The Power of Small Steps

When we consider setting goals or making changes we tend to overestimate what we can do in the short run (and create goals and expectations that are too big) and underestimate what we can accomplish in the long run. I believe that we completely underestimate the value and the power of small consistent steps and undermine ourselves when we set initial “first steps” that are way too big.

Small steps are steps that are do-able. They are actions that may stretch our comfort zone or our capabilities but they don’t require us to leap completely beyond the bounds of our confidence. Because small steps are more do-able, we are more likely to be consistent with them. We are less likely to get overwhelmed and we are more likely to stay in action.

A small step is something we are more likely to be able to do on a difficult day when the going gets tough. A small step is much more likely to eventually become a habit which is a necessary ingredient for enduring change–change that lasts.

We underestimate the value of small steps

Did you know that if you eliminate just 100 calories from your daily intake (or burn 100 extra calories each day), this one small change will result in a 12 pound weight loss over a year? Most people who hear this (and who want to lose weight) reject a small 100 calorie change as insignificant when they approach weight loss. “I can do more than that.” Many then proceed to bite off a weight loss plan more drastic than they can sustain. For many of us, a 100 calorie difference seems “too small,” and yet, how many of us would love to be twelve pounds lighter than we were a year ago–especially if the odds were good that those twelve pounds were going to stay lost?

Not starting small paralyzes progress:

Joe knows that if he devoted three commercial breaks during his evening TV time to doing the exercises that have been recommended for his back, he would feel much better and be able to physically do a lot more. But every time he thinks about doing those nine minutes of exercises, he also thinks, “Yes, but what I really should be doing is using that gym membership. What I really need to do is start getting up an hour earlier so I can work out before work. I need to find my gym bag, and I need to start eating better…” Joe never makes it to the gym. He continues to feel guilty about that. A month later, his back is in the same shape and he feels discouraged and tired of being in pain.

Sandy has a mountain of paperwork staring at her from her desk. It has become so big it overwhelms her. She finds every excuse to avoid it and has now decided that she really needs to block out a week in her schedule “just to get everything organized.” Of course, Sandy doesn’t have a week she can sacrifice to this task and the mountain keeps growing causing Sandy problems and delays because of papers she can no longer find. After a coaching session where she realizes how much grief this is causing her, Sandy agrees to spend fifteen minutes every morning attacking the pile. She agrees to do it but she thinks it’s probably an exercise in futility and believes that what she really should be doing is blocking out at least an hour a day. At the end of her first week of fifteen minutes of daily work, Sandy is amazed. She can’t believe how much she actually accomplished and she sees a light at the end of the tunnel. She is in action and she feels so much more in control of the situation.

Sound familiar? Are there places in your life where you get overwhelmed or where you stay stuck because the steps just seem too big?

Tip of the Day

Don’t beat yourself up for what you don’t do. Pick something that you can do, that you will do and that you will keep doing. You aren’t allowed to criticize the size of the step you pick. The trick is to find what’s possible. Once you are taking a small step, you are moving. As long as you are taking steps you are in action. Action creates momentum and prepares you for your next step. Action is movement and movement towards your goals is always a good thing.

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