Monday, April 11, 2011

Baby Steps Get You There

You’ve been “following the breadcrumbs” and are feeling ready to take action toward what you want to be/do/have. Except, a sense of overwhelm sets in as you contemplate what may seem like a massive goal or undertaking, and worry whether you can achieve it.

Making changes in life or tackling big projects can sometimes feel very daunting – especially when juggling a busy schedule, various relationships, and multiple priorities. If approached systematically, however, it does not have to feel like an all-or-nothing situation.

The key thing to remember is: every endeavor is a series of small steps and milestones. Your success is dependent upon having and working a plan, and committing to action by taking "baby steps" with persistence and consistency. Over time, the cumulative effect of those steps build momentum and bring you toward each milestone, and an eventual finish line.

Picking up from step 6B in the Following the Breadcrumbs post, here are instructions on how to create and take those baby steps:
  1. Make Your Plan. SMART goal setting will help you with this, so you can get super clear about what you are trying to achieve. You will be specific, have a way to measure it so you know whether you’ve accomplished your goal, and will have a time-frame established as a “by when.”
  2. Align With Your Core. Reacquaint yourself with the purpose for what you want to create or accomplish by identifying where it aligns (or not) with your values and what’s most important to you. This will serve as a foundation and touchstone to keep you motivated when you feel the desire to delay or quit.
  3. Envision the Desired Outcome. While it’s important to focus more on the journey than the destination, it helps to have a good idea of the direction you are heading. Spend some time getting a clear picture in your mind’s eye of you crossing the finish line, how you will feel, and what life will be like. If it helps, draw it out, collage it, or write a description. Again, it’s a motivator, and a magnet.
  4. Create Milestones. Take that SMART goal, and break it down into markers along your path. Every project or undertaking has smaller achievements along the way. Imagine this as shorter term goals on the way to your larger one. Therefore, the milestones should also follow the SMART goal format.
  5. Create Baby Steps. Take the first milestone and break it down further into smaller, more manageable bite-size chunks. Depending on the objective, these may be “baby steps” you take every day or a few times a week. However, if you find that the steps are extending out more than once every couple of weeks, you probably need to break the steps down into even smaller steps so that there can be frequent forward movement.
  6. Work Your Plan. This is where the rubber meets the road. Do whatever planning will help you, but make sure not to stay here longer than necessary (analysis-paralysis). Take action, and make tweaks to your plan along the way as you learn more about yourself and what is necessary to get to your first and subsequent milestones.
Because these "baby steps" are small, you can sidestep overwhelm. They help you move gradually, while building momentum toward what you want with a sense of accomplishment and pride. You may have some bumps along the way, but it will be up to you to keep an eye on yourself. Be sure you are managing your time and energy effectively (read this post for some tips), plan your procrastination (if you have this tendency), and ask for help if you need it.

The key to success is consistency and persistence, and keeping in touch with your core (step 2) and vision (step 3). Having a motivating context, clear structure, and set of steps will help you stay inspired. You will also feel pulled toward your end goal rather than experiencing it like you are in a constant push toward the finish line.