The Little Things: Why You Really Should Sweat the Small Stuff by Andy Andrews. Thomas Nelson. 160 pages. 2017
This short book is packed with wisdom, humor and wit. Andy Andrews is an excellent communicator, and he brings those skills to this book about subtle differences that can be harnessed by individuals, teams, and corporations to separate themselves dramatically from their industries’ averages. He writes that nothing excites him more than a focused search for little things that make big differences. In this book, he shares stories that not only make a point but have a purpose beyond the point.
The book covers a wide range of thoughts, including chapters that will bring peace to your family, and some, when you harness what they teach, can make you a lot of money or turn your team into a winner.
He writes that in order to change your life, all you need is one idea. One idea will change everything. One idea will change the world. He writes that if we are to become extraordinary achievers, we must learn to recognize the little things that actually create the gap—and, consequently, the difference in opportunities—between one and two. The difference really is in little things because the actual gap between first and second place is most often ridiculously small.
He asks what are the “things” that create the life of our dreams, and states that it is really the small stuff. Small, strategic moves in the beginning of any endeavor yield massive growth down the road.
He tells us that most people live their entire lives without ever thinking beyond what they have come to believe is true. But it is a valuable person who manages to see a new way of thinking as an opportunity. He encourages us to not always believe everything we think. To do so will be the end of any exponential growth you might have experienced in your life. To begin to compete at a different level, he encourages us to examine our thinking, especially about how things are done in our industry—and realizing we can’t always believe everything we think.
He returns to the concept of perspective, one he has written about extensively in the past. He tells us that it is critical that we understand the difference between perception (how a situation is perceived) and perspective (what one decides what the facts of that moment mean in terms of direction toward one’s ultimate desired destination).
He tells us that average people compare themselves to other people, while extraordinary achievers do not compare themselves to other people. Instead, they compare themselves to their own potential. He tells us that if we want to be an extraordinary achiever, then we really do want to be different.
I found his discussion of change to be of particular interest. He writes that change is a constant and all-encompassing reality. Change is a part of everything we do, every day of our lives. He debunks three common myths about change and replaces them with two convincing change ingredients, which are:
Change Ingredient #1: What’s in it for me?
Change Ingredient #2: Proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
He tells us that if you understand the myths and the elements of change, you can respond to it with confidence and creativity and even joy. And we can help others respond positively as well.
He writes that a person cannot achieve beyond what they really believe to be the truth about themselves. What a person really believes is so powerful that their belief actually controls their behavior. He tells us that we should spend less time setting goals to satisfy the expectations of other people and use more time to concentrate fully upon legitimately increasing the level of what we really and truly believe is possible. And he tells us that this can only be done by aligning ourselves on a course to pursue the life that God has identified for us as the very best.
The book covers a wide range of thoughts, some of which could be expanded into an entire book on their own. The book concludes with a helpful Reader’s Guide, with questions that will be helpful whether reading the book together or in a book club with others.
This is a repackaged version of Andrews’ 2008 book Mastering the Seven Decisions. The material is similar to what he spoke on at the organization I work at in early March. The seven decisions are those that were originally introduced in his best-selling book The Traveler’s Gift. I listened to the audiobook version, which was well read by Andrews.
Andrews tells the reader that years ago he read more than 200 biographies. From there, he came up with 7 decisions or principles that when applied consistently lead to extraordinary lives.
For this book, he wrote to leaders in all fields asking for lessons from them. He excerpted the best lessons for each decision and included them in the book.
He includes letters from Jimmy Dean, Bob Hope, General Norman Schwarzkopf and Amy Grant among others.
Andrews introduced the seven decisions in The Traveler’s Gift and goes much deeper with them in this book. He states that reading The Traveler’s Gift is not a requirement for reading this book. Each chapter corresponds to one of the seven decisions from The Traveler’s Gift. The book also includes helpful exercises to allow the reader to interact with each decision and to see the connection of each with their own lives.
The Seven Decisions are:
1. THE BUCK STOPS HERE.
I will not let my history control my destiny. I accept responsibility for my past. I am responsible for my success. My decisions have always been governed by my thinking. I control my thoughts. I control my emotions. My thoughts will be constructive, never destructive.
2. I WILL SEEK WISDOM.
I will train my eyes and ears to read and listen to books and recordings that bring about positive changes. I will read and listen only to what increases my belief in myself and my future. I will choose to associate with people whose lives and lifestyles I admire.
I will listen to the counsel of those who are wise. By learning from other people’s wisdom, I add their knowledge and experience to my own and dramatically increase my success.
I will not look for someone to open my door; instead, I will seek to open the door for someone else.
3. I AM A PERSON OF ACTION.
I will create a new future by creating a new me. I inspire others with my activity. I am a leader. Knowing that laziness is a sin, I will create a habit of lively behavior.
I will walk with a spring in my step and a smile on my face. My activity will create a wave of success for the people who follow me. As a leader, I have the ability to encourage and inspire others to greatness. I do not fear failure, because failure exists only for the person who quits.
I do not quit. I am courageous. I am a leader. I seize the moment. I choose now.
4. I HAVE A DECIDED HEART.
I am passionate about my vision for the future. The power to control my direction belongs to me. Today I will begin to exercise that power.
I will awaken every morning with an excitement about the new day and its opportunities for growth and change.
Yes, I have a dream. It is a great dream. My hopes, my passions, my vision for the future are my very existence. A person without a dream never had a dream come true.
My course has been charted, and my destiny is assured.
5. TODAY I WILL CHOOSE TO BE HAPPY.
Happiness is a choice. I am enthusiastic about each day. I am alert to its possibilities.
I will become the master of my emotions.
I will greet each day with laughter. I know that enthusiasm is the fuel that moves the world.
The world belongs to the enthusiastic, for people will follow them anywhere! My smile has become my calling card. It is, after all, the most important weapon I possess. I am the possessor of a grateful spirit.
6. I WILL GREET THIS DAY WITH A FORGIVING SPIRIT.
By the act of forgiving, I am no longer consumed by unproductive thoughts. I will forgive those who have criticized me unjustly.
I now understand that forgiveness has value only when it is given away. I forgive their lack of vision, and I forge ahead.
I now know that criticism is part of the price paid for leaping past mediocrity. I will forgive those who do not ask for forgiveness. From this day forward, my history will cease to control my destiny. I have forgiven myself. My life has just begun.
7. I WILL PERSIST WITHOUT EXCEPTION.
I possess the greatest power ever bestowed upon mankind. I hold fast to my dreams. I stay the course. I do not quit.
I acknowledge that most people quit when exhaustion sets in, but I am not “most people.”
I am stronger than most people. Average people compare themselves with other people, and that is why they remain average.
I compare myself to my potential. I am not average. I see exhaustion as a precursor to victory. By persisting without exception, my outcome—my success—is assured.
Here are a few other good quotes from the book:
Taking consistent action is crucial to the realization of a successful life.
Leadership is simply relating your beliefs or opinions to others with conviction and then sticking to that conviction even in the face of criticism or dissent.
If we don’t accept responsibility for where we are right now, we have no hope of changing our future.
You are where you are because of how you think.
Your life should not be an apology; it should be a statement-an extraordinary demonstration of the possibilities within all of us.
Adversity prepares you for greatness. Challenges are gifts.
Be on the lookout for something that will change everything.
A wise man will cultivate a servant’s spirit, for that particular attribute attracts people like no other.
The bold capture our hearts and souls because they have followed their hearts to become who they are, providing a shining path for us to follow.
Changing the world begins with a single act.
Successful people make their decisions quickly and change their minds slowly.
Andrews has a podcast that you can subscribe to at www.andyandrews.com
This is the follow-up to Andrew’s 2009 book The Noticer, which I very much enjoyed. The book is set in Orange Beach, Alabama, along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Andrews and his wife appear in the story, but the hero is Jones, who we were introduced to in The Noticer. Jones is an older man, nobody knows how old or where he is from. He comes and goes without notice, always showing up when people most need him. In fact, we are told that there are more than a few people who would credit the old man with changing their lives
We are introduced to several people in the book whose lives intersect thanks to Jones and his parenting class. Jones gives them perspective on their struggles and dreams. Jones even gives perspective to Andrews who is facing writer’s block and stressing about his publisher’s deadline for his next book. Jones shows how our lives can improve by changing the way we think.
Andrews weaves in wisdom into an interesting story. Below are short passages or quotes that I highlighted when reading the book and wanted to share with you.
- “Son, you are at this very moment in the biggest war you will ever wage in your life. It is confusing, but you’re fighting for what you’ll one day become. There are forces clashing for space in your head that you don’t recognize, can’t see, and won’t understand until you’re able to look back on the whole thing years from now.
- “‘Don’t sweat the small stuff,’” Jones said with disdain. “That’s a lie that’ll ruin your life.” He looked hard at me again and locked my gaze with his own. “Your choices, your words, and every move you make are permanent. Life is lived in indelible ink, boy. Wake up. You’re making little bitty brushstrokes every minute you walk around on this earth. And with those tiny brushstrokes, you are creating the painting that your life will ultimately become—a masterpiece or a disaster.”
- “Yes sir,” he said softly. “Time is an odd thing. Currency is what it is. Once spent . . . it’s gone forever.”
- “Proper perspective about every facet of your existence,” he would tell me again and again, “is only everything.”
- In a way, Jones knew, every journey started in the dark. And that, of course, was the very essence of his reason for being. It was his purpose. Jones took folks by the hand and helped them see the pathway by which they could move into the light. Perspective, he called it.
- Jones looked at the younger man thoughtfully. “I guess you could say that I’m in the transportation business, son. I help folks get from where they are . . . to where they want to be.
- If you are doing what everyone else is doing, you are doing something wrong. Why? Because most people are not obtaining results that are considered extraordinary. ”
- “If your thinking is causing you to do what everyone else is doing, you are only contributing to the average. Even if you are contributing to the average at a high level, it is still . . . average.
- “Therefore, in order to produce results that are wildly outside the average—to produce results that are extraordinary—you cannot afford to think like average people think. You cannot act like average people act. You cannot be what average people are . . . which is normal.”
- It took me years to understand that the old man was attempting to teach me something most people never learn: despite the ebb and flow of our feelings, we can control the way we act. “Patience, for instance,” Jones once remarked, “is not a feeling. Patience is the description of a behavior. One can choose to act patiently even while the feeling of frustration tempts him to choose inappropriate behavior. It is impossible to feel frustrated and feel patient at the same time, but one can be inundated with feelings of frustration and still display patience. Patience is a discipline. It is an action. Patience is a chosen response.”
- “This man is telling us that at least one reason our society does not consistently produce awesome results in the lives of its children is because we have not agreed upon a standard by which they will be raised.”
- “And so it follows,” Bart said with a new respect for the old man in front of him, “that when we set out to accomplish something without a specific, agreed-upon result, that lack of a common target yields results that are unpredictable at best.”
- Jones said simply, “Everybody wants to make a difference, but nobody wants to be different. And you simply cannot have one without the other.”
- “Now,” Jones said, scooting closer to us, “while morality is not doing what is wrong, character is actively doing what is right.
- “This, of course, leads us to the logical conclusion that a person without morals cannot be a person of character.
- “Most parents try to impress upon their children that where they end up in life has something to do with the decisions they make.
- “What a person thinks is absolutely and always determined by how a person thinks.
- Only by persistently doing battle with the things you cannot yet do or that which you do not yet understand can you ever hope to achieve what average people never accomplish.”
- “The mature person—the high achiever—will understand that life’s grand prizes are guarded by confusion. The mature person senses the victory that exists beyond confusion and says, ‘I cannot do this . . . yet. I am not good at this yet, but I will work and learn and become better until I am competent, then excellent, then great! I will struggle and persist through confusion until I break through to the understanding or greater skill required for victory.’
- Perspective is, ultimately, how I choose to see a situation.”
- Smiling, Jones said, “We are going to get to a place of proper perspective. And what I said was that you were a discouraged seller of shoes. It’s just my own little inside joke. It’s my way of referring to folks who base their conclusions on a single view from the wrong side of a situation. Tragically, it usually shuts them down completely. But in your case, it’s tragic and ironic.”
- Our choices now—this week, this month, this year—are very sticky. Once made, their effects never go away. Rather, those choices about how we think and what we do are a constant presence. Every thought, every action is a choice, and even now the choices you have made in your life thus far are shifting and combining in order to create who you really are. Therefore, simple logic says that by paying careful attention to our choices from this point forward, we can create a future we choose instead of a future that ‘happens.’
- ‘Seriously stuck’ provides a clearly defined opportunity. When one is seriously stuck, there is an obvious choice that must be made. You can do one of two things. You can quit, or you can break through to a new level of awareness and achievement. There ya go. Take your pick.”
- “And,” he said, “‘seriously stuck’ has another benefit. That condition is one of the few that allows the time needed to closely examine our surroundings. The answer one seeks when seriously stuck is never far away.”
- “If you do not want an average life, you must be on guard against, and quietly suspicious of, conclusions made by conventional thinking.”
- The people who do not actively choose a road to travel always default to the road everyone else is already on. They default to ‘average.’
- An extraordinary life is a destination. In order for you to arrive at that chosen destination at some point in the future, it is critical that you choose the correct pathway to begin that journey. There are many pathways from which to choose, but only one pathway will lead to the destination you desire.
- How we think determines how wisely we choose; yet, at the same time, we are able to choose how we think.”
- But the highest value—the most important value—is the value you create with your life and how you use it for others.
- “Baker, the man you become will be determined by the value you provide for others—those whom you meet on the road to who you are becoming. Great or small, your legacy will be judged one day by the quality and amount of value you were able to contribute in the lives of other people.
- “The bottom line on the declaration, ‘This is part of our culture,’ is this: At its best, this is a choice made with little or no critical thinking about future results. At its worst, it is merely an excuse to do what one wants to do. It is selfish, leaderless, pack behavior with unconsidered consequences that ultimately destroy families, neighborhoods, cities, and before you know it, generations.
- A culture is chosen by its people, either by deliberate decisions or acquiescence to how everyone feels at the time.
- “The culture you live in today is the culture you have allowed. That is true of your family, and it is true of your country.
- “Learning’s purest form,” Jones replied, “is realized by the individual who continues a quest beyond the classroom, fueled by a passion to discern wisdom. Wisdom—genuine truth—holds the key to refining one’s thinking.
- “The way a person thinks,” he began, “is the key to everything that follows good or bad, success or failure. A person’s thinking—the way he thinks—is the foundational structure upon which a life is built. Thinking guides decisions. Thinking—how a person thinks—determines every choice.
- To avoid regret, you do and say and express every good thing you can possibly do and say and express to those you love. ’Cause you’re going to find there isn’t always time to whisper good-bye.”
I recently read The Traveler’s Gift by Andy Andrews. A recommendation from a few friends was that I follow that up by reading Andrew’s book The Noticer. I’m glad I did. I enjoyed The Noticer much more than I did The Traveler’s Gift. I listened to the audiobook version of the book, which was narrated well by Andrews.
The book is written as a parable or allegory, with some of it autobiographical, with Andrews beginning by telling a bit of his own story. He tells how he came from nothing, and how with a bit of perspective, he grew to become successful. When Andy was at his worst, his parents having died, and living under a pier in Gulf State Park, a mysterious white haired man carrying a suitcase named Jones (“no Mr., just Jones”) shows up. Jones seems to know a lot about Andy. Jones teaches Andy that perspective can get him through the challenges of his life. He leaves shortly after imparting that wisdom, but not before giving him a few books to read. The books were biographies of successful people who came from nothing. Andy reads those books, and many more (he later states that he read more than 200 books), and begins to turn his life around.
The story picks up years later and Andy has become successful. He runs into Jones as he is helping another couple who are on the verge of divorce. We later see Jones bringing perspective to people who are going through a variety of crises in their lives – (suicide, bankruptcy, dishonesty in business, etc.). He always seems to show up when people need him the most.
Jones is mysterious. Nobody knows where he lives, he never takes people up on their offers to spend the night at their home and he doesn’t even know when he was born. Who is this guy? He’s a noticer. That is his gift. He sees things in a broader way, and gives people perspective.
I enjoyed how Andrews adapts Gary Chapman’s five love languages into four dialects. I also thought that the question “What is it about us that others would want to change?” was a great one.
Below are several quotes or short passages from the book that I thought you might enjoy:
Remember, what you focus on increases.
It’s time to stop letting your history control your destiny.
People are either in a crisis, coming out of one, or headed for one.
Worry is just imagination used in an unproductive way.
Wisdom is the ability to see the future consequences of our choices.
It takes wisdom to discern that oh-so-thin line between good and best.
Many of life’s treasures remain hidden because we never search for them.
If you are still here, then you have not completed your life’s purpose.
Big stuff is made up of small stuff, so you better sweat the small stuff.
We often judge ourselves by our intentions but others by their actions.
If you want folks to believe in you, then it really helps if they like you.
Life is a little like dessert. Keep your fork; the best is yet to come!
In desperate times, much more than anything else folks need perspective.
Think with me here … everybody wants to be on the mountaintop, but if you’ll remember, mountaintops are rocky and cold. There is no growth on the top of a mountain. Sure, the view is great, but what’s a view for? A view just gives us a glimpse of our next destination-our next target. But to hit that target, we must come off the mountain, go through the valley, and begin to climb the next slope. It is in the valley that we slog through the lush grass and rich soil, learning and becoming what enables us to summit life’s next peak.
When you focus on the things you need, you’ll find those needs increasing. If you concentrate your thoughts on what you don’t have, you will soon be concentrating on other things that you had forgotten you don’t have-and feel worse! If you set your mind on loss, you are more likely to lose … But a grateful perspective brings happiness and abundance into a person’s life.
A life filled with opportunities and encouragement finds more and more opportunities and encouragement, and success becomes inevitable.
When doubts and fears assail us, we subconsciously calculate the possibilities. `This might really happen!’ we tell ourselves, or ‘What will happen if…?’ And soon, we are so paralyzed by the idea that disaster is imminent that we cannot function in our work-and even our relationships dissolve. We have imagined our way to self-destruction. And that’s what has happened to you, my friend. What you must do – to defeat bad logic with good – is to deflect your subconscious from calculating possibilities. Instead, direct your mind to calculate the odds. You can learn very quickly to calculate the odds of an event occurring and eliminate it as even a remote possibility in your life.
One way to define wisdom is the ability to see, into the future, the consequences of your choices in the present.
Your ‘big picture’ will never be a masterpiece if you ignore the tiny brushstrokes.
Trust and respect are about the future. Forgiveness will be in the hands of others and can be given to you, but trust and respect are in your own hands … and must be earned.
Check out this short video of Andy discussing the book:
I first heard of Andy Andrews at a Leadercast learning event several years ago. Many of my friends have read his books and been impacted by them. On March 6, Andrews spoke at the organization that I work at. After seeing him speak I decided to read one of his books. A friend recommended that I start with The Traveler’s Gift.
This book is one that many will be able to relate to, as we all face difficulties at times that can seem insurmountable. We meet David Ponder, a businessman, husband and father. Soon, he sees his life crashing down upon him. He loses his job and health insurance. His credit cards are maxed out and his daughter needs surgery. He feels like a failure and begins to think that his family would be better off without him. After getting fired, he takes a drive and spins out on an icy bridge, hitting a tree.
The next thing we know he is taken on a journey in which he meets several historical figures (Harry Truman, King Solomon, Joshua Chamberlain, Christopher Columbus, Anne Frank, Abraham Lincoln and the angel Gabriel). Each of these figures gives David a decision or life lesson. A summary of the seven decisions is below:
- The buck stops here. I am responsible for my past and my future. (Truman)
- I will seek wisdom. I will be a servant to others. (Solomon)
- I am a person of action. I seize this moment. I choose now. (Chamberlain)
- I have a decided heart. My destiny is assured. (Columbus)
- Today I will choose to be happy. I am the possessor of a grateful spirit. (Frank)
- I will greet this day with a forgiving spirit. I will forgive myself. (Lincoln)
- I will persist without exception. I am a person of great faith. (Gabriel)
David is challenged to use the information he has been given from these figures. Near the end of the book he gets to travel to the future as well.
Andrews is a very good story-teller, and that is the strength of this book. It’s not a particularly well written book, but I listened to the audiobook version, which was well-read by Andrews, with him effectively handling the voices of the different figures that David encounters.
I found this to be an inspirational, motivational and entertaining book that can give people who are going through difficult times hope for the future.