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The Power of Baby Steps

Image of a toddler joyfully trying to walk. Raleigh Psychotherapy, counseling, Katherine Broadway

When I was growing up, my father always carried a spiral notepad in his shirt pocket. He made a list of all the things he wanted and needed to do. As he completed each task, he would mark it off his list. He explained to me that he always started with the easiest task first. By doing this, he felt a sense of accomplishment and was motivated to tackle the harder items on the list. No matter how small that first task was, it counted as a success.

This has been a valuable lesson in my life. All these years later, I still find myself using this same method to take baby steps and motivate myself to do the harder jobs. It is by starting with the small things that we build a sense of self, self-esteem, and resiliency. These are necessary ingredients for success.

The Myth Of Motivation

A new book approaches success much the way my father did – through acknowledging baby steps. In The Myth of Motivation, author Jeff Haden debunks the idea that people are motivated by big goals. Instead, he tells us that successful people motivate themselves each day through the little victories. Our lives are not built around big things; rather, it is the small, everyday events, irritations, and problems which test us and create us.

Usually, people try to motivate themselves by reading inspirational sayings, repeating affirmations and listening to motivational speakers. The message is usually, “Create a goal, make a plan, and work hard. Focus. Focus. Focus.” They create a grand plan in support of a grand idea. Unfortunately, tiredness and discouragement set in after time. Eventually, the plan slips. Guilt and shame replace motivation and excitement. Reframing our thought to focus on achievement instead of failure can help us decide to try again.

Getting Stronger One Step at a Time

For example, Linda has lupus. After a particularly debilitating flare-up, she started her recovery by walking around the house. She began with one lap and continued until she was able to walk a mile. It was a huge accomplishment. She persevered and she looked forward. Instead of concentrating on all that she could not do, she concentrated on what she could do. She saw tangible results.

Motivation is fueled when we concentrate on what we are doing, not on what we cannot do, or on how much remains on our “to-do” list. My father did not look at his spiral notebook and bemoan the long list of things that he had to do. He looked at each task that was marked off his list and watched his accomplishments grow. He appreciated and celebrated his accomplishments with each baby step.

Alcoholics Anonymous teaches the concept of “One day at a time”. Millions of people have achieved sobriety and rebuilt their lives taking it all one day at a time. The people who are successful are not smarter or stronger or more motivated than others. They simply have an achievable goal: Instead of saying they will never drink again, they say they will not drink for one minute, one hour, one day. One at a time. What they know is that motivation, strength, and wisdom come with the baby steps. Each step is celebrated as an accomplishment.

Overcoming Depression

Judy suffered with debilitating depression for years. She struggled through her life. She would get jobs but never accomplished much. One fateful day, she decided that if she could find something to help her face the day with some comfort, she might feel better. She came up with the plan to put a Thermos of her favorite beverage next to her bed so that when she woke she would have it waiting for her. It did in fact make the beginning of her day better.

Her first plan worked so well, that she was motivated to look for another way to make her day start better. The act of waking up was painful for her. It hurt her mind and body, and the first thoughts of her day were ones of dread. As she pondered her options, she created a plan to find some music that she could wake up to that would be soothing. After some trial and error, she found music that was both soothing and energizing. Jane discovered the road out of depression was traveled in baby steps.

No Magic Bullet

There is no magic bullet, no sudden revelation or big success that will turn your life around. The big events that happen in your life are made up of the many small events and accomplishments that preceded it. There is one more element to success and that is to acknowledge each success and value it. It is necessary to quit devaluing what you do. Quit undoing your accomplishments through self-criticism and setting a standard that is too high. Success is created by appreciating the baby steps in your life.

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