The Law of Plus One Minus One: The Way of the Tortoise

Do the thing you fear, and the death of fear is certain-  Ralph Waldo Emerson

Leaders define the organizational reality. They create progress or generate inertia. Many live their lives as if the only actions worth taking are the ones that are strategic, transformational, and newsworthy in nature. Problem is, 70 to 80% of all transformation efforts fail. Whether you like it or not incremental, consistent progress, winning each and every play, and the daily habits/fundamentals are what separates the world class from the average. There is a reason we read the “Tortoise and the Hare” – In the story, the tortoise wins. In business and in life, the tortoise wins. In relationships, health, fitness the tortoise wins. No one likes the tortoise because the tortoise does what is hard.

Why are the perennial best-sellers almost always self-help books? Yet, these promised and anticipated  “life” changes are rarely ever realized?

Is it laziness or are we looking at change and progress incorrectly?

The Law of Plus One Minus One

Abraham Maslow in “Motivation and Personality” wrote that each and every day and at any given moment we are faced with a series of small, singular choices. Either to step forward into growth or to step back into safety.

We wake up in the morning. Is our first act a step forward or do we step back into safety (do what is comfortable)? Philosopher Brian Johnson devised a decision scale worth considering…

 +1 one if you stepped forward. -1 one if you stepped backward.

So, after that first act/thought, you’re either at +1 or -1. Yah?


               -100                            -3    -2   -1     0   +1   +2   +3                            +100

Ok, what about the next moment? The next decision? Forward toward growth or back into safety and mediocrity? Forward or back? Moment by moment?

Fast forward to the end of the day. Where are you? +10,000 or -10,000?

This is our lives. The choices we make, one by one, little by little, define our life. Both a deprived life and a fulfilled life all originate with the hundreds of small choices we make everyday that lead us forward toward growth or back into safety. The way of the tortoise.

Quick Exercises to Get You Started:

  • Write down the “one thing” that has been almost impossible for you to change. It could be your weight, anxiety, anger, exercise, etc.
  • In that “one thing” — Moment by moment, decision by decision, decide to step forward toward growth and do not retreat back into safety.
  • Give it a try – If you make more choices toward growth vs. safety, then you’ll be well on your way.

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