The Big Idea

January’s the month for resolutions–big decisions to make significant changes in one’s life.  Celebration of the new year offers a sense of renewal and opportunity for change.  While the month of January is often the time for resolutions to do good things, it’s also the month of bad decisions.

People commonly decide to lose weight or get in shape in the coming year.  By the time the first month of the year ends, that idea is a distant memory, if it’s remembered at all.

Not As Easy As It Seems

It’s easy to dismiss a failed new year’s resolution as a lack of commitment or desire.  And maybe it is.  It’s also possible that it is entirely something else.  Maybe there’s a problem with the decision making process that leads us to inaction, comfort, or bad action.

Maybe It’s Easier

Lifting a thousand pounds of bricks by hand can be a daunting task.  Even the strongest among us would shy away from even attempting this.  When it comes time to roll the sleeves up and get to work it seems impossible, despite some earlier motivation or committment to do it.  A decision without action is really just a fantasy about our best intentions.  What leads us to success is the series of countless microdecisions followed by action that get us to where we want to go.

Lifting one 10-pound brick at time, ten times, repeated 10 times gets the job done.  Think about all of the small-scale decisions that would need to be made in order to do this.

  1. Figure it out
  2. Don’t give up
  3. Put on gloves
  4. Grip the brick
  5. Lift the smallest weight at a time (one brick)
  6. Lift with the leges
  7. Look up to straighten the back
  8. Go slowly
  9. Put it down
  10. Turn around
  11. Go back to the brick pile
  12. Take a break
  13. Get back to work
  14. Lift one more brick
  15. Lift one more brick
  16. Lift one more brick
  17. Etc.

Each of these small decision is made of countless other smaller decisions (which glove to put on first, how to grip the brick, where to step, how to bend, etc.).  It’s these microdecisions that keep us moving forward.

Smaller Decisions are Easier to Make

For the person who wants to lose weight, it isn’t the decision to be thinner that gets the results.  It’s the countless microdecisions made every moment of day that lead to achievement–decisions like eliminating sugar and cream from coffee each of the three times it’s served throughout the morning, leaving the bagel on the counter, opening the refrigerator, reaching past the cream cheese for the fresh fruit, cutting the fruit, sprinkling it with flaxseed, taking each bite, stepping out the front door for a brisk walk even though it’s raining, just to name a few.

Decisions are being made every perceptible moment.  Each of these will lead you either closer to or farther away from your goal or principle.  The big decision (to lose weight) gives us a sense of direction.  It tells us how we should be making our smaller decisions.

Be Mindful of What You’re Deciding

When our microdecisions don’t align with our macrodecsions (goals, direction, or principle), we become discouraged or frustrated, which can often lead to giving up, or reversing the macrodecision.  For those who make new year’s resolutions, this is called February.

Lean is an endeavor to continuously improve.  This means to continuously change for the better.  Think for a moment about all of the microdecisions needed to continuously change.  This process of making countless good decisions at every perceptible moment–decisions consistent with your macrodecision, direction, or principle–is the end in itself.

Live in the moment.  The results will come.


To learn more about microdecisions, read Thomas Davenports article in the Harvard Business Review.

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