For the Best Results, Start Small
“It is better to take many small steps in the right direction than to make a great leap forward only to stumble backward.”
It is customary at the beginning of a new year to make resolutions, to set new goals. I personally find this tradition problematic and believe that we frequently set ourselves up for disappointment. It is not so much the envisioning of intentions that is the trouble, but in how these objectives are commonly approached where most of us falter. Once a person sets a goal for him or herself, he or she often becomes stuck focusing on the end result rather than paying attention to the process of how to get there. To be more effective, rather than getting preoccupied with and striving to reach goals, my suggestion, instead, is to start by take small steps in the direction you’d like to go. And continue these small steps, one after the other. As Rita Baily said, “Start wherever you are and start small.”
What we are really trying to do when we make any change in our lives is to alter our habits. This is true when learning a new skill, such as mindfulness. For example, the intention when practicing mindfulness is to be present in each moment, to be aware of your experience as it is. However, becoming mindful is not simple journey, as those of you working on this ability know; developing this skill can be very challenging. The best way to cultivate mindfulness is to start small, practicing by noticing when your attention gets pulled by minor preoccupations (slight annoyances, trivial distractions or captivating stories), and bringing your awareness to your breath to return to the here and now. Doing this over and over, whenever you notice you are caught in these types of thoughts, you begin to train your mind to a new habit. With continued practice, eventually, when more challenging fixations arise (set in anger, deep-seated fear, intense rumination or acute pain), you may have the ability to return to the present or even maintain yourself in the here and now regardless of the nature of your experience. But it all starts with one small step and then continuing to take further steps; working with the small challenges, you are building up the skills to address the larger ones. “He who would learn to fly one day,” Nietzsche asserted, “must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance.”
John Wooden described the process in this way: “When you improve a little each day, eventually big things occur. When you improve conditioning a little each day, eventually you have a big improvement in conditioning. Not tomorrow, not the next day, but eventually a big gain is made. Don’t look for the big, quick improvement. Seek the small improvement one day at a time. That’s the only way it happens – and when it happens, it lasts.“
The process of making changes in our lives takes patience and persistence. It requires us to continue taking one step at a time when we would prefer to see some substantial results, already! But don’t despair; if you happen to find you have fallen off of your intended path at any point, you can get back on by taking one small step in that direction.
Ask yourself, right now, what small step you can take to continue in the direction you want to head.
“What saves a man is to take a step. Then another step.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupery