Lately I’ve been realizing the importance of baby steps. It’s very easy to fall into the assumption that everything we do should yield quick results. The fact is: it won’t. When you go to work on something, a piece of writing or a business plan, the reality of the situation is that you are going to work on yourself. The product left over at the end is just gravy. If the product were the main result of your work, then expecting immediate change and impact would be reasonable: you’ve made the product, now it will have an impact. Duh. What I failed to grasp until recently was how the product is not what makes your impact. YOU ARE. All those hours you spent writing, or working out, or learning about your body weren’t about publishing your fitness manual. Nope. They were about transforming yourself; becoming better, more vast, more open, and more accepting. Because in the end, that’s what gets results. Not your work, you.
So how do baby steps come into the picture? Well it’s hard to change yourself overnight. If it is possible, then it takes unprecedented amounts of courage, openness, and willingness to act. In reality progress is a slog. Perseverance is king, and he who has none but a pauper. The metaphor that comes to mind is a gym. You can’t be a geek off the street, and walk in expecting to dead-lift 300lbs. But spend a year training diligently and 300lbs is well withing your grasp (seriously its a lot more accessible than it sounds). In anything creative (even deadlifting is creative: you’re creating strength and well being) fast results are extremely unlikely. I’m reminded of an ebook I saw called 242 Days to Overnight Success. Success is obviously not something that happens overnight. It takes small creative intervals performed consistently over time with little or no visible reward. Then one day you reach a tipping point. People point and say “Oh look, he’s so lucky just falling ass-backwards into wild success.” They don’t realize the hard and lonely hours you put in to get there. How you didn’t work harder than other people, you worked much much harder.
There are times where you need to take drastic action to produce an immediate result. To illustrate I will tell my father’s story of almost dying in Madison Wisconsin. He moved into a new apartment with his best friend, and they were both really excited beceause the dwelling had a gas fire place. The only problem was the gas was turned off, so they did what any resourceful chemistry students would do: got a bottle of gas from the lab and hooked it up with some surgical tubing! As they were sitting enjoying their cozy fire they started to get very drowsy. Just as my dad was drifting off to a nap, he looked over and saw his best friend doing the same. They immediately jumped up, opened all the windows, and ran outside feeling lucky to be alive. My dad had realized instantly that the room had slowly been filling with carbon-monoxide, a deadly gas. That’s what had been making them drowsy. If they had fallen asleep they never would have woken up. Dramatic action saved their lives. Had they taken a baby step (“let’s just turn off the fire, and go to sleep”) they never would have survived.
Dramatic action need to be taken to end a destructive pattern, whether its carbon monoxide filling a room, or a slow spiral into depression. That’s the time you will see results immediately. Then, get back to focusing on your baby steps.