"Well-being is realized by small steps, but is truly no small thing." - Zeno
"Just because improvements aren't visible doesn't mean they aren't happening. You're not going to see the number change each time you step on the scale. You're not going to finish a chapter each time you sit down to write. Early wins come easy. Lasting wins require a lifestyle." - James Clear
When we’re focused primarily on the end results we want—whether it’s being able to play our instrument at a high level of proficiency, or reaching a large audience with our music—we might expect these outcomes to happen early on. But more often than not our biggest improvements and successes tend to unfold slowly—by taking small, regular steps forward over time.
The desire to experience these quick and early wins comes from our own impatience, as well as from the influence of our society. In a post on his blog, Seth Godin writes about the role of head starts in our culture:
“When a six-year-old kid beats the other kids at tennis, that kid is more likely to be encouraged to play more, or to get a coach, and pretty soon, they’re much better at tennis than the others. When a musical group has a single that gets some buzz on Spotify, they’re more likely to be able to find a producer or even a label…. There are clearly scarcity-based competitions in our culture that reward early success....”
This gives us two different tactics we can to deploy within this environment: one where we “dramatically overinvest and overprepare for [our] debut,” and another where we ignore these head starts and instead ensure we have “the resources and resolve” to build our following and develop our skills “[d]ay by day and drip by drip”—regardless of how well the first interactions go.
The first approach means we put all of our eggs into an ‘early success basket,’ even though these head starts are, as Seth explains, “sort of random and often reward the wrong folks.” If we decide that anything less than immediate success is unacceptable, it takes the power out of our hands and places it in areas that are largely—or entirely—outside of our control. We might end up quitting before we’ve had a chance to build any significant momentum—a process that takes work, patience, and time.
The second approach focuses on making small, consistent improvements over a longer period of time, which offers the necessary space for growth to occur, and for genuine connections to be made. It recognizes that anything worthwhile—like improving at our craft or building an audience—is assembled piece by piece. “The details,” as James Clear explained in a recent newsletter, “when finely polished and carefully combined, add up to something remarkable." This is why, when building a musical life, we focus so much on creating routines and systems that will support doing the work—making the process matter more than the prize.
It’s important to not let your first results or others’ initial impressions of your work sway you from staying on your path. Instead, you can build a life and routines where diligence and consistency are the main focus. This relieves the pressure of needing to figure it out or to make it perfect all at once. Just keep moving forward—day by day, drip by drip.