The Value of Incremental Change

Heard this recently and thought that it sounded true.
Especially in the area of our finances.
We determine the trajectory of our lives based on the
decisions we make when times are tough.
Let’s start by considering what a trajectory is. According to
the Random House dictionary, it’s the “curve traced by a
projectile object or body in its flight.” In other words, for
this quote, it’s the path that we’re on. I picture the
trajectory of a missile in flight. I don’t know it for a fact,
but I’d bet that the course corrections are very, very small.
Yet, they can make a big difference in where the missile flies
and lands.
Why does such a small change make such a dramatic difference
in the end? Because the direction has been changed. So the
longer we go in that direction the greater the distance
between where we are and where we would have been. Think of
the missile example. Even a one-degree change in course will
make a huge difference after the missile goes a thousand miles
or more.
OK, so NASA can make a small change and affect the trajectory
of a space shuttle, but is it true that we determine the
trajectory of our life? We could debate it, but I’d argue that
it’s true. Our choices make a difference. Perhaps not a
noticeable difference at first, but one that will change where
we end up in the future. It happens the exact same way as the
missile. A minor course correction maintained over a long time
can make a huge difference in where we end up.
Let’s consider a simple (and somewhat silly) example. Suppose
that you’re a 20 year old coming out of class. Feeling thirsty
you search out a vending machine. Sodas (and bottled water)
are $1. You reach in your pocket and pull out a single. Into
the machine it goes. And, your thirst is quenched. As you walk
away from the vending machine, you notice a water fountain
that you hadn’t seen before. Oh, well. It’s only a buck.
True, but did you know that if you put that single dollar to
work earning interest, it would be worth $46 when you were 70
years old and looking for retirement income?
Still not impressed? Suppose that you bought that $1 drink
every day for 50 years. If you had used the water fountain
instead and saved the money, you would have accumulated
$209,000! Quite a difference in the trajectory.
Obviously, that’s a made up story. No one is going to go to a
vending machine once a day, every day for 50 years. But, it
does give you a feel for what happens when you routinely say,
“It’s only a buck.” Say it too often and you’ll be adjusting
your financial trajectory.
Now let’s take a look at the final part of the quote. It talks
about the decisions that we make when times are tough. I don’t
suppose that tough time decisions have any greater impact on
our trajectory than any other decision. But they could be more
important because we have a smaller margin for error. When
you’re right on the edge, you don’t need anything that would
push your trajectory to a point where it spirals out of
control (I can see them intentionally destroying a missile
that’s gone off course).
I guess that what I’m saying is that the stakes are higher
when you’re facing tough times. And, you’re already under
pressure, which might compromise your ability to make
decisions. So it’s important to move cautiously. Don’t make
decisions without thinking about how the choice might affect
your future financial trajectory.

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The article below from a recent issue of that financial newsletter talks about how incremental change adds up to a whole new direction, and a brighter financial future.  It’s certainly true financially, but it is equally true in writing as well.

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Here is the article on how increment change can transform your financial future (and the same principle applies to your writing future):

We determine the trajectory of our lives based on the decisions we make when times are tough. Let’s start by considering what a trajectory is. According to the Random House dictionary, it’s the “curve traced by a projectile object or body in its flight.” In other words, for this quote, it’s the path that we’re on. I picture the trajectory of a missile in flight. I don’t know it for a fact, but I’d bet that the course corrections are very, very small. Yet, they can make a big difference in where the missile flies and lands.

Why does such a small change make such a dramatic difference in the end? Because the direction has been changed. So the longer we go in that direction the greater the distance between where we are and where we would have been. Think of the missile example. Even a one-degree change in course will make a huge difference after the missile goes a thousand miles or more.

OK, so NASA can make a small change and affect the trajectory of a space shuttle, but is it true that we determine the trajectory of our life? We could debate it, but I’d argue that it’s true. Our choices make a difference. Perhaps not a noticeable difference at first, but one that will change where we end up in the future. It happens the exact same way as the missile. A minor course correction maintained over a long time can make a huge difference in where we end up.

Let’s consider a simple (and somewhat silly) example. Suppose that you’re a 20 year old coming out of class. Feeling thirsty you search out a vending machine. Sodas (and bottled water) are $1. You reach in your pocket and pull out a single. Into the machine it goes. And, your thirst is quenched. As you walk away from the vending machine, you notice a water fountain that you hadn’t seen before. Oh, well. It’s only a buck.

True, but did you know that if you put that single dollar to work earning interest, it would be worth $46 when you were 70 years old and looking for retirement income? Still not impressed? Suppose that you bought that $1 drink every day for 50 years. If you had used the water fountain instead and saved the money, you would have accumulated $209,000! Quite a difference in the trajectory.

Obviously, that’s a made up story. No one is going to go to a vending machine once a day, every day for 50 years. But, it does give you a feel for what happens when you routinely say, “It’s only a buck.” Say it too often and you’ll be adjusting your financial trajectory.

Now let’s take a look at the final part of the quote. It talks about the decisions that we make when times are tough. I don’t suppose that tough time decisions have any greater impact on our trajectory than any other decision. But they could be more important because we have a smaller margin for error. When you’re right on the edge, you don’t need anything that would push your trajectory to a point where it spirals out of control (I can see them intentionally destroying a missile that’s gone off course).

I guess that what I’m saying is that the stakes are higher when you’re facing tough times. And, you’re already under pressure, which might compromise your ability to make decisions. So it’s important to move cautiously. Don’t make decisions without thinking about how the choice might affect your future financial trajectory.  (“Small changes can make a huge difference over a sustained period of time.”  LH

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