Break It Down

We’ve heard it before.

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” – Laozi

This well known piece of wisdom is simple in concept but difficult in execution.

Gary Vaynerchuck says, “There are so many great ideas…There are way less great executions.”

Something breaks down between the idea and the execution.

Thousand mile journeys don’t actually happen quite as often as they are conceived and dreamed up.

I don’t have any life-altering wisdom to add, but I wanted to riff on this for a bit.

I’m currently reading Stick With It by Sean D. Young.

In his book, he’s attempting to lay out a “scientifically proven process for changing your life”.

His goal is to help us form better habits or break our bad ones and in turn, change our lives for the better.

He calls the first piece “stepladders”.

This is the one that I want to focus on.

Sean argues that most people spend far too much time thinking about the outcome they would like to see in their lives.

We get caught up dreaming about losing all 30 lbs or finishing all 26.2 miles of the marathon or writing the entire book.

We set up big, monumental challenges and goals and hope that we’ll reach them.

Steven Covey says, “Begin with the end in mind.”

Yes, and Sean isn’t contradicting that piece of advice.

He is simply arguing that once you set a destination or a goal, the most important thing you can do is to take the first step.

It doesn’t even have to be a big one.

In fact, it is better if the step is as small as possible.

If you want to lose weight, eat the next healthy meal.

If you want to run a marathon, go out and jog for 10 minutes.

If you want to write a book, start with a paragraph.

If you want a mustard tree, plant a mustard seed.

Sean says, “The lesson is to focus on finding the right first step. Put all your energy into achieving that first little step. Take the time to reflect on your progress. And then repeat.”

He then breaks down the difference between dreams, goals and steps.

A dream is going to take longer than three months and is something you’ve never done before.

A goal can take one week to three months.

A short term goal takes one week to one month.

A long-term goal takes one to three months.

Finally, a step can be accomplished in less than a week.

The sweet spot being around two days.

So dreams break down into goals and goals break down into steps.

David Allen would call these outcomes that break down into projects that break down into actions. (Btw, his book and system, Getting Things Done is amazing.)

I find all of this stuff extremely helpful.

I have a hard time holding an entire dream or outcome in my head.

But I can hold the next action or the next step.

When I was a kid, I was terrified of heights.

It didn’t manifest itself too often, except when I was happened to go to an amusement park.

Roller coasters were not my friend.

I hated that nervous energy that would well up inside at the thought of being that high.

But I was also a bit of a prideful kid and I didn’t want to look like a complete loser, scaredy-cat.

So, somehow or another I needed to get on those roller coasters.

My plan wasn’t complicated.

I understood that if I could make myself get in line, I could work up the courage to stay in line.

If I stayed in line, I could step up on the platform.

If I could step up on the platform, I could sit in the chair.

If I could sit in the chair, I could strap myself in.

If I’m strapped in, the moment of turning back had already passed.

In a few seconds the ride would take off and staying strapped in was the safest option at that point!

If I did this with a few of the smaller coasters, later in the day I could face some of the higher ones.

Thus, I somehow intuited the stepladder process and slowly conquered my fear of roller coasters.

So, I know the process works.

Still, I’m not sure why I let myself get carried away thinking about swallowing an entire elephant.

Nobody is asking me to do that.

And even if they were, I’m not sure I could.

But if I take one bite at a time, eventually I will achieve the outcome.

Jesus points out that mustard trees begin with mustard seeds.

I’m not naturally good at this and writing this post is mostly an exercise in reminding myself of the importance of small steps.

So, here’s to the small steps we can take today to move toward the goals that make our dreams realities.

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