Change Your LIfe By Degrees

My older brother Larry is a commercial airline pilot. He fell in love with the skies from his very first flying lesson. I’m not sure exactly what or who got him started down the path of flying. Perhaps it was the stories we heard as kids from our Uncle Jim, also a commercial airline pilot from the long-ago era when pilots were esteemed and respected like doctors and lawyers.

Needless to say, I have heard many tales—some humorous, some scary—of near misses, botched landings, and pilot lampoonery. Flying is also rife with metaphors applicable to all aspects of life. One of my favorites is regarding course correction and degrees of latitude.

If you were to pilot a plane around the equator and maintain an accurate heading with no deviation, when you came back around the earth you would arrive exactly at where you took off. Makes sense, right?

However, if your heading is off by only one degree, when you come back around you will be five hundred miles away from your original destination.

Five hundred miles. One degree! ONE.

To put this into context, if you were to fly westbound out of Quito, Ecuador (near the equator) and your heading was off 3.5 degrees, when you came back around you would miss South America and the Caribbean altogether and land in Miami, Florida.

What a difference a few degrees can make. Huge.

So how can we apply this use of degrees to our own lives? If you are like me you have hopes and dreams and goals. There are things you want to see, do, experience, and accomplish. What if you altered your current heading by even one degree?

Imagine the next year of your life is like the equator. If you stay on your current heading—in other words your habits, your routines, your actions (or inactions)—then next year at this time you will land, metaphorically, right where you are now. No change, no difference. Exactly the same.

But what if you alter your heading—even just one degree? What would that look like for you? Here are some quick ones I came up with:

If you drank one extra 8-ounce glass of water each day, by year’s end you will have replenished your body with over 30 gallons of water. Just one tiny glass!

If you did just 5 push-ups every morning, by year’s end you will have done 1,825 push-ups that you otherwise wouldn’t have done—and have the toned torso to prove it.

If you wrote just one paragraph of your novel each day you would have close to 100 pages completed by year’s end. If you upgraded to one page, you’d have a whole book finished!

If you made one extra call, sent one extra email, or wrote one extra thank you note to a customer each day, how would that effect the trajectory of your business? What if you did all three?

You see, to radically change our lives we don’t necessarily need to reinvent the wheel or shake up our lives. It doesn’t have to be an all-or-none proposition. We can take micro-actions. Here a little, there a little. A day at a time. And those actions will add up to big changes.

We just have to alter our heading…one degree at a time.


(By the way, that is NOT a photo of my brother Larry in the cockpit. It is a stock photograph. But I will try to get one from him if possible and update the picture. Thanks!)

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