Many of my clients come to me with a version of this story: there is a change she wants to make in her life, but she can’t quite seem to get moving on it. She has some ideas about the steps she needs to take, but some steps are twisty. Some seem more like a leap of faith than a step, and having put her family’s needs ahead of her own for years, a leap of faith around her own desires is unfamiliar territory.
One mom, wanting to commit to healthy living, said that she was going to walk every other day, starting next week, for half an hour. What a great idea, I told her, a definite trait of a healthy lifestyle. I asked her what needed to be put in place in order to make that happen, and she described a litany of arrangements — planning ahead with grocery shopping, timing when to start cooking dinner, changing into her exercise clothes while dinner was in the oven so that as soon as her husband (who works long and unpredictable hours) came home, he could give dinner to their 4 year old. She could head out the door for 30 minutes, ideally before the 5 month old baby needed to nurse before bed.
Is it? I’m not a health coach, but I could see that while her plan is precise to the last detail, so much depends on moving parts. The process could break down in any number of places, and nothing will kill motivation faster than not succeeding. How can we make it easier, especially in the beginning?
I asked her how far a 30 minute walk would take her from her front door, and she couldn’t quite say. I asked her when was the last time she went for a 30 minute walk at a pace she’d consider exercise. She couldn’t quite remember. So I asked her instead to re-envision her plan as the eventual destination, reached by climbing a ladder. What would be the first rung?
Turns out, she decided her first rung was just to go out the door. She considered her schedule over the next 7 days, and she identified 2 days when she could take a 10 minute walk, which was only 5 minutes out, turning around, and then 5 minutes home. Still a challenge, but she did it twice that week. Which led to three times the next week.
So here’s what I’m likely to ask about your first step: What if you backed up and considered what a baby step would be?
One mom wants to move out of the city but doesn’t quite know where. She has a handful of ideas, but the options are actually paralyzing her. Working with what she does know — that she wants to move – what can she do in the meantime? Some home improvement? An initial conversation with a real estate agent about the value of her home or the terms of her current lease? Another mom feels that her job is no longer fulfilling, and while she doesn’t know what kind of work she’d like to do, there is a skill she’d like to learn for overall versatility, and yes, enjoyment.
Baby steps are meant to be attainable while still challenging. Low lying fruit still tastes pretty good, right? Something that is attainable builds confidence, and with confidence you can reach the next step. When you get to the top, it really wasn’t a leap of faith at all, but just a climb up a ladder, one rung at a time.