The Power of Gradualism
There are times when making an abrupt change is appropriate: quitting a bad job, closing a failing business, killing a worthless project, terminating an experiment, and so forth.
But in far more instances than we often realize, gradualism is a better strategy than abrupt change. This is particularly true when the change is about starting rather than stopping the behavior in question.
Here are some of the most important reasons you should consider making your next important change of direction — toward or away from a behavior, a venture, a relationship, a goal, or whatever — a gradual one:
You Can Start Small and Build Slowly
The most obvious advantage of gradualism is that you can test or sample the new thing and see how it feels. By holding back from making a 100% commitment, you can start small and build slowly from there.
Think about the way you would touch a stove that might or might not be hot; gradualism here is far better than going all in!
For example, I recently embarked on a “goal” of finding the best example of a certain foodstuff in California. After trying it at several restaurants, I gave up the goal because I didn’t find enough variety or taste to make the search worthwhile.
You’ll be grateful for your gradualism, as I was, if the new thing turns out not to be a good fit for you, or if the timing is not right, or if you’re not doing it very well.
You Can Build Individual Skills
Most new behaviors, ventures, relationships, goals, or whatever require at least a few new skills and abilities for you to be satisfied and successful. Plunging ahead before you’ve developed these attributes puts you at a disadvantage.
By practicing gradualism, you give yourself a chance to develop one new skill or ability at a time. As you improve and expand your portfolio of skills and abilities, you will be able to increase your involvement in the new thing to match and utilize your growing capabilities.
Learn the Ropes
Transitioning to a new thing, such as moving from one career or industry or life trajectory to another, usually involves “learning the ropes”: how people operate in this area, what’s important and what’s not, what tools you need to master, and so forth.
There’s little or no way to learn all this well enough from the outside, or theoretically. So if you make an abrupt transition into this new behavior, venture, relationship, goal, or whatever, you necessarily will find yourself ill-equipped for success.
Gradualism allows you to explore this new thing at your own pace, and facilitates taking bolder steps if, as, and when you feel ready.
Manage Your Risks
Risk is an unavoidable element of your work and your life. But in whatever new behavior, venture, relationship, goal, or whatever you’re considering, you’re not a good judge of either the level of risk associated with any step you might take, or the penalty you’ll pay if your effort doesn’t pan out.
When you step in gradually, however, you can take more time to assess the risks you’ll encounter. You can watch and learn from others who are more advanced than you are. You can also form a better sense of the potential downsides awaiting you.
Retain a Parachute
Perhaps the most important advantage of gradualism is that it leaves you with a parachute or an escape route, should you decide you want or need one. Because you’re only part-way committed to the new behavior, venture, relationship, goal, or whatever, you can easily drop it or back away from it.
Knowing you have other options available tends to help you feel more confident about whatever new thing you’re trying. It also gives you more than one attempt, which allows you to test various approaches or strategies to see how well each one works.
Gradualism is not always the best strategy for new behaviors, ventures, relationships, goals, or whatever. But you should consider it when an all or nothing approach feels like it might be too difficult or dangerous.
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