If you have listened to the last couple of episodes (here, here and here) and read the articles that go with them, you saw a theme. We have been talking a lot about of progress, growth and mindfulness. All of those points are crucial in my point of view. They will help you on your journey of life. What we haven’t talked much about yet is how deal with setbacks. How to track that you are making progress in an overall basis. And in the latest episode I talked about using the multitude of positive tiny steps as cause of celebration. They can also be a source to help you through tough moments. The article can be seen as an extension of the episode.
Progression In Tiny Steps
Whatever your journey is, you probably start highly motivated and get off well. This could be a new habit, a healthier diet, a new fitness routine, working on something that you are not (yet) proficient in or at. First of all: that’s great!
You are making progress, little by little or as I like to say it, in tiny steps. Often those tiny steps are so tiny that you barely realize that you are moving forward. The changes just happen, you feel better or happier until there’s a setback.
Tiny Steps As Your Grounding Tool
No matter what caused it or why it happened, chances are that you feel really bad about it. You’re inner critic will pop out of nowhere reminding you that it’s not worth it, that you can’t do it, that you are a bad person, that you don’t have any talent, that it doesn’t matter, that you will never eat healthy, that you won’t make that 10k run, that ….
Sounds familiar, right? Here’s the thing, your inner critic is wrong. And have a look what your inner critic isn’t telling you:
You made progress! Maybe you increased your French vocabulary, you started to go for a walk more often, you lost some weight, you cut down on soda, you wrote some poetry.
You inner critic will never tell you those things, because he/she doesn’t deem it as good enough, worthy enough, big enough. This is often caused by what we see around us. When people go up on stage an play the piano, you see them perform on a high level. You never see the struggle before that, the years of practice that went into this performance. Or with losing weight too. You see before and after pictures. That’s great for marketing, but no one loses 30 kg over night. It’s a process of a kg here, several grams there. Or in other words, many tiny steps.
Why We Don’t See The Tiny Steps
We established that you don’t need to beat yourself up because of a setback. That sounds easy enough but out of personal experience I am fully aware that the contrary is the case.
Historically we, as a species, focus heavily on negative things, i.e. situations that have the potential to cause harm or danger. If you are reading this, chances are high that the important needs are covered. You have plenty of access to food, you’ve got access to health care and have shelter and heat.
The focus still remains on negative things though and nowadays we still remember negative events better than the positive counterparts. The setbacks mentioned above are those things you remember, but that you are on a positive trajectory on something for a while now isn’t at the top of your head.
Before we move on I want to remind you that no matter how bad your setback: You are always one healthy step away from getting back on track.
Making The Tiny Steps Visible
Here’s what I like to do when I face a setback. I take a moment when I am facing a difficult situation and think about the path that I already walked so far. I closely look at what I achieved.
In other words, what you want to do is to compare current state with the one a few moments (days, weeks, months, maybe years) ago. It’s a snapshot analysis and probably an easy comparison.
This is where your tiny steps will become a visible path. It will show you how much you progressed and grew already. Even without a setback I recommend on doing this on a regular basis. Depending on what your goal is, you can do this daily, weekly or monthly. When I really got into yoga I kept a journal for 30 days, tracking what happened. This helped me a lot.
A great way is to write it down. I saw with people I worked with that the process of siting down with a pen and some paper, reflecting on the tiny steps made and then writing them down makes it real. The moment it became real to those people they realized that they were making real progress. Gamification and quantifying things is a helpful tool and makes progress visible.
Celebrating The Tiny Steps
After this step of awareness and mindfulness the next step I suggest is gratefulness. There are many ways of doing it, but simply writing what you are grateful for below your awareness list attaches it to this event. You can also say it out loud like a mantra. Maybe you want to share it with friends and loved ones.
As a last step I find it helpful to celebrate those tiny steps. This can again be done in many forms and is up to you. Maybe you read a few pages in your favorite book. Or you go an date with yourself and have a great time re-connecting to yourself. You can meet with friends and share the positive news with them.
Just make sure that it’s fun and enjoyable and shows yourself and thus your inner critic how great you did and how well you are doing. It’s a form to practice kindness and self-love. That’s why those small steps are important and celebrating them will keep you motivated.
Tiny Steps And The Compound Interest Effect
A path is almost never a straight line, accept that. Moving in the right direction, moving forward in general is more important than to walk back or not move (read change) all. On top of that, the fact that you make positive changes on a constant basis will lead to growth.
You can build up from here, one positive tiny step leads to another. It’s like a virtuous cycle that keeps you motivated and going. On top of that the compound interest effect will come into effect too. You might know this effect already. In short,
compounding is the ability of an asset (usually this is related to money but the concept applies to basically everything) to generate earnings. Those earnings are then reinvested in order to generate their own earnings. This means previous earnings will generate (more) future earnings.
As said this concept is also applicable to the realms beyond finance. For example, if you learned one new word today in a new language. You start to use it, you became more familiar with it. This will help you to learn and understand more words. The more words you know, the easier it gets to understand and use the language, which in turn will make it again easier to learn more new words.
So make many tiny steps, celebrate them and enjoy the compound interest effect on your way of growth and progress.
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