Friday, May 7, 2010

Taking Small Steps Will Get You There

Inch by inch, life's a cinch. Yard by yard, it is real hard.

By Jeannette Samanen PhD

Are you procrastinating, overwhelmed by the size of an important task you need to complete? When faced with a big job, think small.

It’s easy to become paralyzed when the job you need to do seems too big to handle. In those situations it is helpful to remember the salami image. There’s no way in the world you can stuff an entire salami in your mouth, but you can polish it off easily one slice at a time. The thinner the slices, the easier it is to do.

It’s crucial to break any big job into doable steps. When faced with a daunting task, first identify the steps necessary to reach your goal. The smaller the steps, the easier they are to accomplish. Once you get moving by taking baby steps, you develop momentum. That momentum will help you move forward, enjoying the task as you go.

The operative word here is “doable.” Most people stymie themselves with unrealistic demands. Unwilling to be satisfied with small steps, they end up doing nothing. It is important to delight in any progress you make while working toward a goal, no matter how small that progress may seem.

A client came to me recently seeking help to finish his doctoral dissertation. He needed a Ph.D. in order to get the job he wanted and he couldn’t get his Ph.D. until his dissertation was complete. He had been working on the dissertation for over a year. By the time he came to see me he had done no work on it at all for several months and was completely stuck.

My client and I identified fifteen small steps that would enable him to move forward. We determined that he could reasonably expect to complete the first two of those steps by our next session.

“I could not be happy with that,” he protested. “I would feel like I hadn’t done enough if THAT were all I accomplished! I’d need to get at least five of those steps done to feel satisfied.”

Of course, accomplishing just one of those steps would be an improvement over the inertia he’d been experiencing for months. However, even three of the steps we had identified would have been too much to realistically accomplish in one week, let alone five of them. Overwhelmed with so much, my client would have fallen back into his old pattern of doing nothing.

How often are you like my client? Unable to live up to unrealistic expectations, do you end up doing nothing at all?

If there is an important project that you are stuck on, ask yourself, “Am I insisting on too much from myself?” If your expectations are unrealistic, you may thwart your own progress.

Examine whatever daunting task you are facing. Break it down into the smallest possible steps. Set realistic goals related to accomplishing those steps. By giving yourself permission to take baby steps, you’ll begin moving in the right direction. Your progress will encourage you to keep going. In this way you will eventually achieve your goal.

In fact, my client felt great after completing the two small steps he set out to do that first week. Getting at least something done was a definite improvement over the inactivity of the previous months. The following week he accomplished the next small segment. It wasn’t long before he was rolling ahead toward completing his dissertation.

If you allow yourself to be satisfied with baby steps, you, too, will achieve your goals and make your good life better.

Drawing on skills and expertise developed over 30 years experience, Philadelphia life coach Jeannette Samanen PhD provides effective life coaching, empowering you to achieve your goals. You will receive her free article "5 Easy Steps to Access Your Inner Wisdom" when you subscribe to her "Make Your Good Life Better" newsletter at

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