and trainer, I was always trying to come up with new ways to motivate employees to do the right thing. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. Sometimes that was my fault and sometimes it wasn’t. I’ve told metaphors about Care Bears, balloon animals, a zoo, cars (which I know nothing about) and Teddy Ruxpin. But nothing I’ve ever come up with has been as successful as my work as a ninja master. This probably requires some explanation.
At the call center I worked at, we asked our employees to click a button, on every call. It was a button that would provide them with some sort of customer specific sales opportunity for that exact customer based on the details of their account. To not click this button would result in a failing grade on their call monitoring. The button was very easy to click. It was located somewhere were it would almost be more work NOT to click it and yet no one was clicking the button. We tried to figure out why. We tried to incentivize. We threatened. We did everything we possibly could…except turn them into ninjas.
I told my team that in ancient Japan, ninjas were taught to jump to heights that would seem impossible today. They did so by jumping over blades of grass. Each day they would jump over a blade of grass, laid on its side. Each day, they would add another blade of grass and try again. Out of sheer muscle memory, their body would learn to jump over the blades of grass and there was never a point where you couldn’t jump over JUST ONE MORE blade of grass.
Now, I’ll start by suggesting that I’m pretty sure I made up this story. At best I read it in a comic book or saw it in a kung fu movie. Since that time I’ve never been able to find anywhere that suggests this was a real training technique, but it’s still an important lesson. It aligns itself with the Buddhist quote, “a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.”
If you’ve having trouble achieving your goals, especially getting started, start small. Jump over a single blade of grass. Want to get started on Twitter? Tweet something Something small. Then tweet again. Then retweet something. Like something. Then reply. Start small and grow. Want to blog? Write 10 words. Post that. Then write 20. Then 100. Then 500. People thing that you have to dive into everything; that you have to go all in to get anything done. You don’t. You can start small. You can do whatever it is that you need to do so that you can do whatever you need to do. That’s a lot of do, but you’re due.
The idea is to just try to be a little bit better today than you were yesterday. Try to jump a little higher, write a little more, do whatever you want to do more or longer or better. There is no need to go from caterpillar to butterfly overnight. There is great value in learning to be comfortable in your own skin, as a caterpillar. Don’t be in such a rush. There’s a book that my son has that we like to talk to him about all the time. It’s about being the best version of yourself. Try to do that. Slowly but surely.