Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Small Steps and Milestones

Technique Tuesday

Some of the techniques we've discussed are, in essence, Jedi mind tricks you play on yourself.

Today we have two related techniques that fall squarely in that camp: small steps and milestones.

Small Steps

When I graduated, I was paralyzed by the thought of picking a career. I simply couldn't imagine doing anything for forty years. The scope was overwhelming.

But I could imagine doing something for four years. After all, I'd just completed an undergraduate degree. So I stopped trying to find a career-scale answer and instead attacked the problem in four year chunks.

It wasn't the first time I learned the lesson of taking down overwhelming problems by breaking them into manageable chunks.

There's real power in saying, "I don't know if I can do all of it, but I can do this part." Repeat the heads-down process of dealing with manageable chunks often enough and you'll be amazed at how insignificant the formerly overwhelming problem has become when you come up for air.


Which brings us to the second, complementary technique: stop to acknowledge milestones.

Graduations, anniversaries, the odometer rolling over--these are all opportunities to pause and recognize our progress. Some people find this difficult, so let me hasten to add that an important part of this technique is to take stock of what you've actually done, not what you hoped to do.

If I'm careful, and realistic, I'm generally pleasantly surprised at how much I've actually done. Of course, it's never what I imagined I'd do. But it's always better than I feared.


By way of showing that I try to follow my own advice, today is this blog's first anniversary.

The task of writing 255 blog posts (five days a week for fifty-one weeks--I took the week between Christmas and New Year off) is pretty daunting viewed in its totality. In the beginning, I wasn't sure I had a year's worth of material, and if I'd thought of how much I would actually have to write I may not have done it. But I didn't worry about the long term: I thought, instead, in terms of manageable chunks--five posts, enough for a week.

And so it's reassuring to do the sums and realize that, at an average of 300 words per post, in the course of a year I've written the equivalent of a draft of a 75,000 word novel.

Don't underestimate the power of small steps. If you chip away a little each day, in time you'll look up and realize that you've moved a mountain.

Image: luigi diamanti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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