What do we do when we hit an impasse? When we get impatient and want to move faster, is it better to make a big step or several smaller steps?
I took a leadership course once from mountain guide Karl Nagy. I wanted to discus hazard evaluation, risk management and decision making in an environment of great uncertainty and ambiguity. So naturally, he began by teaching me how to walk. What? Walking. But I already knew how to walk in the mountains. Or did I?
He took three small steps for every one of my larger ones. I got more tired dealing with unstable footing and he just danced his way up with a technique called the "guide's pace". We would regularly pass other parties of younger climbers on our way up the big mountain routes, doing it safely and with less energy.
In their book, Made to Stick, brothers Chip Heath and Dan Heath acknowledge a cognitive bias that affects how we often decide to take action: when faced with a big objective, most of us opt for taking big steps. It makes a certain kind of sense. But their point and mine runs counter to that intuition: progress is the accumulation of many smaller successes that build over time. Big bold heroic and ultimately impatient moves sometimes introduce risk and often fail. Smaller movements that patiently build on each other are less sexy but they get the job done. This is the patience-momentum paradox. Every inch of progress paves the way for the next inch of progress. In no time it seems, we've run a mile.
In any given moment, I'm either winning or struggling, moving towards my goal or away from it. The great and terrible thing about inertia is this: winning often begets more winning and sadly struggling can lead to more struggling.
Moving is living. Whenever I'm stuck somewhere, I've learned to look for any small movement I can make to get moving again in the direction I want to go. This is the essence of momentum: the apparently slow build that eventually becomes fast.