Small steps – the concept goes against the grain of everything you’ve read, overheard or been told about maximizing health and vitality doesn’t it? We’ve been conditioned to think big, dream bigger, make the big plans and get big outcomes, but going big doesn’t always measure up. Big can get you off the couch for sure, perhaps even bring about short-term success, but it can also create frustration and overwhelm, and produce an atmosphere conducive to failure. Consider the following points of view.
1) Competence Versus Challenge
When my nephew was not quite 4 years old I recall watching him struggle with trying to tie his shoelaces. His 3½ year old brain wasn’t yet able to coordinate the sequence required and his chubby fingers couldn’t quite handle the flimsy laces. He became agitated and frustrated, eventually breaking into tears at the realization that he wasn’t going to achieve this goal today. Later that day as we prepared to head outdoors he slipped into another pair of sneakers and nimbly flipped the Velcro fasteners into place. Different skill set, 100% success.
When creating a goal of your own it’s important to set yourself up for ‘shoe-tying success’ by striking a healthy balance between your level of competence with a task and the degree of challenge associated with it.
If your goal is so big that achieving it will only be met through an excess of torment and tears it may be too challenging to be enjoyable or achievable. When I was learning to ski, I first followed my very capable friends down runs that were far too steep and deep for me. I am a snowboarder and a former skier and wrongly assumed I’d pick it up quickly. After numerous yard-sale wipe-outs and a vastly bruised ego I reluctantly left them to their expert runs and snowplowed my way to the green runs. What was I thinking?
On those flat, groomed slopes I was able to shush my way down the runs, skis edging wonderfully, poles planting effortlessly just like a perky ski school expert. Without any real speed or challenge though, I soon became bored for the ease of it. I also felt quite unsatisfied regularly racing and beating the wee-ski kids to the bottom. Well, they were only 5 years old. Before long I was contemplating a cocoa in the ski lodge. Case in point, if your goal is so straightforward that it takes hardly any effort to execute, the lack of challenge could put you at risk for losing interest before you see results.
I found the right balance between competence and challenge on the intermediate blue runs. They were steep and challenging enough to make me work at my skills with neither boredom nor terror as my ski buddy.
The beauty of the initiating your new goal with smaller steps is that you get to experience some success along with immediate and more accurate feedback as to whether you are really progressing on the right path towards your goal or not.
2) Decision Paralysis
Change brings about uncertainty, so when you’re embarking on a new challenge such as starting an exercise program or changing your eating habits there is much to be said about keeping it simple.
In their book Switch – How to Change Things When Change is Hard, Chip and Dan Heath talk about decision paralysis as the difficulty or inability to make a decision when there are too many options to choose from. They share a number of scenarios where this was proven to be true. One such scenario took place at a gourmet food store where store managers had set up a jam sampling display, one day with 6 jams to taste and the next with 24 jams. Not surprisingly, the 24-jam display attracted more tasters, but when it came time to buy they were overwhelmed and couldn’t make a decision. The 6-jam tasters were 10 times more likely to buy a jar of jam!
As you look ahead to the new you and all the changes that need to take place in order to help you reach your goal of more energy, better health, less weight, fill-in-the-blanks, you may feel a similar paralysis.
“I need to start exercising! Time to get a gym membership. If I get a gym membership which gym should I choose? The one close to work or the one in my neighborhood close to home? I’ve always wanted to try cycle classes. Maybe I should look for a place where I can do that? Or I could join a running group and plan to enter a race in a few months? How far, 5K, 10K…maybe a triathlon? I hear running is a great way to get lean quickly … but so is weight training. I could hire a personal trainer! Maybe I should hire a nutritionist first? Before I do that I should see if either is covered on my health plan. But first I should get a new pair of exercise shoes. There are so many to choose from these days, I wonder which is best? And clothes, I need clothes! Someone was telling me about this great new line of affordable workout wear. Who was that again? …
When faced with this kind of indecision we’ll default to what we know best, and for so many people inactivity and professional level couch-potato status is what we know.
You’re still on the couch trying to decide what to do aren’t you? Quit thinking so much. Just put on any old pair of shoes and ponder the possibilities as you walk around the neighborhood for 20 minutes. In the words of mighty Nike, just do it!
Carpe Freakin’ Diem my friend!
This article is an excerpt from my book Energy Now! Small Steps to an Energetic Life …so if you feel like you’d like a bit more guidance you can purchase it HERE and dig a bit deeper! If you buy now you can take advantage of a fun summer special.
HEY…in my next post I’ll write about Psychological Hedonism and Eating the Elephant!
Whaaat??! Stay tuned.