“I sense that you have some trouble with the Law of Gradual Progress,” my Chi Running instructor, Chris , told me with a smile at the end of our first session.

I nodded and smiled back. No sense denying that one. He had given me some tips to improve my running form, and now I was eager to soar across an open expanse of land.

“Keep the enthusiasm,” he said, “But progress gradually.”

It’s important–critical–not to underestimate micro-movements. The micro-movements provide the foundation for something larger, and without them, change is far more difficult. Here’s a short story that illustrates that idea:

When I was in high school, I started to work on Mozart’s Concerto in C Major. It’s a deceptively simple song because the key signature is in C Major, meaning no sharps or flats, and the song is composed mostly of a series of scales. When you work scales on the piano, you focus on micro-movements, getting the fingering right four notes at a time, then pairing two sets of four, then adding four more notes, and you do it slowly until you can execute the scale in one stretch with each note evenly struck.

I started the C Major while my piano teacher was on a summer break, and crashed through it without taking the time to really get the fingering even, thinking she’d be impressed that I had “learned” the whole song during her absence. When she came back, she chastised me (gently but firmly) and tried to reign me in by having me go back to basics and work the scales a few notes at a time to correct my uneven execution. When a musician plays scales unevenly, they’re as glaring as a mis-struck note.

So I went back to basics, but a curious thing happened:I would practice the micro-movements slowly, but then once I tried to play everything up to tempo, I would go right back to my “crash through the piece” fingering and musicality that I’d practiced in like a dervish. It wasn’t intentional; the muscle movements had simply worn a neuronal path in my brain and didn’t want to let go.

I think that a similar phenomenon happens when we’re trying to enact other changes in our lives–we want the sexy A-ha moment, the good story that would bring the audience to tears if we were ever on Oprah.

We want to be able to say things like, “After that moment, I was never the same.”

We want to “learn” a song in two weeks while our piano teachers are on vacation, or get Italian down pat overnight, or go to two or three couples therapy sessions and see our partners declare their love on bended knee (did you know that statistically, most couples who pursue therapy go to fewer than five sessions before quitting? Yikes).

We want the pill to fix it, the friend to cure it, the parental apology that will make up for a bad childhood.

I do believe that instant transformation happens, sometimes. I’ve met people who told me that they had an insight that forever changed them, and I knew that they were speaking the truth.

However, it’s not the norm. More often, change is first practiced in micro-movements that pair up, and then those pairs pair with other pairs (say that five times fast). We need the small steps. They are critical.

They might not seem as sexy, and they might not get as much attention, but they are everything.

Duh, Kate, you might say. I knew that.

Well, I know you know. We all know. But how often do we give ourselves the benefit of that kind of practice?

How often are we respecting the Law of Gradual Progress, vs. how often are we insisting that life bends to our will, and the lesson/insight/transformation comes when we want it to come?

How often are we reading the inspiring book or taking the inspiring workshop and feeling the high of a new idea–only to tell ourselves that “nothing’s really changed” if we get triggered or feel less inspired a week later?

Those sorts of reactions deny the impact of those small micro-movements that deserve, just like one note in a scale, to get their due.

Change happens in micro-movements. The inspiring book or e-program or workshop really did make a difference in your life–it’s now up to you to pair that micro-movement with another one of your own, so that they can build.