Source: Piotr Lohunko/Stocksnap
Given this special time of year, for many a season of hope, I thought it might be helpful to turn for a moment to the topic of New Year’s resolutions. The news here is not nearly as pretty as the lights of the season; however, the information is illuminating. Take, for example, the fact that the average American makes the same resolution ten years in a row, and the fact is, the average resolution is abandoned within six weeks. For those who do achieve success, it usually occurs only after six attempts, meaning six years of effort.
So why is the success rate so low? It typically has much to do with size. People tend to choose lofty goals when making annual resolutions. They may vow to lose 50 pounds, find their ideal soul mate, or land that dream job within months of the start of the new year. Big steps like these result in two specific types of challenges, both of which sabotage success. The first challenge is that large steps require large, sustained doses of will power and self-control. Therefore, they are especially hard to sustain. A second challenge is that big steps tend to trigger large fears. The fears of failure and being rejected are two of the most powerful we humans experience. What most of us may not be aware of is that what often drives our desire for big steps is often our own self-critical natures. Many of us hear a harsh, persistent inner voice shouting at us for being overweight, isolated, not strong in our relationships, or not a success in the areas of life that mean the most to us. The natural assumption is to believe that a big success will quiet that painful voice. However, in attempting giant leaps, fears naturally increase, so when taking a big leap we find that we have given a megaphone to that voice rather than quieting it.
There is good news, however. Small steps work. If we keep our dreams and goals large, but strive to make the daily steps toward these as small as we can, our chances of success are much greater. For example, if exercise and fitness are your key goals, consider running in place or doing pushups for just one minute each day. This requires almost no self-control or discipline. In the process you will begin to build a habit that will help to sustain your goal long-term. If romance is your dream, ask yourself what very small thing could you do for no more than one or two minutes each day to move toward your goal? Perhaps viewing a dating site or choosing to sit in a group lunch area at work where there is a chance of an encounter may be something you can do each day to support progress toward achieving your goal. If these ideas intrigue you, my book One Small Step Can Change Your Life has many other examples of small steps that can lead to big changes in lives.
The concept may appear counter-intuitive, and we may be doubtful that small steps can work just as fast, or often faster, then giant leaps. But they do. When you choose to begin with small steps, steps that do not require months or years of will power and discipline, you build habits that sustain across time. If you choose this route, you will find that the biggest challenge you face is calming that harsh voice in the beginning, so you have permission to choose the size of the steps that will work for you. As we close the year, consider this example. When a cynical reporter asked Mother Teresa how she ever expected to cure hunger with her limited resources, she said, “one person at a time”. Small steps work.