“How can I help?”: Captain Tom and the Power of Starting Small
Several years ago I came across a simple yet powerful idea in the work of leading executive coach Dr Marshall Goldsmith. Leaders at all levels can become more effective, he said, by saying the following three things more often: “thank you”, “I’m sorry”, and “how can I help?”
“How can I help?” is a great question to ask other people when they are facing challenges or trying to pull off ambitious projects. It’s also a wonderful question to ask ourselves when we want to explore the real boundaries between our “circle of control”, our “circle of influence” and our “circle of concern”.[i]
As the COVID 19 pandemic raged around the world last spring and took centre stage in every thinking person’s circle of concern, Captain Tom Moore, a 99-year-old British Army officer, set out to do his bit by walking 100 laps of his garden by his 100th birthday (circle of control), with the aim of thanking the National Health Service and raising £1000 for its COVID 19 appeal (circle of influence). Although the physical effort required should not be underestimated, the fundraising goal he and his family set was relatively small. By his hundredth birthday on April 30th 2020, this “small” project had attracted over 1.5 million individual donations and raised nearly £39 million – 39,000 times the initial goal.
Thanks to the power of the media to spread an inspiring story, Captain Tom’s circle of influence had grown exponentially. Amongst other notable achievements and honours, he became the oldest person to achieve a UK number one hit single (a cover version of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” with Michael Bell and the NHS choir), was knighted by the Queen at Windsor Castle in July 2020, and published Tomorrow Will Be a Good Day, an autobiography that became a bestseller.
Captain Tom died of pneumonia in February 2021. To mark the first anniversary of his 100th birthday project, the Captain Tom Foundation has launched the Captain Tom 100 campaign, aiming to spread his message of hope and to raise money for charities. The website explains the challenge:
Everyone is invited to take on a challenge around the number 100 anytime and anywhere over Captain Tom's birthday weekend. It's so simple.
· Think up your 100 challenge.
· It can be anything you like – from walking 100 metres to baking 100 cakes or writing 100 letters
· Take on your 100 any time between Friday 30 April and Monday 3 May
· Fundraise or donate to The Captain Tom Foundation
· Share your 100 on social media using #CaptainTom100
As a Certified Tiny Habits Coach, the challenge I have taken on is to recruit 100 people and coach them through BJ Fogg’s free 5-day online programme, helping them learn to create positive, tiny habits, as quickly and easily as possible.
Dr Fogg has studied human behaviour for decades. He is the Director of the Behavior Design Lab at Stanford University and the author of the recent best-seller Tiny Habits: Why Starting Small Makes Lasting Change Easy. He has shared the Tiny Habits method with over 60,000 people around the world. The 5-day online programme is simple, effective, and many people (including me!) say it's fun.
If you join the programme as part of my Captain Tom 100 challenge, you’ll simply need to do the following:
a) Register here by Sunday 2nd May (sooner if possible!)
b) Read some simple instructions and watch a few short videos online (allow about 20 mins)
c) Design three new habits (with guidance from me)
d) Practise your new habits from Monday to Friday (each habit will only take about 30 seconds)
e) Respond to a daily email from me, indicating whether or not you’ve done your three habits
That's all! It won’t take much of your time, and you’ll learn skills that will benefit you for life.
One of the most important lessons we can learn from Captain Tom is the power of starting small. Take a few steps in the right direction, and you may be surprised at how far they lead.
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[i] Stephen Covey explored the idea of the three circles in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. He encouraged his readers to become more proactive, focusing on working within the two inner circles (control and influence), and on expanding their circle of influence.