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What is Broken Windows Theory and Why is it Relevant to Your Goals?

Get to know one unusual “theory” that can completely change your mindset to the way you approach your goals…

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In the late 1970s, Stanford psychologist Philip Zombardo decided to conduct an interesting experiment. He parked one car without licence plates with a slightly open hood and an open window in one neighbourhood in New York. He parked the other car in a neighbourhood in Palo Alto, California, but he didn’t remove the license plates or leave the hood and window open – this car seemed to belong to someone and like it was regularly used. It is important to note that both neighbourhoods in which he parked his cars were known for poverty and high crime rates.

The car parked in New York was “visited” the same night by thieves, and after only three days nothing valuable was left in it. The car he parked in Palo Alto remained untouched even after a week.

In order to continue with his experiment, he decided to break the window of an “intact” car parked in Palo Alto with a hammer. With the broken window, the car somehow left an impression of being abandoned. Just hours after he broke the window, thieves stole everything that was valuable in the car.

So, while the car seemed to belong to someone and seemed like it was regularly maintained and used, no one even touched it for a week. As soon as he broke the window, leaving an impression of abandonment, only a few hours after thieves had stolen everything valuable in it.

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This experiment served as the basis for the creation of the so called Broken Windows theory, which boils down to the idea that when light crimes are starting to be IGNORED and NEGLECTED, it creates the impetus and fertile ground for the spread of serious crimes and the development of  “more serious” crime. This theory has proven to be more than effective in practice and its application has led to a reduction of crime rates in various cities across the United States.

Over time, its application, in a slightly modified form, has come to life within the field of personal development so let’s now explore how this theory can help us in the process of personal change.

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No matter how “big” or “distant” the goal or outcome you want to achieve is, the majority of your path to that goal or outcome consists of a multitude of SMALL STEPS to be taken on a daily basis.

Think about it…

You may want to lose 10 kilos. Whichever program or weight loss approach you choose, what will have the most effect on your realization of the outcome (like sustainability of that equipment) is exactly the sum of the small steps you will take on daily basis, such as exercising regularly, eating properly, avoiding certain foods, etc.

You may want to write your first book. You are full of inspiration and feel joy and excitement just by thinking about your book being sold in bookstores. Nevertheless, the success of your outcome will depend mostly on your daily habits and the time you spend on a daily basis to write, study the literature, manage your existing responsibilities more effectively, etc.

Great ambition, motivation, inspiration, vision and various other “drivers” of proactive behavior are often overrated. As much as they can be (and often are) very powerful initiators of the process of change, they will disappear very quickly if we don’t maintain them precisely with little practical steps taken on a daily basis. Jim Rohn, one of the most famous motivational speakers, said: “Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.”

“Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.” – Jim Rohn

Unfortunately, these small steps are often repetitive, with almost no one noticing that you are taking them and sometimes seem insignificant in relation to your ultimate goal or outcome. Sometimes you don’t notice any progress for days or weeks, despite regularly adhering to them. For example, you exercise regularly for several weeks and take care of every meal, without noticing any particular change in your body. Or, you’ve been writing your book for a couple weeks, and after deleting all that seemed superfluous, you realize that you had written only two pages.

But, the point is that these little routine steps that no one sees, or even notices you do, will gradually allow you to identify those crucial (bigger) steps that will visibly push you forward towards your goal or desired change.

However, if you start ignoring and “skipping” these little steps, you will create a TENDENCY TO IGNORE AND SKIP ANY TYPE OF ACTION YOU NEED. That will gradually dampen your motivation and blur your vision. It is very likely that you will eventually give up on your goal or desired change believing that the goal you set for yourself was not for you anyway.

If you start ignoring and “skipping” these little steps, you will create a TENDENCY TO IGNORE AND SKIP ANY TYPE OF ACTION YOU NEED. That will gradually dampen your motivation and blur your vision. It is very likely that you will eventually give up on your goal or desired change believing that the goal you set for yourself was not for you anyway.

Each of those skipped little steps takes you two steps back. Each of your skipped little steps, metaphorically, will act like a car from the above experiment which seemed increasingly neglected. The more your “car” looks “neglected”, the less will be your will to restore it to its optimal condition. Ultimately, it will also result in the people around you who need you to reach the desired goal, unwittingly “smell” that you are frivolous and not sufficiently committed to your goal or outcome and will lose their will to help and push you as much as they can. Let’s be real, why would they waste their time with you if you have not yet defined with yourself how much you really care about what you want? This all happens mostly on the unconscious level, but most of our interactions happen unconsciously anyway.

Once you faithfully keep to the small steps because you don’t want your “car” to seem like it’s being neglected, but you want it to seem like it’s being regularly taken care of and maintained, people will recognize your commitment and have the urge to maximally meet your needs and help you as much as they can and know how to.

There is a principle in Yoga theory that says if you skip meditation one day, you need two days of meditation to get back on the same level.  If you skip meditation for two days, you need four days of meditation to return to the same level. And if you skip meditation for three days, you need nine days of meditation to return to the same level.

“If you skip meditation one day, you need two days of meditation to get back on the same level. If you skip meditation for two days, you need four days of meditation to return to the same level. And if you skip meditation for three days, you need nine days of meditation to return to the same level.”

In short, small steps that are regularly done on a daily or weekly basis are the base of any successful outcome. Lifetime, intensity of your vision, motivation and inspiration depends on them. As soon as you start ignoring and “skipping” those little steps, you will not only feel an increasing tendency to ignore and “skip” them even more, but you will begin to relativize those crucial (bigger) steps that are necessary to accomplish your goal.

The secret to being proactive is not in the big vision, strong motivation or ambition because there is hardly any person who hasn’t felt a strong inspiration or motivation for something at least a couple times in their lives. Unfortunately, without further understanding, visions, inspirations or motivations  often resemble the desired guest who suddenly appears at our door and as soon as we get excited to have it here, it suddenly disappears. The secret to proactivity comes down to (1) understanding the importance of small steps, (2) understanding the dangers of skipping and relativising small steps and (3) understanding the concept for which the name “nonlinear nature of the cumulation of the effect of small steps” in used the context of the TT MINDFULNESS ™ program.

Nonlinear nature of the cumulation of the effect of small steps

There is another interesting phenomenon that is good to keep in mind when talking about the importance of taking small steps as well as the hidden danger of “skipping” them.

When we define our goals and the small steps we take on a daily basis, one part of our mind expects us to see at least a small level of progress with each step we take. This is quite natural to expect because if you are already investing time and energy into something, you want to make sure that the action you have taken at least brought you closer to the desired outcome. Unfortunately, as much as the stated expectation seems logical, linear progression is reserved only for rare cases.

And that is why it is important to keep in mind the following…

For example, if you need 100 days of some activity to reach your goal, feel free to count on about 80 percent of your VISIBLE RESULTS to appear only in the last 20 days (the last 20 percent of the time).

For example, if you need 100 days to complete your book, chances are that 80 percent of your manuscript will be completed in the last 20 days, while you’ll spend the first 80 days experimenting with different ideas, writing and deleting, researching material, etc. – in any case, without any specific visible results that you might show someone and ask that person for their opinion.

If you, for example, need 10 months to start your private business and get your net monthly income equal to your current monthly salary, it is likely that most of the significant results that will most impact your default net monthly income will appear exactly two months before you start earning that kind of income.

This, of course, is not a precise statistic, but merely a tentative idea that indicates that our path to the goal is quite nonlinear. Unfortunately, due to a misunderstanding of this phenomenon, many people prematurely conclude that what they are doing “is not going as they imagined” and give up, often not realizing that they were almost near the realization of their goal.

The point is to prepare yourself in advance to spend on average 80 percent of the time it takes to accomplish a goal by making small, necessary steps that no one will even notice. That’s exactly what differentiates people who go forward from those who constantly go in a circle.

Summary:

  • No matter how “big” or “distant” the goal or outcome you want to achieve is,the majority of your path to that goal or outcome consists of a multitude of SMALL STEPS to be taken on a daily basis.
  • If you start ignoring and “skipping” these little steps, you will create a TENDENCY TO IGNORE AND SKIP ANY TYPE OF ACTION YOU NEED. That will gradually dampen your motivation and blur your vision and cause you to give up on your goals or change you wanted to make.
  • Only regularity in taking small steps on a daily basis has the “superpower” to extend the lifetime of your vision and motivation.
  • Prepare to spend 80 percent of the time it takes to accomplish a goal by making small necessary steps no one will notice. Those visible and significant results will only appear the last 20 percent of the time, just before the desired outcome is realized.

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© Tomislav Tomić – 2020.

This article is a part of the working script for a program “TT MINDFULNESS™ – BECOME A MINDFULNESS COACH“. Click HERE for more information about the program…

Tomislav Tomic

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