Major events, like the beginning of a new year, are almost always a good pretext for big changes. All that “new year resolutions” hysteria, all those manifestation boards popping up on your walls, the motivational messages pinned on your fridge with magnets, all that “I can do it, I’m starting now and I’ll do it” vibe, all this gets activated. Going to gym, losing weight, starting to meditate, these are just some of the changes people are intending to apply to their lives. More often than not, with a big bang, a lot of noise and a lot of genuine, honest desire to succeed.
Tow months later, less than 5% of those who intended to change their lives are still on track. The rest of them? Lost in translation.
I know, because I’ve been there. And, if you’re honest with yourself, you’ve been there too. You’ve been at the peak of the motivational mountain and then fell like a rock to the bottom of the complacency valley.
The biggest reason for this failure? Surprisingly, the sheer size of the task at hand.
In today’s post I’m gonna talk about how big change is almost always easier if you start it small. Or, like the title says, I’m going to talk about the overwhelming power of small steps.
The Inertia Propelling Your Current Life
Imagine you’re driving a car at 70 km/h (for the sake of example, let’s also assume you have enough fuel and you know how to drive). This car represents the current course of your life. The speed and momentum of the car is a function of the impulse you applied (and currently maintain) and the mass of the car.
Now, imagine that this car gets heavier with each new habit you acquire.
Let’s say you want to master the habit of succeeding in your career. You stop for a while on the side of the road, pick up some stuff that you want to keep with you all the time and then slowly start to roll again. In this case, the stops are actually education episodes. You literally stop to load your car with skills and attitudes that will help you succeed in your career.
If the skills were good, your car got a pretty good speed, and it’s also on a very promising lane of the highway.
Now, imagine that you want to master a new skill, the type you get the urge to acquire at the beginning of the year, like meditation, or going to the gym.
That skill requires that your car rolls on a completely different lane. You have to literally steer the car suddenly (and narrowly). Well, if you steer your car on a highway suddenly and narrowly, at least two things will happen:
- first, you will tumble, roll and seriously damage your car
- second, you may be hit by other cars, because you’re not where they’re expecting you to be
In the first case, you will experience sudden and serious internal damage because your old patterns are still very powerful, and you will simply not know how to balance the new with the old. You’re getting into the 95% of those who are giving up, being convinced that “this thing doesn’t work”.
In the second case, your environment will react too. And by environment I understand the entourage that you used to surround yourself with. These people will damage you (more or less, depending on how close to you they’re rolling) simply because they’re not recognizing your new patterns.
Introducing Small Steps
Small steps are like pinching the brake every now and then, while paying attention to the road and to the other drivers.
Instead of grabbing the steering wheel and switching it abruptly, you slowly get out of the crowd, change the lanes first and then try to find a suitable spot to stop. Then, after you’re completely sure about the new direction and about your ability to maintain that direction, change course and take another route.
It’s a very different vibe. It’s not that you’re denying the past, or the current version of yourself, by violently trying it to replace it with somebody who hasn’t been yet born. You acknowledge who you are, were you are and what you can do about it.
Small steps are consistent, but not very difficult activities, that you undertake constantly.
Instead of starting with 30 minutes of meditation each day, try with 5. You’ll be surprised how much easier will be to stick to these 5 minutes, than to the half an hour.
Instead of going to the gym 5 times a week, try walking more. Like just add 30 minutes of walking every day, by giving up the car when you’re going to the groceries.
Instead of working two hours every day at your side business, just put in half an hour. But do it every day.
And then, after 3, or 6, or 9 months, look back and see how far you’ve come.
Equilibrium Doesn’t Mean Comfort
At the beginning of the article, I said that big change is “almost always” easier if you take big steps.
That means there are situations when big change can happen suddenly. Alas, these situations are violent. It’s either something that hurts so much that you have no other option than to change yourself, or something completely out of your control, forcing you to take another route.
As violent and unpredictable as they are, these situations are also very rare. You don’t get to experience loss, or accidents, or pains all the time. Most of the time, the vast majority of us is enjoying a certain equilibrium.
The biggest challenge is not to take this equilibrium for granted, and let it become comfort.