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Love Your Life Series, #16: Focus on Small Wins

Mirai NagasuThis picture from the Olympics is high on my list of favorite pictures ever. It shows Figure Skater Mirai Nagasu, who became the first US skater to land a triple axle during the Olympics. I don’t have a lot of ice skating expertise (which coincidentally, is also why I have fake front teeth. Turns out this “Pudge” was not meant to skate!) but I get that this was a major win for not only Nagasu, but the whole sport. Can you imagine going into a jump– which was actually the first in her program– knowing that no other woman in the history of US athletes has ever successfully done this thing while at the Olympics? Talk about negative mental mojo.

Some of the things we want to do in life feel just as daunting. The task feels so huge that it’s almost enough to stop us in our tracks. We get side swiped by overwhelm. And then, helpfully, we make the task feel even larger by our own panic and worry.

But everything starts to change when we focus on small wins. Success is a series of small wins

“Small wins” is kind of a buzzword in the self-help community these days, specifically as it relates to habit formation. Small wins are little milestones on the way to your goal. Focusing on them, and celebrating them as you achieve them helps fight overwhelm.

For example, lots of people are trying really hard to get out from under a pile o’ debt. They have 50K, or 200K or whatever it is, and they want to be free from it. It makes me hyperventilate just thinking about it. Dave Ramsey, the popular money guru of Total Money Makeover fame, advocates a series of “baby steps” that works on this same principle. The first baby step is “Save $1000.” It’s cut and dry. Not easy, mind you, but doable. Ramsey teaches people how to focus only on that until it’s achieved, at which point they can go on to step two.

Or say, you have a lot of weight to lose. If you tell yourself you need to lose 50lbs, or 100 or whatever– the task likely feels too overwhelming to ever get serious about. Yeah, been there. I still had about forty pounds left to go when I hit the first of my major plateaus. I did everything I could. I finally put 8 five pound bags of flour on my counter where I’d have to deal with them every day. They stayed there for several months until my trainer finally issued an ultimatum: I could either get rid of them, or he was going to come do it for me. And since he is also my best friend, and the one who takes care of my cats when I got out of town, this was no idle threat. He also has a way of making anything he perceives as “clutter” disappear, so you know, this was a bad plan. He informed me that from that point on, all I was allowed to focus on was losing 1/4 of a pound. Doing the math, that meant all I had to worry about was 875 calories. It wasn’t long after that that I did finally start making progress again– which I am certain was complete coincidence!

The older less young I get, the more I’m starting to see wisdom in cliche expressions. There’s an awful lot to be said for believing “The journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step”, and “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

Dreaming what feels like the impossible dream? Start by doing one thing, and really focusing on doing it right. Celebrate when you get it done, and go right on to the next small thing. It turns out the only way to eat an elephant (which is a completely terrible expression) is one bite at a time.

What’s your BIG goal? What’s the first small step that you can take to getting there? Focus all your effort on that one step. I’d love to know what you’re working on and how you plan to get there. Leave a comment so I can cheer you on!

A note from Pudge: Hi, everyone! Thanks so much for following this series! I’ve really enjoyed writing this series, and have learned a lot from doing it, but I’ve realized I need to wrap things up this sooner than I planned, so this will be the last post in the series. Good things, though– good things! It’s a good thing I had the accidental foresight to write Don’t Finish What You Start earlier in this series! 😉


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