The Step Before the Baby Steps
We’ve all heard it and probably said it too, “You just need to take baby steps.” But there’s a problem inherent in that advice. The assumption is that the baby (you) can already walk. If you’re going to be taking steps, it’s understood that you can already walk. But let’s back up a bit.
I’m a new grandma.
For reasons that will become obvious, and for the purposes of privacy, I’ll be calling my beautiful, clever, and highly intelligent granddaughter, “Curly.” I was there when Curly took her first step. And I don’t mean step(s) – plural. I mean step – singular.
With her mama and I on each end sitting on the floor, we’d stand her up and then try to coax her to take a step. Sometimes the step was an intentional one. Often it was a step taken because she was simply falling forward. And even more times, momentum worked with gravity – pulling her to the floor, with a step thrown in there that surprised her more than it did us.
But gradually, she choreographed a new routine; Step, fall, wait for someone to stand her up again. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. She was getting the hang of this thing that caused her mama and grandma to enact tricks of their own; clapping, laughing, whoopin’ and hollerin’, followed by phrases like, “Oh my gosh! Did you see that! She’s so amazing! So smart!”
Baby steps (plural) work when you already know how to stand and coordinate the steps. But without that very first step, nothing else can follow. The first step is crucial because it proves not only that you can do something you’ve never done before, but more importantly – because it makes you wonder – if I can do this, what more might be possible?
Whether your first step is browsing through a catalog of classes offered at your community college, picking up the phone to ask someone for help, or asking a friend about her Zumba class; that first step is critical. It sets your focus on the possibilities. It changes your thinking from just going with the flow, to looking for a place to step off the monotony train and change your life.
The way you know if it’s a first step is internal. It’s personal.
People around you – even and especially, your family – probably don’t even notice. That’s what makes it precious; it’s yours and yours alone!
Midlife Motivation Example #1: First Step Toward Health
Six weeks after having back surgery to repair what my surgeon said was a “huge bulging disc“, I sat in my doctor’s office at the University of Washington Medical Center. After checking the incision and asking me questions about pain, numbness and so forth, the doctor began telling me how to care for my back.
After experiencing the worst pain of my life, including childbirth, I wanted his assurance that this would never happen again, but he couldn’t offer that. Instead, he gave me daily living tips. If applied, I could keep my back as healthy as possible.
If I wanted to keep my back healthy, I would have to walk every single day.
“Going for a walk every day is no longer a choice,” he said. “If you want to have a healthy back and healthy discs, you have to walk every single day, rain or shine.”
Then he took me to the hallway and instructed me to put my hands on my lower back – on each side of my spine.
“Walk,” he said. “Keep your hands right there.”
I walked down the hall feeling kind of silly.
“Do you feel that?”
I wasn’t sure what he meant, and it must have shown on my face.
“Do you feel the muscles moving?” he asked. “That is your body’s way of giving you a massage.”
I did feel it. The muscles moved up and down gently. I was surprised how much my lower back moved when I walked. Like the inside of an old pocket watch, everything was perfectly coordinated.
I’d never been much of a walker. I walked behind the stroller when the kids were young. I walked to the park with them, and sometimes went for a walk on a particularly nice day. But I didn’t see walking as exercise and I certainly didn’t make a point of doing it. But now, he’d said, walking wasn’t a choice. It was something I had to do. And after the pain I’d experienced pre-surgery, I never wanted to feel that again.
So, I started walking. I had to build up my endurance slowly. The nerve damage from the bulging disc was still there, so at first I simply walked to the end of the driveway and back. Slowly I built up to a quarter mile, a half mile, and a mile. But even as I was increasing my walking distance, my motivation was decreasing.
It won’t hurt to miss a day of walking, I’d tell myself.
And before I knew it, several days had passed. It just wasn’t fun anymore. The novelty had worn off.
Then something interesting happened.
One of the many days that I didn’t feel like walking, I decided to just walk around the block. It was the least I could do. So, I laced up my sneakers and took a step out the door. Once I was outside for a bit, I figured, “Well, I’m already out here, I might as well walk a little more.” Before I knew it, I had walked my usual one-mile route.
After this happened a few times, I had a light-bulb moment.
Instead of making goals of walking X-amount of time or miles or whatever, all I really needed was to get out the door. What I needed was one step; the step out the door with my walking shoes on. I tried again the next day; I put on my tennis shoes and took that one step from in the house to outside.
And guess what? That’s all it took. I told myself I’d just walk a bit, but always ended up walking more than I intended. I now walk at least 2-miles every day. I’m proud of that. For me, it’s the equivalent of a marathon.
Midlife Motivation Example #2: First Step Toward Writing
Writing is not always easy. I don’t fit the cliche’ writer who works at her desk in her pajamas. I can’t just write anywhere; I’ve tried to write on vacations, and I just can’t. But what’s worse than all of that is when the challenge of what to write, how to write it, and other such thoughts overwhelm me. With my current Work-in-progress (WIP), there is so much information.
The man I’m writing about has had an amazing life with many, many turning points. Having enough material for the book is not a problem – organizing it, is. And I don’t mean organizing in the paperwork way. I can shuffle papers with the best of ’em.
But organizing this massive project in my head is often paralyzing.
When one day of frustration is only followed by another day of frustration – I have a tendency to not want to face it again. But that’s where the first step comes in. Writers call it BIC which is short for Butt-in-Chair. For those of us who write(or work) at home, there are a myriad of home tasks that plead for attention; the pile of laundry, the dishes in the sink, the cobwebs in the corner.
And when writing is frustrating, there are even more things calling us; the windows need washing (inside and out), the spice cupboard needs organizing, and maybe I should alphabetize my books, and sort them on the shelves by genre too. Everything, and I mean everything – looks more enticing than facing the blank page.
So, the first step in my writing day is the most important. I sit down in my office chair with the blank screen in front of me.
I vow to keep my butt glued to that chair until I’ve written. And just like putting my shoes on and taking a step out the door, I find that this first step leads me to something even more surprising than my daily walks could be – I write. I may struggle at first, and even consider getting up from said chair. But then it happens – I begin to write.
Before I know it, I’ve lost myself in the creative process. I’ve written paragraphs, which lead to pages, and pages lead to chapters and that all-important word-count. I marvel at where the time has gone. But time has passed, the scenery outside my window has changed – the lighting is different.
And I’ve done it. I’ve written.
It’s exhilarating to know that I can do this. Just one step can put my feet on the ground, my fingers on the keyboard.
I apply this to remodeling my home too.
Midlife Motivation Example #3: First Step in Home Remodeling
As a single woman who just bought a 100-year old house, it can be overwhelming to wake up each morning only to add more things to my to-do list. Sometimes, that too is paralyzing – just like writing and exercising. There’s so much to do, that I do nothing. I know how illogical my rationale is. Of course, with any new-to-you house, there will be things to do on it. Some things you can do yourself, others you clearly need a professional, and still others are things you’re not sure of.
My crumbling and gigantic trees that loom over my house and the houses of my neighbors are clearly best left to professionals; I simply don’t have the tree expertise to do anything myself. Fixing the drip-drip-dripping faucet is something I may be able to do myself. But there are other things I know I can do, if I can just get myself to do it.
For example, the very first thing I decided couldn’t wait on my new house was the paint on my bedroom walls. At first I thought I could wait on it. But after too many nights (less than a month) of staring at the walls, ceiling, and that awful light fixture overhead, I decided to paint.
Have you been to a paint store lately?
That’s for another post! So, how did I get myself to finally start painting my room?
Three paint colors made the final cut. I slathered each one on the wall – not in some inconspicuous place, but in the middle of each wall. And you know what? I couldn’t stand looking at it (I knew that would be the case). The walls screamed to me to finish. That first step of putting the paint on the walls, propelled me to finish – no matter the cost to my poor body. It probably took me longer than most.
But I was persistent and got it done. And I love, love, love it!
1-Step Your Way to Success
As you can see, using the one-step process works for anything. Just being cognizant of it can change your life. I’m not being melodramatic. Imagine making that one phone call to someone you know could further your career, but whom you have deemed unreachable.
What if she responds and that propels your career to another level?
How about that half-marathon you’ve promised yourself you would train for?
What would happen if you do a Google search today for a smaller race that takes place in your own town?
Or maybe it’s something very personal, something that you need to explore; marriage, relationships, children. There are answers, but they’re not “out there.” No, the answers you seek are already within you! Don’t be lulled into doing nothing simply because when you step back, the big picture is sooo big.
It only takes one step. That’s all you have to commit to.
What are you working on?
What step can you take today?
Start Over at Midlife