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The entire Navigate the Chaos collection of all 365 blog posts is now available in a paperback entitled Navigate the Chaos (795 pages for $24.99). A smaller collection of thoughts from the Navigate the Chaos collection is available in paperback entitled Wonder (94 pages for $4.99)

How often do you bring small things together?

Today is August 18 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you bring small things together?” One common strategy many people who navigate the chaos use is to bring small things together one step at a time.

Authors who write their first book do this. So too do artists who use paint, ceramics or any other medium. Additionally, athletes train daily for years to accomplish a goal. As discussed in another Navigate the Chaos post, since there is no such thing as an overnight success, bring small things together is often the result of years of hard work.

Dutch Post-Impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh made such an observation in an October 1882 letter to his brother Theo: “For the great doesn’t happen through impulse alone and is a succession of little things that are brought together. What is drawing? How does one get there? It is working one’s way through an invisible iron wall that seems to stand between what one feels and what one can do. How can one get through that wall since hammering on it does not help at all? In my view, one must undermine the wall and grind through it slowly and patiently. And behold, how can one remain dedicated to such a task without allowing oneself to be lured from it or distracted, unless one reflects and organizes one’s life according to principles? And it is the same with other things as it is with artistic matters. And the great isn’t something accidental; it must be willed.”

This ‘mosaic’ approach to life and observation from van Gogh offers several valuable points of reflection. First, greatness does not happen through impulse alone. The achievement of a goal, the accomplishment of a task, or the completion of a project is not done by some sudden stroke of fortune. One simply does not wake up one day and paint a great work of art, write a prize-winning book, or break a world record in some athletic competition.

Second, if you are to achieve anything in this world you need to figure out a way to bring little things together. Just as one needs to walk many steps along the path of life, so too does one need to bring small things together in the pursuit of translating dreams into reality.

Third, greatness happens by working your way through an invisible iron wall slowly and patiently. The daily grind, especially when you do not feel like doing something, is what separates those who navigate the chaos and those who fail to accomplish their goals. Patience is indeed a virtue and never is that truer than when applied to the work required to achieve greatness.

Finally, one must rely on their will to remain dedicated to the task until all the small things are brought together, and greatness is achieved. To stay focused, undistracted, and dedicated to the end, that is what is necessary to bring all of the small things together in order to translate dreams into reality.

To accomplish anything, one must see a daunting challenge as a series of small pieces. The phrase, “there is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time,” oft attributed to Desmond Tutu, is synonymous with the mosaic approach to life. Such a strategy allows one to accomplish the impossible, the daunting, and the overwhelming by taking on just a little at a time.

As Dr. Denise Fournier wrote in an April 24, 2018, Psychology Today article: “If you have ever wanted to accomplish something major, you know that getting started can be a bit of a challenge. Maybe you have some vague idea about what you want but no clue how to get it. Or perhaps you sit down to think about everything you must do and get completely intimidated, freezing up and feeling incapable of taking the first step. This is a common experience, and it is the reason so many people fall short of turning their dreams into reality. They try to eat the whole elephant in a single bite.”

Recent research confirms the critical role small things can play. For example, in a May 31, 2022, New York Times article Holly Burns wrote “Anticipating a smattering of small, delightful experiences can be as enjoyable as looking forward to one big event, said Carrie L. Wyland, a social psychologist at Tulane University in New Orleans.” According to Wyland “At the end of every day, write down one thing you’re excited for tomorrow. Maybe it’s a new book or getting doughnuts or a package you’re expecting.”

The accumulation of these mini-thrills, according to Burns, “means you’ll still reap the benefits of looking forward to something, even if it’s not a big-ticket reward, said Christian E. Waugh, a psychology professor at Wake Forest University who studies anticipation. Waugh noted “Plus, with the nearer stuff, there’s more of a sense it’s going to happen for sure. You’ve got more control over a small gathering this evening than a vacation in six months.”

  • How often do you bring small things together?

  • How often do you remind yourself to ‘greatness does not happen through impulse alone?’

  • How often do you remind yourself ‘to eat the elephant one bite at a time?’

  • How often have you worked your way through an invisible iron wall slowly and patiently?

  • Have you encouraged anyone who was trying to translate their dreams into reality to bring small things together so they could progress forward?


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