Around June of last year, I hit a low point. It wasn’t tied to any particular event. There was just a slow degradation over time where more and more dissatisfaction crept into my life until I was incredibly unhappy and burnt out. I knew that I needed to make changes, but they seemed to be too hard to do.
Taking the first step towards self-improvment is always the hardest. I think of it in terms of inertia: when you’re stuck in a place it takes a huge amount of energy to start moving. Think of how hard it is to push a huge rock that is sitting in the dirt. (Or even better how hard is it to start flipping that tractor tire over at the gym?) But the thing about inertia is that once you get going, the law makes it just as difficult to STOP the object you just had trouble moving. If you do manage to get that huge rock rolling, you definitely don’t want to be at the bottom of the hill to stop it! (Or using the gym example, have you ever tried to catch a weight before it hits the ground?)
In July last year, I (unknowingly) took the first step to overcome my “stuck and miserable” inertia by signing up for a nutrition coaching course. I thought I’d be learning about macronutrients and serving sizes, but this course had so much more to it. They really dug into the lifestyle reasons for poor eating, as well as the emotional components that lead people to cyclically diet and regain weight. This course showed me how interrelated nutrition and the rest of your life were. You can eat all the kale in the world, but if you are miserable in other areas, you still won’t be healthy. Suddenly, I was confronted with admitting that I was unhappy and had the power to change that. And like they say “You can’t unlearn this stuff.”
Flash forward to January of this year and the inertia behind all of my self-improvment actions was really beginning to build up. I began to see all of the areas in my life that I wanted to change and fix. There were so many things I wanted to do: change jobs to something that I enjoyed, change my relationship with my kids to be better, work on relationships with friends, work on my health and fitness, make our house more organized and functional, let go of things that were no longer helping in our lives… the list goes on and on and on. I was suddenly beginning to feel overwhelmed with it all. I began to wonder, “is there such a thing as self-improvment burnout? Cause I’m totally there.” I wanted a break, and a small part of me wished I could just go back to not knowing that things could be better, because “ignorance is bliss.” HA!
Everything can’t be fixed instantly. It’s often a slow process, but we tend to see the end goal clearly and then get impatient when we can’t get there immediately. Then we get to the point where I was in January and our self-doubt kicks in. We see the long road ahead of us and decide that it’s just too hard. We quit. And then we are doubly dissatisfied because not only do we know that we aren’t where we want to be, we’re down on ourselves for quitting. And the cycle continues.
So I began to measure progress differently. I committed myself to taking as least one SMALL step each day towards any of the goals I had. Here’s why it’s working: It made making progress sustainable, since I gave myself permission to not have to do everything all at once, it keeps the inertia going, so I won’t get to a place where it is a considerable effort to start again, AND by having so many areas that I know need work, it made finding a small step to take relatively easy and dynamic. If I ever don’t really know what the next step under the “Change Careers” goal is, that’s ok because I can take a small step towards another goal that day (like declutter a junk drawer for the “Functional House” goal). I’ve still progressed while giving myself time to figure out the next best step for the career change goal.
The important thing is to just keep moving forward. It doesn’t matter if it’s slow or fast. It doesn’t matter if it’s a fraction of an inch or a huge leap. Just be relentless with your movement. One action per day is progress, and progress is the new measure of success.