top of page
Best Therapist in Portland

my musings

It's all about the baby steps

Everyone loves a grand gesture. 

They are breathtaking, excitement driven, thrilling, true-love-overcomes-all life moments we all strive for and want. We love big goals and big dreams and once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. These moments and events fill us with oxytocin and memories and we think that they are the stuff that life is really made for. We get hooked on thinking about the million dollars we will make, the huge promotions we will achieve, the colleges we will get into, the marathons we will run. We get stuck on dreaming about the feeling of making that huge payment that finally pays off the car or the credit card or being able to hold that tripod headstand with lotus pose. 

The problem is that these big, grand, exciting, gratifying moments are so very often out of reach at the moment. That mountain peak is so far away. We can’t quite make the big payment, we aren’t quite at the stage of life to actually apply for college, much less get accepted, we are working on a Couch to 5K plan and not yet ready to sign up for the Boston Marathon, much less win it. These dreamy big moments are slightly out of reach, our dream feels too far away and the excitement comes crashing down. 

And we end up doing nothing.


The problem with the big strides is that much of the time, most of the time really, we aren’t quite ready to make them. And that disappointment makes us feel all the rough feelings. Anticipation turns to anxiety. Hope turns to dread. Excitement turns to avoidance. We can’t quite do it, so it feels impossible, so we give up. Do nothing. Opt out. 

We go back to bed. 

Grand gestures and big moments are amazing. But they aren’t really the stuff that makes up life. 

Life, it turns out, is made up of a million tiny baby steps. Insignificant details that add up to something big. 

Humans are amazing. We can push our boundaries and do amazing things. We can tolerate great suffering if our desire is big enough. I have known many people who push through a marathon with great pain, finish, celebrate big, and then never run again. Or maybe I suck it up and stay up all night cramming for a test, make it through and get a satisfying score. I can scrimp and save and pull together enough money to pay off a credit card. We can all think of big epic things we have done in our lives, only to return to our pre-grand-gesture state of not studying, not running, not saving money way of being. 

The reason that these grand gesture moments don’t turn into lasting change is because we skip the baby steps. 

Running the marathon is great. But running a mile every day is life changing. 

It’s the baby steps that lead to actual change. It’s the baby steps we should embrace, love, cherish and focus on. 

Baby steps change our identity.  The grand gesture turns me into someone who ran a marathon. But baby steps make me into a runner. If I get up and run 10 minutes a day, I go from a non-runner into someone who runs every day. And the person who runs every day is pretty likely to run not just one race, but lots. And the person who runs lots of races is likely to run every day. And now I have an identity, a habit. I trust myself. I have years of running every day to count on and I assume I will run every day in the future. And it’s not hard at all to imagine completing a race. 

Baby steps bring us closer to the impossible. If I want to pay off debt, but I can’t seem to collect enough money to make the huge payment, I may avoid looking or thinking about it. I just let it linger there, causing anxiety. But the baby steps change that. Instead of trying to come up with a HUGE payment, maybe I make a five dollar payment every day. Every day I put something towards the debt. Today five dollars, tomorrow 10. After a month, or two, I start seeing myself as someone who prioritizes paying this off, and I am capable of looking at the account without anxiety. The momentum grows. It starts feeling so good to make my daily payment, and the numbers start to change. Pretty soon, I realize that I actually paid the big amount by making baby steps that were accessible and doable every day. 

Baby steps create habits that create new normals. I see myself as someone bad at studying and I can’t find the six solid, uninterrupted hours I need to study (or write a book, or complete a work project). So I procrastinate, feel bad about myself, and feel the anxiety brew. Baby steps allow me to devote 15 minutes a day to study or write. Just 15 minutes.  I don’t have to finish anything. I sit down and read a thing, or write one note card. 15 minutes every day. That’s doable. After a few weeks, I realized that it’s pretty easy to find 15 minutes, and I learn that I like morning chunks better than evening chunks. I build a habit of getting up a little earlier. Pretty soon I notice that sometimes the 15 minutes turn into 30. And sometimes things actually get completed. After a year I am now a person who writes every morning. I love this thing about myself and it turns out that because I have this habit, I actually have a study/writing practice and studying for the test isn’t a big deal. 

Baby steps make the next step not so hard. Sometimes the thing we have to do seems downright impossible. Sending a kid to college when your child is 11 seems like an overwhelming impossibility. And it is. Because there are about one million steps in between age 10 and going to college. Leaving a marriage, finding a new partner, building a business. All impossible when you are at the starting line looking at the end goal. It’s too big, too hard, too impossible. But the next baby step, that’s totally doable. Enroll your kid in middle school. Yep. We can do that. Get a book on divorce. Google ‘attorneys’ or ‘mediators.’ Check. We can do that. Go to a single’s mixer (scary but doable). Pick a new business name. Yep. We can do it. The next baby step is doable, because it is right in front of us. We do that one, and then we find the next baby step and do that one. We can ALWAYS do the next baby step. Always. 

So let’s let the big vision give us some excited feelings. Let’s enjoy the thrill of striving for the grand gesture and dreaming of the next big thing. Let’s fantasize a little about the awards we will get and how people will surely sing our praises when we do that impossible thing. 

And then let’s take a deep breath, look down at our sweet toes, and take the next tiny baby step in front of us. 

And then let’s do it again. 

Because these baby steps, afterall, are what actually make up the journey of our lives.


bottom of page