Little Things Lead to Success At Work

What if your greatest successes are more a reflection of your small, everyday choices than of the big decisions you make?

In his book, ‘How to Choose’, David Freemantle suggests that it is our micro-behaviours that make the difference between success and disappointment. By micro-behaviours, he means the ‘nuances and minutiae of our observed behaviours’. We tend to remember big choices we have made and think they have determined the course of our life. Whilst it is true that these larger choices are important. Freemantle suggests that it is actually our micro-behaviours that ultimately determine our success in these larger events.

For example, a ‘macro-behaviour’ might be to apply for a secondment to a project that interests you. Making this choice and taking this action certainly matters, but all sorts of micro-behaviours impact on how successful your application will be. When you apply for the secondment, do you go and see the person in charge of the project and engage with them in a way that makes them feel confident that you would be a pleasant and conscientious team member? Do you take the time to write a well thought out application? Have your tiny, repeated behaviours over the last 2 years, built you a reputation as someone who is helpful and effective? All of these frequent, small choices will impact on the outcome of your application.

Our natural tendency is to consciously choose the big things but to let our habitual style determine our micro-behaviours. For example, if my family and cultural background encouraged a blunt and straightforward style of communication, I will tend to do that. If my background has trained me to be compliant and avoid conflict. I will tend to do that.

In order to succeed in ways that are meaningful, we need to do something different. Instead of letting our history determine our micro-behaviours, we need to choose these behaviours consciously based on three key factors:

  • What is happening in this moment?
  • Which of my values are most important to express in this situation?
  • What do I want to achieve both in the short and in the long term?

This assessment of what each moment calls for involves the capacity to be really present. To really see what is going on.

It requires that we have a clear sense of who we want to be (our values) and a broad sense of what we want our life to stand for (our purpose).

And, finally, it requires the capacity to unhook from impulses to act in reactive or unskilful ways.

These are the skills of psychological flexibility.

Acceptance and Commitment Training has been shown to build psychological flexibility.

To get a sense of how to do that – you could explore this blog, read one of the many excellent ACT books or find an ACT coach.

4 thoughts on “Little Things Lead to Success At Work

  1. Once more, a very interesting and relevant post, Rachel… Thank you.
    I’ll remember the name « Freemantle » (I wish I were called like that 😉 ).

    And by way of elaborating on what you say about the « capacity to unhook » :
    I’d suggest that this also implies the willingness to recognize early signs of failure (i;e. Failure to achieve objectives that cohere with our values).
    And because the « sense of failure » often is associated with a « sense of shame », I think the above implies that we are willing to welcome feelings of shame or embarrassment. Something which our present culture doesn’t promote very well (and even much of our psychology-culture doesn’t promote well, for instance when it is proposed that « shame is inherently toxic »).
    I’d suggest that a fine-tuned sense of shame can give us early signals that we’re getting off track, and thus can help us to adapt to the current situation and get back on track. Which can even imply that a finely attuned « sense of shame » can be an important resource…

    1. Absolutely Maarten, I think the capacity to respond to feelings like shame with deep curiosity and kindness is very important. As you say, it can be an early warning sign of being off track.

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