We all dream of a single panacea, a single method, a single idea that will bring us success, or happiness, or health or wealth.
Diet books thrive on the idea that a single idea will make you thin. Self-help books promote a single strategy for success: better habits, thinking big, making friends, being emotionally intelligent, doing 10,000 hours of practice…
Yet deep down we suspect the reality…there is no panacea.
Instead there is something better: tweaking.
Tweaking is how you succeed. You keep improving a bit here and bit there. It might be a very small improvement- but every little helps.
If you go on a multi-day hike your rucksack is likely to weigh a ton when you start out. It’s just the way we are: you never know what you might need. But as you walk, you discard stuff. You start tweaking. I even once cut off all the extra straps I didn’t need. Can’t have weighed more than 100grams. But take off a 100 grams a day for ten days and you’ve lost a kilo from your back. In a month three kilos- and that IS a lot in backpacking terms.
Tweaking is recommended as a good way to lose weight. Use smaller plates, don’t eat after 6pm, stop snacking: little things, tiny tweaks- but they all add up. In New Scientist this week I read that leading weight researchers have a maxim: if you want to be skinny do what skinny people do. And when you look at skinny people they do a whole range of things from eating standing up to choosing well lit spots in restaurants. Tweaks. Just keep adding them to your repertoire to slowly improve.
When we change a big thing in our lives there is often a reaction- it can be detrimental and even put you off further progress. You plan to get fit and go for a five mile run when you haven’t run it years: you pull a ligament which puts you off any further exercise. Instead it would be better to tweak your daily routine. Walk faster, walk longer. Slowly enact change.
You’re worried that you’ll lose momentum? Not if your tweaks are all in alignment. It’s like writing a book- as long as you write a little each day, every day, it will get written. As long as the tweaks are connected with a defined challenge or goal you will improve.
You want to improve a relationship? Start by tweaking. Find the most irritating thing you do and stop doing it- you may find it is a very small thing.
You want to get wealthier? Don’t look for the blockbusting pay out, just tweak what you already have. Optimise your production little by little.
Running faster- don’t exhaust yourself- tweak everything instead: lighter shoes, different clothes, better diet, run at different times- try anything and everything as a potential tweak. And if it works- ues it.
Tweaking encourages a creative look at improvement. Instead of being straitjacketed use your imagination to try every kind of way to gain a slight advantage. If you imagine you write better dressed in a cape and top hat- then do it, if you think can paint better paintings by using candlelight- then try it. Tweaking restores the fun to getting better at things. Forget science- or, rather, see science as just one source of tweaks. There are many more.