When I was a competitive gymnast, my coach kept the gym open during spring break to give us unstructured time to practice and play. One day, I got the bright idea to do a back handspring on the balance beam*. All of the really good gymnasts could do one, so I wanted to do one.
(Keep in mind that, up until this point, I had never attempted a back handspring on the beam. Not even with help.)
When my mom came to pick me up that evening, I ran out to the parking lot to drag her into the gym.
"Mom," I exclaimed, "watch this!"
I climbed onto the high beam, put my hands in the air ...
... and flipped into a perfectly reasonably executed back handspring on the high beam.
The Full Story
Of course, I didn't just get up on the beam in the morning and launch into handspring after handspring. Had I tried that, I probably would have missed my hands, hit my head, and given myself a concussion.
Instead, I started on the low beam with safety mats on either side, thus creating a level surface.
Then, I flipped down one partition of the mats, just enough to really feel a difference in surface heights.
Then I got rid of the mats all together.
I made a big leap in trying the medium-height beam: I got up and got down several times before even attempting a back handspring with a spotter.
Then I was able to do one without a spotter.
Then—and only then—was I able to try on the high beam.
By the time my mom picked me up, I had only done three back handsprings on the high beam by myself. I still shook with fear when I looked down and saw the distance between me and the floor.
But something had irrevocably changed: at the beginning of the day, I was someone who could not do a back handspring on the balance beam. At the end of the day, I was someone who could.
Without knowing it, I had harnessed the Law of Incremental Upgrade.
The Law of Incremental Upgrade (a.k.a. the best way to change your life)
The Law of Incremental Upgrade is a phrase coined by Denise Duffield-Thomas, author of Get Rich Lucky Bitch (get three sample chapters here—they're free!).
The Law of Incremental Upgrade ("The Law") proposes that the best way to improve your life is to take small, stage-appropriate actions towards your overall goal. The Law further proposes that if you choose to make big leaps without doing the incremental work, the changes will not stick because you're not ready for them.
Other coaches and thinkers call this by other names: Tonya Leigh calls it a wiggle. Amira Alvarez calls it an Elephant Step. I'm a big fan of Tweak. Whatever you decide to call it, the message is the same:
How to put the Law of Incremental Upgrade into action (plus a free resource for you!)
The Law of Incremental Upgrade is, thankfully, a fairly straightforward process. In Get Rich Lucky Bitch, Duffield-Thomas writes:
When you have a juicy list of First Class items, make a list of everything in your life that's a complete opposite of this list ... Then, you simply pick one thing at a time and upgrade it to the very next level. Just a teeny, tiny bit, so you don't freak out.
Let's break down the steps:
1. Create an overarching vision of what you consider to be your best life, your First Class Life
This is everything that you could possibly be, do, and have in your life to make it freaking amazing.
Maybachs and jet planes? If you so desire.
A 20-acre plot of land for a small-press vineyard in Italy? Sure, why not?
La Perla lingerie? Go on, you deserve it.
Whatever it is, this is the thing, or the things, that will utterly change your life.
2. Pick one thing to upgrade
Just one. If you put all of your energy into one facet of your life, the momentum compounds and you get there faster.
Choose the Maybach or the jet plane.
Choose the vineyard or Italy.
Pick bras or panties.
3. Take small, tiny steps towards that one thing
Upgrade your flight class from Economy to Premium Economy.
Take a wine tasting class.
Buy the 5 for $20 hipsters instead of a 5-pack of cotton granny panties.
As you take these small stretch steps, they eventually become your new normal. Over time, they're incorporated into who you are and how you show up in the world, and then you're ready for the next step.
Before you know it, you've permanently changed your life. No sweat.
- Get Rich Lucky Bitch! Release Your Money Blocks and Live a First Class Life, Denise Duffield-Thomas
- The Success Principles: How to Get From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be, Jack Canfield with Janet Switzer
*The balance beam, as you may know, is a 4-inch-wide apparatus that's roughly 3.5-5 feet off the ground. A back handspring is a rotational move in which the gymnast springs backwards from her feet to her hands and back to her feet.
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