How Taking Baby Steps Made a Big Difference in My Life
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Have you ever been in a situation where you know there is a way to solve a problem and there are countless books and advice columns telling you what to do, but you just don’t know where to begin?
Maybe THAT’S the problem. Everyone has an opinion about what you need to, but nobody tells you how to get there.
This situation became very personal to me when I was diagnosed with a progressive disease in 2008.
I had two choices, the way I saw it – figure out how to turn big, unrealistic goals into smaller, more manageable ones, or be overwhelmed and give up altogether.
I chose the former.
The questions I needed to answer were “how can I slow this thing down?” and “how can I improve my life despite my loss in abilities?”
Faced with such seemingly insurmountable goals was daunting, I admit. What was I thinking?
I’ll tell you what I was thinking – Panic. Concession.
It felt a little like that falling feeling you get when you first fall asleep.
But the stakes were high. Much higher than I’ve had to deal with before.
Not only did my future depend on it but so did my legacy. How my kids would remember me!
I HAD to figure out how to make some progress.
Still, when you get down to it, it’s just solving a problem. The method I used wasn’t rocket science – it just takes discipline and patients.
Not a given when you are in a high-stress situation!
This isn’t unique to me, either – you could use the same method to make improvements in your life.
I won’t claim to know about other issues, but I bet you could, at least, make some progress.
Do you suffer from depression?
Have weight issues?
Looking for more balance?
I’ve even used this method to accomplish other goals, from changing my diet to writing this blog post.
“Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs.” ~ Henry Ford
Take the Goal and Break it Down
So how did I do it? What was my objective? I needed a defined goal.
My objective is and was not to get worse quite so fast. Not very objective – more like subjective!
To a point, but accomplishing a goal that you set for yourself is determined by you, anyway, isn’t it?
What I needed to do was to ask myself the right questions to help me break things down.
In other words, I needed things to be specific.
What are the major offenders that people talk about? ‘
I could find those on forums, blogs, support groups (in my case – but this could be things like networking or Church groups as well).
What does the research say?
No sense in reinventing the wheel, right?
If someone has socked money into researching it, there’s probably data out there, and it would certainly be a legitimate place to look.
What does intuition tell me?
We are all experts at what we do, so isn’t it reasonable to assume that we have a good idea what we need to do and why we need to do it?
Don’t sell yourself short! If you think it’s right, it probably is, and that’s a good place to start.
Now, I had read a lot about nutrition and its impact on a whole host of health problems. I also had a secret obsession with it since my college days. That was an easy one.
Next, it was clear that exercise had a positive and well-documented impact on countless illnesses and tendency to increase the lifespan in healthy individuals. That one also seemed like a no-brainer.
Outlook seemed to influence many things.
There was a lot of evidence tying it to the immune system, and multiple studies showing that a positive attitude made people recover from surgery and illness faster, students less likely to get sick, and vaccines work better.
That, and it just seems to make you feel better. I can live with that!
Sleep is a big one. Even the CDC says we don’t get enough sleep. We have this “full steam ahead,” multi-tasking lifestyle that makes it easy for things like sleep to take a back seat.
People that get enough high-quality sleep are less likely to have weight problems, are more attentive, and recover more quickly. I guess I’d better look at improving my sleep patterns, too.
Oh, and there’s stress reduction. There is a strong link between being stressed and being more likely to die of a heart attack. There are a number of measurable factors that are tied to it as well.
Factors like higher levels of “bad” cholesterol and slower wound healing in stressed out individuals.
That goes on the list, too.
Make your Mini-goals, Specific
The key, here, is that I broke the problem into smaller parts, which I could then address one at a time.
By working on small problems individually, measuring the results was pretty straightforward.
It would’ve been easy to become overwhelmed if I had addressed them all at once and there would have been no way to accomplish the goal “as a whole.”
Where would you start? What would your endpoint be?
So I took them on one at a time and made sure to have a final objective in mind. It needed to be something measurable.
For example, I couldn’t say, “I’ll ride my stationary bike more often.” That is pretty vague, and I’m not likely to follow through with it.
If I said, on the other hand, that “I will ride my bike three times a week for at least 15 minutes,” that’s easier to keep track of. If I can ride for a little longer – great! If I’m feeling extra strong and can bump up the resistance – terrific!
I’ve accomplished my goal, though, because I’ve blocked the time out on my calendar.
The results I’m seeking aren’t setting me up for failure since they’re not performance-based. I’ve made that commitment and can use the time as productively as my body will allow.
Have I Created Attainable Goals
This is what breaking things down does. It makes them achievable.
If I had stuck with that first, big goal, which was really just an emotional response to my diagnosis, I’d either be spinning my wheels or wasting away at an assisted living facility somewhere.
That wasn’t an option.
By breaking the problem down into smaller pieces, they were easier to address and much more likely to produce success.
For example – I knew that regular meditation had created promising results and had been shown in numerous research articles to improve one’s health, no matter what their situation.
It’s a little like rebooting your hard-drive or hitting the reset button.
But there is little chance that I would have successfully made that a part of my routine if I didn’t know the proper technique and tried to address dietary issues at the same time.
I was worried about finding time for it since my sleep schedule was all over the board, and I hadn’t figured out my routine for exercise.
One thing at a time.I took it on by itself enabling me to break that down into even more manageable pieces.
Projects are always bigger than we first imagine, right?
With meditation, I figured out the technique to use, what the proper environment should be, what time of day, and… voila! (well, after a few days of trial and error)
Then, once that was established and part of my routine, I could move to something else. In my case, sleep patterns.
All of these things were part of that same goal I had originally made – just in smaller chunks.
That seemed to be the key to success – make the goals small enough and take them on one at a time so that achieving them is more likely.
“I always like to look on the optimistic side of life, but I am realistic enough to know that life is a complex matter.” ~ Walt Disney
Am I Being Realistic About the Goals I’ve Set for Myself
How likely was I to achieve the goals I had set for myself? That answer seemed to be rooted in the question as well.
If I had committed to running a marathon in two years – that wouldn’t have been realistic.
I was quickly losing strength in my legs and would be lucky to run across the street, let alone 26.2 miles. That would be certainly an unachievable “goal.”
My objective, again, was not to move backward quite so fast. It wasn’t to live in denial and set myself up for failure!
Like a puzzle, I had to analyze the individual pieces and put them in the right places to create the bigger picture that I was going for – the ultimate goal.
Everything that I committed to, needed to be realistic.
If I promised myself, I’d do it, that’s half of the battle, but I needed to commit to things that I could actually do. That were possible.
- Ride my stationary bike for at least 15 minutes, 4 times/week
- Do resistance training every 4-5 days
- Get to bed by 9:30 every night and get up by 6:00
- Eliminate refined carbohydrates from my diet
- Eat at least 4 servings of fruits and vegetables/day
- Meditate for at least 10 minutes/day
These were all defined and realistic. I could confidently commit to doing those things.
But some things were not so easy to measure.
Even so, by committing to them, I was more self-aware. Not doing them or forgetting to do them wasn’t a failure – it just made me more cognizant of it the next time.
It really was another learning opportunity.
- Always look at the bright side when someone complains
- Always be positive when someone asks how I’m doing
- Don’t read into a perceived aggressive attitudes
- Always carry myself in a self-confident manner
These were all things that I knew would grow – like a puppy.
I may not see a change overnight, but I guarantee that the difference over the course of six months or a year would be profound.
One of my big goals, early on, was to improve my ability to speak.
Mine was going south in a hurry, and I would have gladly given up a lot of other things to be able to communicate effectively. Talk about motivation!
It turns out that this is one of those bigger, multi-faceted goals that I needed to address in parts.
Based on research and my experiences – how I felt – what did I know about it? How would I address each area?
Stress is a huge factor. I could feel its effects almost instantly, and I knew it was a target. But how would I deal with it?
Meditation, positivity, and going with the flow were all important factors, here.
Sleep certainly seemed to be an issue. The more tired I was, the harder it was to speak clearly.
Then there’s confidence.
It was important that I increase my self-confidence. This almost seemed to be self-perpetuating – it made things better or worse in a hurry.
So by breaking down the bigger picture, even when it seemed too vague, into smaller components, the overall goal was not as daunting.
I found that when I had them figured out and moved passed them, those small victories kept me motivated and worked towards the bigger goal.
More parts mean more victories!
Make Sure your Goals are Time-sensitive
If you don’t create milestones or a deadline, what’s the point?
Completion for me meant that I was doing it, or I wasn’t. That’s pretty easy to measure, isn’t it?
Because of the nature of my overall goal, I was really just looking to be doing the things that I hadn’t been or that I had at least been inconsistent about.
I have applied this method to other things, too – writing, for example.
Rather than simply saying that I should get a post in next Tuesday, I can tell myself that I need to complete 1,000 words (as Harleena talks about here) per day with the overall goal of having a draft together in three days.
That’s a manageable piece, and it’s time-sensitive, so it moves me towards my ultimate goal of having a rough draft ready in three days.
I can set the next set of goals (leading to a final draft ready for submission) when I complete the first.
Achievement of those smaller goals keeps me motivated and gives me a better idea of what’s realistic for the next set. This is a learning process, after all. Right?
Are there steps I can take to get to the end points that I’ve decided on? One thing’s for sure – there wouldn’t have been if my goal had simply been to “try and get better.”
Keeping the goals realistic helps you to make them time-sensitive. These all build on one another.
You can’t measure your progress on a goal unless it’s specific. You wouldn’t know where to start!
You can’t take action on something that’s impossible to achieve – that’s not realistic. Doing any of those things is pointless if you don’t give yourself a deadline!
You have to hold yourself to a cutoff date if you intend to get anything done.
That doesn’t mean pushing yourself so hard that you stress out about it – be realistic. Just make sure you have a deadline, so you follow through.
“Success is nothing more than a few simple disciplines, practiced every day.” ~ Jim Rohn
Set your goals high but break them down into small pieces and give yourself time-frames.
Time frames that are short enough that you don’t lose interest and long enough that you aren’t overcome with anxiety. That will make you not want to do it again.
Wrapping It Up
You need to set yourself up for success!
Just follow these rules – these “SMART” rules for success – and you can complete them.
SMART stands for –
- Time Sensitive
I can honestly say that my life is a lot different because of SMART rules for success.
Over to you –
I would love to hear your stories and what you’ve done to achieve your goals and make a difference in your life!
Photo Credit: FreeDigitalPhotos
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