I should be able to jump to the sixth or seventh step. I think that’s what others do. I think that’s what they expect of me. And I quite like that idea of myself.
I should be able to speak fluent French in two days. I should be able to run ten miles the third time. I should be able to master Adobe Illustrator without learning the basics. I should a lot of things.
It’s easy to find yourself at the foot of a goal staircase, refusing to step onto the first step.
Yes, technically it might be possible to jump to the sixth step. But how likely am I to succeed? And then what will I do? Jump to the twelfth?
And perhaps more importantly, how enjoyable will this climb be?
Frankly, I don’t want to jump to the sixth. But I don’t want to step onto the first step either because it seems so insignificant. One takes enormous effort, the other swallowing a fair amount of pride.
So at the bottom of the stairs we stay.
Feeling daunted, hopeless, proud and inadequate. It feels like we have no options, but let’s explore this.
The Hidden Effort
The first seemingly insignificant step feels like it doesn’t count but what are we counting here? Well, comparing it to what we assume others can do, it seems it should require little effort.
Little effort won’t make any difference to our situation, right?
But, what if this effort actually came close to the amount needed for the six step jump?
Taking the tiny step just required a different kind of effort.
Not in doing the task itself but in overcoming the resistances to it. And the resistances can be enormous.
Resistances to Small Steps
- Memories of all the times we’ve not acted
- Fear of making a fool of ourselves
- Pride objecting to setting the bar low
- Fear of pity, patronising, being made fun of
Or, if you have chronic illness, comparing what you used to be able to do to what you can now.
The Beauty of Being on the First Step
Just as the amount of effort is surprising, rewards for taking that first step are also disproportionate. The beauty of being on the first step is that we’ve moved from zero to something.
A millimetre makes a huge difference to our mindset.
We’ve accomplished. We moved from where we stood still.
We’ve also done something we can do again and again. A tiny step a day adds up. And the habit of taking daily steps for a month is worth far more than the initial results.
The habit can last a lifetime, the pleasure of having jumped six steps will fade.
So what could the first step look like?
Very Small Steps
- At the time and place for meditation, sit down for 10 seconds
- At the time for a walk, put shoes on and step outside the door
- Set out brushes and paints and enjoy handling them
- Find a recipe for a vegetable you’ve never eaten
- Go to bed 5 minutes earlier
- Read a challenging text for 2 minutes
If those sound too easy, great! Perhaps you could set the bar higher for your first step. Or, if it feels embarrassingly easy, that could be a good indication that this challenge is for you.
How do you know the difference? How do you know if this is truly too easy or if it’s what your mind is telling you?
Gauging the Level
Keeping the step in mind, picture yourself doing it. How likely is it you could do it right now? Getting up this minute and beginning. Does that feel exciting? Or more like a chore?
If it feels easy to do right now, how does it feel when you picture yourself doing it for the seventh time? Still easy?
Or, do you feel hopeless that this is going to make any difference? Does it feel meaningless? Do you feel shame at setting such a low bar for yourself?
Comparison and high standards often crop up here, and if they do – excellent. Work with them. They‘ll be hindering you in many areas of your life so use the opportunity.
See what thoughts come up. Notice fears around what others think, of being inadequate, of never getting anywhere.
You’re using small steps to reach a big goal.
Keep that higher aim in mind. You’re reaching for what feels unattainable, so there has to be a compromise to make this possible.
Remind yourself of the price you’re paying for it. You’re facing up to fear, but also swallowing your pride. What you get from it, tiny step by tiny step at a time, is progress and hopefully also enjoyment on the path of reaching your goals.