The Trim Tab

“Call me Trim Tab”

This simple phrase is etched on the gravestone of Buckminster Fuller, one of the great geniuses of the 20th century. He loved the metaphor of “trim tabs” for understanding and communicating the powerful influence of the individual.

Famous for inventing the geodesic dome and coining the word “synergy,” Fuller once said:“Something hit me very hard once, thinking about what one little man could do. Think of the Queen Mary — the whole ship goes by and then comes the rudder. And there’s a tiny thing at the edge of the rudder called a trim tab. It’s a miniature rudder. Just moving the little trim tab builds a low pressure that pulls the rudder around. Takes almost no effort at all.”

He goes on to say that individuals should never underestimate the ability they possess to leverage change. And while Fuller was speaking more about “change” as it pertains to a larger establishment, I couldn’t help but think about this concept on a more personal level. My thought being… the power we possess to change ourselves.

Years ago, when I first read about this tiny, little thing being responsible for the change in direction of an entire ship—I relished the idea that such a small, seemingly insignificant part of a massive vessel was actually key to deciding where it would ultimately go. This led me to realize that minor, personal changes, made over time, could yield MASSIVE results!

We all have things we want to change about ourselves… from being a better spouse, parent, friend or employee to shedding those ever-looming unwanted pounds. I think a person would be hard-pressed to find another who is 100% satisfied with their own status quo. Often, when we set out to change these things that we don’t like about ourselves, we set our sights too high, our goals too lofty… and we fail. And we stop trying.

There are a lot of things that I would like to change about myself. I can’t stand my lack of discipline in seeing that I get at least 7 hours of sleep a night. Consequently, I hate my morning rush-around and the resulting guilt that I feel if I walk in the door to my office 10 minutes late. I want to eliminate my debt. I wish I had more patience. I’d like to be a better daughter, aunt, girlfriend and friend. I’d love to learn contentment and how to live fully “in the moment” — every moment.

Just compiling “the list” is overwhelming to me. Were I to try and achieve or even “work on” all of these things at once, I would surely fail. It’s too much to attain immediately. Feeling defeated, I would probably just give up. So consider for a moment, that if a tiny piece of material can ultimately turn a giant ship simply by making little adjustments, then maybe we’re capable of changing our own direction in much the same manner. Perhaps we need to take smaller steps toward our larger goals.

In the course of one year, I lost nearly 50 pounds and people are always asking me how I did it and what my secret was. They are surprised when I say that I did it without exercising or putting myself on some ridiculously rigid diet. I tell them that I made a handful of minor changes and in the span of one year (52 weeks) it came off a pound at a time. Ultimately these minor changes yielded some major results. Not overnight… but eventually.

The other day when someone asked about the goal I had achieved, I suddenly remembered reading about the concept of the trim-tab. At the time, I didn’t realize that “trim-tabbing” was what I had been doing all along with the weight loss, but now that I know, I am going to start applying this principle to the other areas of my life that I wish to change… one small adjustment at a time.

What am I doing right now? Well, tonight I think I’ll start by going to bed early.

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