Baby Steps

At the end of 2011, I wrote a set of New Year’s resolutions. My life at that point had reached a kind of comfortable stasis–a contented holding pattern that felt very easy to settle into indefinitely. I had finally finished school. I had a good job, a good family, a good life. But I was turning 28, not 22. I wasn’t excited about what I was doing, I wasn’t using my degree in my work, I wasn’t living the life I really wanted, and I didn’t want to wake up at 30 and still be living that same status quo. I wanted to take 2012 and use it to change my life.

Fast forward two years to my 30th birthday. I was still in the same basic pattern. The same job, the same general activities, the same patterns, and the same struggles. To the outside observer, my life still looked pretty much the same.

But, during the time since I wrote those resolutions, I’ve realized something incredibly powerful: Change doesn’t happen overnight, or in a single week or even a single year. Real, powerful, lifelong change takes real time to develop. I have learned to appreciate that slow, incremental progress is still progress. That a small step forward every day is worlds better than a huge leap every once in a long while. I have learned to value baby steps.

Take, as an example, dieting. I have been on a lot of diets over the past 14 years. A lot. I never had any measurable success until 2010, when I met an amazing friend who helped me push past all of the ways I’d been holding myself back. All told, I lost about 40 pounds through dieting and lots of exercise. But even then, I hadn’t fixed my food and activity issues.  When I started working a regular job, I stopped exercising regularly, and the weight crept back on.

I lost the weight again from June 2013 to June 2014 by giving up sugar. But I hadn’t relearned the exercise habit, and I hadn’t conquered the emotional addiction to food that brought me that excess weight again in the first place. So despite losing weight, I still have a long way to go before I’ll have the healthy lifestyle I’ve always wanted.

However, none of these experiences mean that I’ve failed. I wouldn’t have been able to get to where I am now if I hadn’t first gone through the learning process of all the other diets I tried, and failed to stick to. Even way back in my late teens, during one of my early attempts at healthy eating, I made the switch to brown rice from white. That was the only change from that time that stuck, but it’s now a deeply ingrained, healthy habit. During the no-sugar year, I finally gave up soda for good and no longer want it. Every failure has in truth produced some small piece of a greater, more permanent success.

As I examine how I have changed over the past few years, I can see that simple fact repeating itself through all of the areas of my life that I’ve worked to improve. I’m still not where I want to be. But all of my failures have taught me things, made me stronger or smarter or helped me to better know myself. Every ounce of effort I’ve put toward my goals has brought me just a little bit closer, and despite all of the setbacks, I’ve made more real progress on improving my life in the past three years than some people make in a lifetime.

Look at your life and be really honest about your failures. What did you learn? What positive thing, no matter how small, stuck with you? I’m willing to bet that you’ll find the same pattern in your life as I did in mine. Whatever you’ve been working toward, you may not be there yet. But all the work you’ve put in has secretly been taking you, by incremental progress, at that slow and steady pace, closer and closer to your goals. A failure is never really a failure, as long as you keep coming back for more.

So embrace your set backs, and learn to love your baby steps. They’re more powerful than you ever knew.

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