The Power of a Single Step
Richard Branson once said, “if your dreams don’t scare you, they are too small.” Messages like this are everywhere today…think big, reach further, achieve more. Do the thing you think you cannot do. If you reach for the moon and miss, at least you’ll land amongst the stars. You’ve probably heard dozens of sayings like these.
I love the idea of pushing ourselves to our limits, and I am fascinated by the Law of Attraction, which says that we will attract exactly what we focus on. If this is true (and I believe it is), then it makes sense to strive to be our very best selves. If you really want to run a marathon, there is no sense in stopping after a 5K. If you really want to make millions, there is no sense in quitting when you reach $100,000.
There is just one small problem. If you have never run a step in your life, the prospect of running a marathon seems light years away. It is so intimidating, in fact, that you are likely more comfortable sitting on your couch dreaming of the day when you will be able to run a marathon. You can spend months and months dreaming about it…and you’ve still never run a single step. If you make $60,000 per year in your current job, you are likely more comfortable staying put than quitting and dedicating everything to that idea that just might make you into a millionaire. You can spend years fantasizing about what you’ll do with the money and how your lifestyle will change…and you wake up stuck in the same job, making the same salary.
When goals seem so far away, we are often paralyzed by fear and overwhelm. There is so much to do, so much progress to be made, that we find ourselves simply unable to start. We may care so much about attaining the end goal that we are terrified by the thought that we may not be able to attain it if we start trying…so we just don’t start. That way, we won’t be disappointed.
Here is where the lesson comes in. The single most important thing you can do to achieve that scary, aspirational, seemingly-impossible goal is to take the first small step. Once you take that first step, take the next step. After that one…you guessed it, take one more.
You see, we are so often focused on where we are now, or where we want to be, that we gloss over how to actually get there. We worry about failure, and “what-if” our way to burnout and overwhelm. We fail to realize that even if it seems scary, even if we have to confront the possibility of missing our goal, we just have to start. We won’t get there unless we take that very first step. The only sure failure is not trying.
In my practice of helping clients find their happiest and healthiest selves, I counsel many people who have significant amounts of weight to lose. If a client wants to lose 150 pounds in a healthy and sustainable way, he knows he’s not going to get there overnight. The prospect of losing two or three pounds in the first week seems so insignificant that it is easy for him to convince himself not to even start. “Great, you’ll eat healthily, give up the things you love, maybe even do a bit of exercise…and you’re still 148 pounds overweight?” he might ask himself. Surely, it seems easier to grab an extra cookie and settle into a night on the couch.
When we are thinking rationally, this example seems silly. We all know that being 148 pounds overweight is better than being 150 pounds overweight, and that once we take that first step, we can gain motivation from seeing results, beginning a cycle of positive reinforcement. But when it comes to our own big, lofty goals, we are often not thinking rationally. Is there an area of your life where fear or overwhelm is driving you towards inaction?
The same idea applies for those who want to write a book (how many times have you stared at a blank Word document or started a brand new journal, and felt so utterly tongue-tied that you decided to start again “another day?”) or start a business (maybe you’ve decided that you’ll take that first step in a few months, once you have the business plans finalized, or once you feel just a bit more confident, or once you research 800 other businesses and figure out the exact statistically-proven formula for sure-fire business success).
We live in a culture of overnight success, and we are enraptured by products that claim to help us drop 20 pounds in a day or build a business in an hour a week. It is sexier to share successes on social media than struggles, so we often tell ourselves that if we are not there yet, we are not good enough. That one step we took didn’t make us a supermodel, so we might as well go back to the way we have always been. You see how we will never reach our goals if we are locked in the grip of this self-perpetuating cycle.
What is the solution, then? Set a big goal, even one that scares you, as Branson advises. Spend a few minutes getting excited about it, ensuring that it is the right goal for you…and then forget it. Put on blinders and focus solely on getting yourself to take that very first step. Once you take that step, celebrate! It doesn’t matter that you’re not there yet, or that you still have 148 pounds to go. All that matters is that you are on your way. You have conquered the very hardest part of the journey, and with your blinders on, you’ll repeat the process until that lofty goal of yours is reality…and then maybe you’ll keep going.
Overthinking our big goals leads to paralysis and inaction, and the only solution is a single step.
I challenge you to spend 5 minutes doing this exercise now. What is that big goal that you care about so much that you have been scared into inaction? What is the single step that you could take today to get you one bit closer to that goal? Go out and do it, and know that you are well on your way.
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