“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
This popular Chinese proverb by Lao Tzu is often quoted to those who feel overwhelmed – whether it be undertaking a new life habit, embarking on a large project or navigating difficult emotions such as grief or depression.
When faced with these situations, it is natural to become bogged down by the details. Often this leads to thinking the effort is futile. The goal is simply out-of-reach – impossible.
But this negative thinking occurs when we are solely focused on the end result. Instead, we need to break down the process into bite-sized portions – baby steps.
For example: For years, I desired to develop a healthy lifestyle. I managed my diet fairly well, but exercise was non-existent.
I still carry around those mental tapes that scream I’m not coordinated enough, fast enough or strong enough. I vividly remember being chosen last for any P.E. team. I associate exercise with shame, and therefore I want nothing to do with it.
But those old tapes need to be replaced. I’m not trying out for a varsity sport. I’m simply wanting to develop healthy habits so I can lengthen and enrich my life.
To help me achieve this worthy goal, I decided to implement a daily walking routine. This goal required no specific talent nor additional equipment: a decent pair of sneakers was the only prerequisite.
A bit of online research indicated a 10,000 steps-a-day regimen was adequate to maintain good heart health. That sounded reasonable, until I measured my daily steps and realized my sedentary lifestyle yielded half that number.
I would need to make a conscientious, focused effort to add 6,000 steps each day in order to meet this goal. For me, that meant a three-mile walk.
While this was a bit outside my comfort zone, I knew I could do it. I was committed … for about a week. Then the excuses began: the weather was too hot/cold/rainy/cloudy; I didn’t have time to walk and shower; I didn’t want to sweat.
I had an honest conversation with myself: did I truly want a healthy lifestyle, or was I just pretending because I thought walking was something I should do?
Interestingly, it wasn’t the exercise I avoided, but the other inconveniences that came with it. Once I started walking, I rather enjoyed it. The fresh air helped clear my head, which typically resulted in a new insight or perspective on the world.
I persevered, but resistance was a constant companion. One morning I had a particularly difficult time motivating myself to get out there.
“Just put on your shoes, Molly. You always feel better after you’ve laced up your sneakers.”
That’s when I realized this simple truth: The journey does not begin with the first step; it begins with the pre-step.
Before I could go on my daily walk, I had to get dressed. Once I laced up my shoes, there was no going back. I was committed. Walking those 6,000 steps was as good as done.
In reality, putting on shoes is a no-brainer. It is almost an automatic response that causes no anxiety. And yet, it was the necessary link to my success.
When I taught writing, I used the the 5-step writing process. The first step is called Pre-writing. Before we write, we must first give thought to the topic. It doesn’t require talent or even effort; just a bit of time. And yet this is the most important step to writing a well-crafted essay.
Sales training seminars advocate cold-calling potential clients, but they often warn: “The hardest part is picking up the phone.” The pre-step. In reality, a phone weighs very little; it requires no strength to pick up. Yet that is the resistance point.
So today I ask you: what is the pre-step you need to take to start on your journey? Is it putting on a shoe? Picking up a phone? Or some other simple task that prevents you from achieving success?
©2016 Molly Totoro for GateWay of Hope
Molly Totoro is a writer who has a heart and passion for authentic living. She firmly believes “Everyone has a story to share.” Molly helps others write their stories to impact future generations. Follow Molly’s new blog series, “How to Journal” at Revising Life after 50 and check out her blog at MyCozyBookNook.