Susan Steen

Susan Steen

"That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind." —Neil Armstrong

We want to be rich overnight.

We want to be successful on our first try.

We want to fix our flaws now.

We want to lose whatever amount of weight this week.

We want our house to be clean and organized just like that.

We want to convince other people of our views immediately.

Immediate gratification seems to be all the rage these days. Maybe it's always been this way – pulling at us to get what we want now, at the cost of a better item down the road. More likely than not, it is the small steps that will help us get where we want to go.

Neil Armstrong did not wake up one day and decide he would travel to the moon and step onto its surface. His small step onto the surface of the moon was the culmination of many small steps before, which allowed mankind to feel it had taken a giant leap.

In the past few months, I've been reading a lot of good writing on steps, and there is no doubt in my mind that small steps, even tiny steps, will help us reach our destinations much better than charging through to do it all in a small amount of time. This is a revelation for me, you see, because I am a champion at going full steam ahead on a project, until I drop. Even my writing, which I do daily, is benefiting from this new thinking of small steps.

How do you work? You have a project due for work next Thursday. Will you wait until Tuesday and maybe even Wednesday afternoon to really dig into it, and in one giant step, try to achieve what might have been more easily and thoroughly achieved if you had taken more small steps to get there?

It's the same reason we start on a big cleaning project and run out of steam before the project is complete, or why weeding the entire flower bed in one day leaves us aching and exhausted for several days to follow.

We can get by, but what if I told you we could do better? We can. Research proves it to me, as does watching my friends who train for marathons - they don't just wake up one day and run a marathon, they train in small, sometimes tiny, steps.

The biggest problem I see in my nonprofessional opinion is that we tend to shame people who can't take the small steps or can't delay gratification, but aren't necessarily doing better ourselves. If you are a parent of any age child, do you lead by example or just tell them how they should be doing things?

The Stanford Marshmallow Experiment in 1972 seemed like a test of which children would grow up to be smarter than the others, but the fact that children could be taught ways to delay gratification to get the bigger treat is proof that given tools and a plan, there isn't much we can't accomplish. If a child can be helped to wait out for a bigger reward, it makes sense that adults can do so, too.

There are plenty of books available on accomplishing goals – from learning a new language, to becoming a heart healthy accomplished chef, to becoming the next Warren Buffett. If it were as easy as declaring your goal, motivation would never be lacking, and we would all be speaking several languages, cooking amazing meals while keeping a healthy figure and heart and wondering what to do with all our money in the bank.

Each book gives us hope that we will finally have the magic combination, but with more than a few hundred books on the list, it must require more than motivation. James Clear's book, “Atomic Habits,” is one of the best I've read, and B.J. Fogg's, “Tiny Habits,” is my favorite. Fogg isn't just an author, though that's a great title for any of us. Fogg is a behavior scientist who has run a lab at Stanford for more than 20 years. He is delightful and has a proven track record.

According to Fogg, our desired behavior happens when motivation, ability and prompt come together at the same time. If you are positive you want to become a great baker of sourdough bread or behavior, motivation is good for a while, but what happens if it wanes? While you have the motivation, you also need the ability, which would include actually having some sourdough starter, along with the other ingredients.

If you have the motivation and the starter, but you forget to set a reminder of a doable time to feed the starter and bake the bread, you will not achieve the desired behavior of becoming a great sourdough bread baker. Feel free to substitute other goals that fit your life.

Because Fogg has been living this way and teaching this method for so long, it is clear to see it will work, and the secret of his plan is tiny steps, tiny habits.

We can set up doable steps that will become tiny habits, which will lead to bigger habits, but we have to decide it's what we want. The child who could wait for a double dessert by not touching the marshmallow in front of him was able to use a thought process that leads to a bigger reward. You and I can do that, too. It isn't as gratifying in the moment, but in the long run will be much more sustainable a part of our lives.

Neil Armstrong took several small steps to lead to his most famous step, and because of that, mankind was able to take a giant leap in space exploration. What small steps will you and I take now that will result in a more successful relationship with friends, a greater career, or a less strained bank account? It all begins with one step.

Susan Black Steen is a writer and photographer, a native Tennessean and a graduate of Austin Peay State University who lives in Murfreesboro. With a firm belief that words matter, she writes and speaks to bring joy, comfort and understanding into each life. Sometimes, she matches her words and pictures. Always, she writes from her heart with the hope of speaking to the hearts of others.

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