Small Changes Have Big Potential

I saw the following TED Talk last week, although it was recorded in 2017. The speaker taking to the microphone in this talk is Stephen Duneier. After watching his presentation, I did a little bit of research about him. He is a really interesting guy. Duneier is an expert institutional investor – was an extremely successful hedge fund manager. He is an outdoors enthusiast, marathoner and hiker.  He has been a professor and a business leader, a coach, and even a daredevil who skydives and races cars. He creates huge art that is installed into landscapes outside. He is even a Guinness world record holder. Additionally, he is a husband and father.

So, which of these pursuits is his TED Talk about? His Talk is about none of them and all of them. Let me explain, Duneier reveals that what really defines him aren’t any of his titles or roles that he plays in his life. Instead, he says his approach to making decisions is what changed him from a guy who struggled with get through even simple tasks, to a guy who achieves even his wildest dreams.

For 30 years, Duneier has applied a surprisingly simple cognitive science thought process and approach to his life, and to pretty much everything in it. The video is approximately 15 minutes. It’s likely that I don’t know you personally, but I still feel comfortable encouraging you to watch it. If you just commit to watch 5 minutes of it, I think there’s a good chance you’ll want to see the rest.



Duneier says that if you make a small change in your daily routine or habits – just a marginal adjustment of maybe 30 minutes a day, every day, – you can really make an impact on your own life, or on the people in the world around you. He leverages the concept of the cumulative effect of time adding up every day – every week – every month, and even every year. Think of it like the way compound interest builds up, or hell quarters in a swear jar can eventually pay for a nice dinner out or theater tickets (pre-2020 indulgences, but you know what I mean).

I don’t know how to speak Italian (or Io no lo capisco parlo l’italiano)

My late husband and I honeymooned in Italy in 1996. Chris was Italian-American and did not speak the language, although he understood a little bit of it. I very much wanted to learn at least rudimentary Italian before we went on that trip.  I remember the day Chris brought me home a small Italian phrase book and dictionary to carry in my pocketbook on our honeymoon. I still have the book, all these years later. Here is that book, almost as good as brand new:

I wanted to learn the language so much, but I didn’t. Life was extremely busy and there was never time to do it. Periodically over the years I resolved to do it – but never did. Every time we would come across it while spring cleaning or something I would insist on keeping the little book. I think it reaffirmed the fact that I still wanted to learn Italian. Throwing it away would be representative of throwing away the goal.

Once, I even ordered an Italian program on disc from Rosetta Stone. It wasn’t cheap, and I figured if I invested the money in it I would use it. I still didn’t do it. The goal seemed just too big, too daunting. If I remember correctly, the Rosetta stone program was sold at a garage sale. Meanwhile, I am still limited to ‘’menu-ordering” skills in Italian … you know what I mean… chicken parmigiano, veal marsala, mozzarella caprese, tiramisu, anisette.

Thinking about what was said in the Stephen Duneier video, I decided that if I make a marginal adjustment of 30 minutes a day every day, I can finally learn some Italian. Circumstances beyond my control have forced me to relinquish a lot of my goals. Learning Italian is a goal I can take back.

I searched online for Italian language programs that I can use on my computer. I narrowed it down to the 4 big players in the industry. Then I compared pricing plans and user reviews. I ultimately decided to go with Pimsleur. I snapped this picture midway through my first lesson on Monday.

Somehow, every day I will fit in 30 minutes to work the program. I’m going to plan to do the daily lesson in the early morning, because during that time my teenagers are either on the way to school or asleep. It is usually too early in the morning for business-related calls. Therefore, I think it’s usually going to be the best time of day for me to tackle this personal challenge.

To share or not to share, that was the question.

I had a spirited internal debate with myself, (please note that I did keep it civilized!), about whether or not I should share this. After all, just last week I came to you with a bunch of research showing that we are more likely to achieve our goals if we don’t share them.  As I thought it through, the decision was clear …

The broad overall goal of From In Here is to bring people together over shared personal experiences. When I recently watched the TED Talk of this video by Stephen Duneier, it inspired me enough to take action. I intend to stick with the Italian lessons, but that is something I am doing solely for my own personal satisfaction. The extent of my fluency or awkwardness at it is ultimately irrelevant.

I think part of life is navigating the times when our goals can somehow conflict with one another. There are times we have to compromise when choosing which goal to pursue, and times we may have to prioritize one goal over another. In this instance, sharing my goal about learning Italian may not be an ideal scenario because sharing your goals is not advisable in general. But, doing so helps me I share with you how I have put into effect the advice I got from Duneier’s presentation. Sharing that with you helps me to further my efforts to bring people together over shared personal experiences.

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