by James Craig Green

If you've accepted the idea that you don't need to feel guilty for pursuing your dreams in an honestly selfish manner, the next question is, "How?"

Small Profitable Steps (SPS) is a problem-solving approach that improves your chances for success in any endeavor. It is largely based on my business and dog training experience (don't laugh), as well as my observation of people who lead happy, productive lives.

This essay contains a concept which can be applied to any area of goal-seeking or problem-solving. Simply stated, it involves taking small successful steps toward any goal to insure its accomplishment. This simple tool can bring profound benefits to your life, once you seriously decide to apply it. The SPS concept has four components, each of which is vitally important to its full application. These components are profit, success, simplicity and leverage. Sometimes the simplest, most effective things are overlooked. We are conditioned to recycle old patterns, whether or not they contribute positively to our lives. SPS is one way to break out of those patterns and build positive, life-enhancing systems.

1. Profit

By profit I don't just mean money and business. Profit means something much more fundamental and important:

PROFIT is any net gain

Profit may take the form of increased energy, improved satisfaction, a new friendship, monetary income, or any other net expansion of joy or happiness. It is defined in NET terms, to exclude an apparent gain accompanied by a larger liability or cost. You may instantly benefit from something, but it is not profit unless the gain exceeds all costs, including energy you've spent and promises obligating your future. For example, you can charge consumer goods on your credit card, providing an instant gain in your standard of living. But unless you consider the new debt you've incurred, you have an incomplete view of this apparent benefit. This is not a net gain (profit), but a loss (since you have to pay principal, fees and/or interest later).

A more personal example of this same idea is a promise you make to a friend. Until that promise is fulfilled, it remains an obligation that subtracts from the positive benefits of the relationship. If those benefits exceed the cost of the obligation, the relationship is profitable. I realize the whole idea of treating relationships as profit/loss balances is offensive to some. But unless you're able to make these comparisons, you'll be much more easily subject to manipulation and control by others in ways you won't understand. Again, I assume you've already shed the guilt of not acting primarily for others if you're reading this essay, and have read the previous LIFEPOWER essays.

Simple Accounting Components

Four simple accounting components are presented here to help you understand and implement the Small Profitable Steps (SPS) concept. Although this begins with a simple money example, the same ideas are also important to apply SPS to non-monetary things like good feelings or friendships. More about that later.

The four simple accounting concepts are:

  1. Income (+)
  2. Expense (-)
  3. Saving (+ delayed)
  4. Debt (- delayed)

Income is money received now. Saving is previous money received that hasn't been spent. Both of these are positive (+), since they add to financial resources.

Expense is money spent now. Debt is money obligated to be spent in the future. Both of these are negative (-), since they subtract from financial resources.

At any given time, the sum of all positives (+) and negatives (-) shows your true financial position. If the sum is positive, your assets (Income and Saving) are greater than liabilities (Expense and Debt).

These simple accounting principles apply to many personal checking accounts and small businesses, but they are also valuable when applied to other, less tangible things as well. In fact, this might be their most important application when it comes to using SPS to find, maintain and expand happiness. (You are Seeking Joy, aren't you?)

With some effort, it's fairly easy to keep track of money, since all four accounting components have the same units (dollars, for example). With other things, the process is less precise, since you have to evaluate how important a particular feeling or friendship is to you. But by thinking in terms of these four accounting principles, you can better keep track of whether a relationship or activity is good for you. I don't recommend trying to actually put numbers on such intangible things, unless you are exceptionally logical and don't mind writing down practically everything you do. For most people, this is a turn-off. However, understanding these principles and thinking about how they apply to intangible things can dramatically increase your chances of achieving goals. Essentially, they provide a kind of yardstick for evaluating relationships and other non-material activities.

A personal example of this would be a friendship. Income might be the companionship you receive from being with a person that boosts your energy. Expense might be the effort and time you put forth to meet with your friend, like driving for an hour. Saving might be the trust you have built up over years of successful friendship. This trust is an important asset, and the stronger it is, the more negative expense you might be willing to tolerate when and if your friend goes through a difficult or demanding period. Debt might be a promise you make to a friend. Sometimes, simple gratitude for a previous favor done by your friend might take the form of a debt, if you choose to make it one. Are you beginning to see how important these four simple accounting components can be? I hope so, because failure to consider them can lead to a confusing, destructive relationship, just like bad accounting can lead to a business failure.

That's enough about profit for now. Let's move on to the second SPS component, which is success.

2. Success

Success is necessary for positive motivation. If something you are doing results in chronic, consistent failure, it is more difficult to keep doing it, even if you can see some net gain in the future. While some have the persistence, money and stamina to keep working at a loss for a long time, that time would be more happily and productively spent if some profit were being made along the way. This profit may be nothing more than good feelings from a positive sense of accomplishment. But profit, no matter how small, should be regularly achieved. There is nothing like a string of small successes to change negative activities, projects and relationships into positive ones.

I learned this valuable lesson primarily from dog training. From the dog's perspective, positive rewards are the gains necessary to make an activity enjoyable. One of the most effective and profitable rewards to a dog can be a simple "Good Boy!" The human equivalent is a compliment someone gives you for a job well done or a considerate thought well expressed. Think about how that makes you feel - one of the most rewarding kinds of profit!

You are an individual. No one else in the galaxy is just like you. This means that any method you adopt from someone else may bring you different results than it does to them. Learning to adapt any technique to your particular situation and personality is a critical part of applying it. Consider a simple restatement of the scientific method:

Try something.
Keep what works.
Stop what doesn't.

This is the essence of the dog training technique I developed over two decades of experience. Only recently have I realized it also works the same way with humans. It finally dawned on me that I have been applying the same effective technique in my private consulting business ever since I established it in 1979.

3. Simplicity

As an engineer, I always break down complex problems and projects into simpler components, for two reasons. First, it allows me to understand the whole problem better by understanding its components. Second, it makes the problem seem more solvable. By attacking one small component at a time, I can gain a profitable success fairly quickly and reap its motivating benefit. This is a simple concept, but many people ignore it when they get stuck in negative, downward spirals of overwhelming obligation or duty. The whole task, viewed at once, may seem so daunting, it hardly seems worth beginning. Believe me, I've been stuck in this rut many times, and it's not fun. By breaking the problem down into several small problems, each one can be attacked with a reasonable expectation of Small Profitable Steps before combining them back into the whole.

Construction engineers use a technique called Critical Path Method (CPM). A chart is constructed which looks somewhat like a family tree, in which multiple branches of tasks converge on the completed project. By clearly showing how each task relates to other tasks both in time and chronological order, the project manager always has a clear view of the entire project. (S)he can then determine the critical path, which is that branch of the project that must get done on time for the whole project to be timely completed. Some branches aren't critical, and so their time schedules can slide without affecting the completion date. But if one task on the critical path is delayed, so is the whole project. The critical path shows the manager which tasks are the most important. A businessman I know of uses the term, "Power Thinking" to describe a similar process where a vision of the completed project is used to then work backwards to come up with the specific steps needed to complete it.

You probably don't want or need to run your life according to a construction engineer's schedule. However, the CPM approach illustrates the power and utility of SPS. By breaking down a complicated project into its simpler component tasks, a project manager can instantly see where resources need to be allocated to get a complicated job done. For smaller, more personal tasks you may undertake, a simplified version of this may be useful. A blackboard with erasable markers can be helpful to organize projects like this.

Skills and Tools

An important concept in SPS is that of building skills and tools early in the process. The reason for doing this early is that these skills and tools will allow you to complete the remaining steps in the project much more easily. For example, if you want to streamline your personal or business accounting, you might first get a software program that will save you time. This also goes for other computer/service or other tools that allow you to complete routine but important tasks without spending long periods of time that take you away from more important activities. If you want to publish web pages, you must first learn HTML programming (actually, the basics are quite easy - I did all of the HTML programming for the LIFEPOWER pages myself, with free internet information). HTML stands for Hypertext Markup Language, the language of the World Wide Web.

Building component tools to later combine and use as larger tools is also an important SPS concept. For example, you might build a spreadsheet to keep track of your daily schedule, or purchase a canned program to do it. This tool can then be combined to provide input to other programs, such as your checkbook or other accounting to make your life simpler. Like servant robots, tools help complete important but routine tasks you once had to do yourself. This saves you time (=life). This is where the SPS concept begins to pay real dividends.

4. Leverage

Leverage means multiplying your efforts. If you are investing money, an example of leverage would be compound interest. If you are trying to spread an idea or market a product, leverage might be to present it to people who will then present it to others. For an idea, it will have to be something interesting, entertaining, or profoundly useful. With a product, you may have to add a commission structure to give people incentive to tell others about it. With a product of unique, overwhelming value, it may sell itself (but don't ever count on this in a marketing plan - no matter how good the idea seems to you). Here's a little business marketing secret: Your opinion of the product doesn't count. Only your customer's opinion counts. And (s)he will tell you exactly what it's worth. Welcome to the real world.

Think about genetics and biological growth. One cell becomes two, two become four, and so on until a human being is created. With ideas, friends, skills or products, it's usually not a simple progression, but the concept of geometric growth is the same.

A popular form of leverage today is Multi-Level Marketing, or MLM. This means using more than one level of commissions to encourage others to sell a product or service. MLM can range from a modest commission structure which emphasizes the product, or a highly leveraged structure which emphasizes the marketing plan and moneymaking opportunities. Evaluating these plans for your needs is not easy, as it may require the application of "gut feelings" about whether something is right for you. Some people feel very comfortable with highly leveraged (arguably unstable) MLM programs. Others feel comfortable only with modest commission structures using only a couple of levels.

Don't necessarily discount "gut feelings." They might be your subconscious life experience, accessed by intuition and created by evolution, telling you not to do something. You might consider listening once in a while to these genetic safety valves, no matter how rational or non-mystical you are.

Other forms of leverage might be nothing more than developing rewarding networks of people with whom you like to work, and who trade positive benefits to you for that association. Again, this is stated in terms of commerce, since that model is very useful for keeping track of whether something is creating a positive value for you.

With Small Profitable Steps (SPS), leverage might be concentrated on building skills and other tools that will help you achieve future goals with less effort and time. For example, acquiring a simple checkbook balancing program like Quicken and learning to use it might save you many hours of time that you can apply to solve more important problems. Hiring a professional service for a task (like mowing the lawn) may save you money if you work at your job with the time saved.

Robert Ringer (Restoring the American Dream) said, "Do what you do best. Let others do the rest." This is the essence of wise division of labor. If it costs half as much to get someone to mow your lawn as you would make working for the same amount of time, you're better off hiring someone to do it. But again, this is a profitable step only because you actually make more money than you spend. If you hire someone to mow the lawn and use that time to watch television, it will not be profitable, unless you've been working hard and need a rest or mindless diversion. Always consider the net profit; not just revenue. Remember what Ben Franklin said, "Time is the stuff life is made of." Literally, wasting time is wasting life.

Working with others in association, it behooves you to find out which tasks are most suitable for which person. People love to do things they're good at, being handsomely rewarded with compliments. On the other hand, getting stuck with a task not suited to your ability and interest can be an energy-draining experience.

A few years ago, I met an engineer for whom I have the utmost respect and admiration. Dr. Paul Macready is the man who designed the Gossamer Condor and the Gossamer Albatross; two record-setting human-powered aircraft. His theme at the conference where I met him is a worthy one for anyone applying SPS to solve a problem:

"Doing More With Less"

The engineering concept of efficiency (maximum output with minimum input) comes to mind when the elegant simplicity of SPS is fully understood. You don't have to be an engineer to apply SPS, but you really should consider getting the most out of what you do, for the least input. I think you'll find this doesn't mean to be lazy or manipulate other people into doing your job for you. Rather, it means to make the most of your limited time (and life).

Small Profitable Steps Plan

To prepare a plan to implement the Small Profitable Steps concept, I suggest the following general guidelines:

  1. Select a small goal that is meaningful and obtainable, but challenging. If the goal is to develop a skill that can be used to achieve future goals, it will also be a leveraged goal.
  2. Set a deadline for achieving the goal.
  3. Accomplish the goal within the time allotted.
  4. Use the success of achieving the first goal to motivate you to set and achieve a second, and so on.

    CAUTION! Don't expand expectations beyond easily-accomplished goals, until you have mastered leveraged skills to increase your productivity.


1. Select a different life-enhancing goal or task for each of 10 days. These might be skill development, building timesaving tools, gaining a new friend, or exercise, for example. Don't make any daily goal require more than a half hour of effort; preferably less (10-15 minutes is ideal). Only if you accomplished each daily goal with 100% success, go on to another 10-day period, with a couple of days off in between. If you failed to accomplish ALL of the 10 daily goals, then cut back on the difficulty or time required for the next trial period. Once you have successfully completed two 10-day periods, then consider doing a 30-day trial. Apply the same principles as for the 10-day periods, going farther only when you have achieved perfect success for the last set of goals. This pattern reinforces you to have success, and to overcome failure. Don't be afraid of failure, but don't just keep failing. It disrupts the whole pattern of success you want to develop. Cut back your goals if you find you can't achieve them. The idea is to program your brain for successful accomplishment, and to quickly deal with small failures before they become big ones. (By the way, this is essentially how I train dogs: set a goal, see if you accomplish it, and ease up when a problem is encountered, carefully working through it). The worst thing you can do with a problem is to keep doing what doesn't work - this teaches failure; not success. It's better to stop altogether than to keep on failing. No matter how intelligent you are, you are pre-programmed with automatic, knee-jerk reactions. Read Virus of the Mind by Richard Brodie.

2. Build a timesaving, accounting or leveraged tool. This might include learning to use a new computer program, hiring a service to do something you used to do yourself, or developing a mutually productive and beneficial relationship. After doing this once, use the first success to build a more advanced tool, or develop a small network of other relationships. Learn to use one tool to create or develop others. Think in terms of building small systems; each of which might combine later to make a bigger system, such as an organization, investment program or business. Don't get too ambitious for a big project until you have successfully completed several small projects.

3. Consider a set of goals or building a system that requires a longer term payoff. That is, invest time and/or money into a project, business or other activity that may be short on easy, daily payoffs. Only do this after you have successfully programmed your brain with the confidence of short term payoffs. However, do this without incurring debt or an unsustainable drain of resources. Like the old investing saying, "don't invest more than you are willing to lose." Better to build small, profitable systems that can be combined into larger systems, than to take the risk of a huge loss on a project that is capital, time and energy intensive. Think in terms of leveraging small successes into large ones, rather than hitting a single home run. Unless you are incredibly creative or lucky, this approach will probably be more life-enhancing than taking out a second mortgage on your house to buy video games, hoping that thousands of people will put quarters in them before they are obsolete.

4. Build several independent, life-enhancing systems that will continue to pay dividends after you stop building them. For example, learn to organize your desk and office, as wells as your personal papers, so you can find things when you need them. Time management methods such as the "mini-day," in which you perform similar tasks all at once can free up tremendous amounts of time. For example, from 8:00 to 10:00 in the morning, do all your phone calls. This is the best time to reach people, and by not wasting time going from one kind of task to another on different projects, you avoid the inefficiency of changing physical movements several times during the day. You can literally pack a day's worth of phone calls into one fourth the time with this technique.


I hope the information in this essay will be of some use to you. Most of it was learned the hard way, through painful experience. The essence of SPS is building small successes into big ones, with a minimum of risk. You may lose time, some so-called "friends" and small amounts of money along the way. But each experience, whether successful or not, will teach you something valuable. And by not getting in too far over your head, you can literally solve any problem, achieve any goal, and be anything you want. It won't necessarily be easy, but it should be fun. In fact, the more fun it is, the easier it will be. So try to combine the three LIFEPOWER goals as often as you can: SEEK Joy, CREATE Value and LIVE Free. These goals, and the practical, life-boosting strategy of Small Profitable Steps, can greatly enhance your life.

NOTE: If you would like to provide feedback on this essay, use the email link on the main LIFEPOWER page.

More information about LIFEPOWER:

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SEEK Joy | CREATE Value | LIVE Free
LIFE is Egocentric | Spinoza/Society | No Absolutes
SECRETS of Harmony and Abundance | ORIGIN OF CONFLICT/Spontaneous Justice
ADVOCATES, SKEPTICS & SEEKERS | How Do I Know? (about knowledge)
LIFEPOWER Graduate Study (Read last!)

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