Along The Way Step by Step
When I was much younger, I had many lofty goals. Each one was accompanied by dreams about what life would be like if that goal were accomplished. Sometimes I would get sucked in by people who claimed to have a shortcut. No regrets though. I learned to fail quickly and to move on, learning what didn’t work. There are smarter ways than trial and error, and I’m sure some people actually do get lucky, but rarely have I seen anything meaningful happen overnight, even when it appears that way.
I’ve adjusted my expectations accordingly. For example, I’ve always wanted to become a writer and publish a book. I used to think it would happen after some whirlwind of inspiration poured over blank pages while I retreated to some remote cabin by a lake. Now, instead of hoping to be a published author with my first book becoming an instant bestseller, I just write a little every day. Baby steps. I don’t even write with a book as the final product in mind. I write just to write, and to use my words to document experiences and thoughts that inspire me. One day, I shifted from private morning pages to public blog posts. That was scary for me. Then I took a chance and submitted an article for consideration on LinkedIn Pulse. (I was scared to hit submit and my mouse hovered over the button for what seemed like forever.) As I read and re-read that first draft submitted, I was embarrassed to think that anyone could now actually read my raw writing. I continued to edit, tweak and refine until I couldn’t think of anything else to improve. Then I walked away knowing I put forth my best. It was good enough to know that I did it despite being scared. (It did get featured by the way. Beginner’s luck.)
Not sure what the next steps will be. I’ll take it one step at a time, one article at a time. I’ll continue to learn what I can from each step. Confidence builds with each stride and it feels good. Regardless of whether or not I eventually author and publish a book, I’m having fun learning from doing.
“A day at a time, a page a time, my daily three pages have unknotted career, life, and love. They’ve shown me a path where there was no path, and I follow it now, trusting that if I do, the path will continue.”
— Julia Cameron regarding Morning Pages in her book Walking Around the World
In the business world, I learned about the concept of kaizen — continuous improvement. Translated from Japanese and in general terms, it simply means change for the better. The aspect of ‘continuous’ is important to me though. It aligns with my step by step approach. And I think smaller steps might actually be more effective in the long run.
I like how James Altucher describes his daily practice and his balanced way of striving to be just 1% better each day. The idea of taking larger goals and breaking them down into very bite-size chunks has resonated with me.
Putting this approach into practice has transformed my loftier goals from daunting to do-able. As one Chinese Proverb puts it, “To get through the hardest journey we need take only one step at a time, but we must keep on stepping.” Taking smaller steps not only helps you get started but also helps you keep going.
The Benefits of Breaking It Down
- easier to get started
- less stressful and no longer overwhelming
- flexible by design
- encouraging to make progress even gradually
- more focus on the present than the future
“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret to getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks and then starting on the first one.”
— Mark Twain
Breaking Things Down by Context
Whether it’s getting in shape, starting a new job, or learning any new skill, I break it down and find that I accomplish a lot more in a lot less time than I expected.
- step by step
- brick by brick
- line by line
- layer by layer
- repetition by rep
- one task at a time
- one lesson at a time
- one breath at a time
- one day at a time
Things won are done; joy’s soul lies in the doing.
– William Shakespeare
Success, achievement and accomplishment are all great things, but the pleasure is usually short-lived. There’s something more lasting about the time and effort spent getting there. Perhaps there’s magic in the anticipation as you work. (Or maybe because you get a natural hit of dopamine with every step you take towards your goals. So I’ve read.) I agree with Gary Keller who—in his bestseller The One Thing—says, “Happiness happens on the way to fulfillment.”
“…when you can see mastery as a path you go down instead of a destination you arrive at, it starts to feel accessible and attainable. Most assume mastery is an end result, but at its core, mastery is a way of thinking, a way of acting, and a journey you experience.”
— Gary Keller, The One Thing
Over time, I’ve learned to appreciate the journey more than the destination. I find joy in the process towards something. No need to wait until you get there. It’s just as important to enjoy the experience along the way. What takes away from that enjoyment is the temptation to hurry up and arrive already. While I strive for better, I remind myself to be thankful for what I’ve already accomplished and the good fortune I already have.
Read the chapter on “Effort Counts Twice” from Grit by Angela Duckworth and wanted to add some relevant quotes and notes.
“…the most dazzling human achievements are, in fact, the aggregate of countless individual elements, each of which is, in a sense, ordinary.”
— Angela Duckworth
“Superlative performance is really a confluence of dozens of small skills or activities, each one learned or stumbled upon, which have been carefully drilled into habit and then are fitted together in a synthesized whole. There is nothing extraordinary or superhuman in any one of those actions; only the fact that they are done consistently and correctly, and all together produce excellence.”
— Dan Chambliss
“So what is the reality of greatness? Nietzsche came to the same conclusion Dan Chambliss did. Great things are accomplished by those ‘people whose thinking is active in one direction, who employ everything as material, who always zealously observe their own inner life and that of others, who perceive everywhere models and incentives, who never tire of combining together the means available to them.”
— Angela Duckworth