Just Do It, But Start With a Small Step

If you’re reading this sentence, it means that I proved my point without even getting you through the rest of the

I’ve just got back from a run, which reminded me of a principle that is etched in my mind and serves as one of my mottoes in life.

I didn’t really want to go running today. I had an eventful weekend, which included many miles of walking. I was tired and hungry and had a presentation for a lecture I’m giving tomorrow to prepare. Many good reasons to call it a day and give up on this one run. After all I run 3-4 times a week; skipping one day won’t be the end of the world.

But then again, giving up on even one run is a slippery slope. You resonate it once, and soon you find even better explanations for why you shouldn’t run the next time, and the one after. Before you know it, you’re not running anymore. So no, I wasn’t willing to give up on this one.

To overcome my weariness I set myself with a humble goal – put running shoes on. I then pleaded myself to walk out the door and jog just for a little. Any distance, I promised myself, will do. Even a mile or two will be better than not running at all.

It worked. As soon as I took just a few steps the earlier fatigue evaporated, and I started to feel invigorated; a feeling that strengthen as I gulped more steps. After a mile or so I had no doubt I’ll run my regular 3 miles.

So far, nothing special. I’m used to that routine. Every time I have to do something that requires attention and focus, like replying to a long email, writing a new blog post, or do something that I’m not excited about, such as taking the dishes out of the dish washer, I have to deliberate and negotiate with that side of me that wants to rest and be left alone. The most effective weapon I use to avoid procrastination is taking the smallest possible step. Click the “reply” button, write the first line of the potential post, or open the dish washer door. Chances are this small step is enough to push me through the completion of the task.

But today’s run was special, in that it illustrated how powerful the “small step” principle is.

As I mentioned, few steps were enough to push me for to run my regular distance. But then, before reaching half way to that goal, I felt a surge of energy. I don’t know why it suddenly emerged, maybe a good idea that I came up with for my presentation, but it made me feel ambitious. I now wanted to hit the 5 miles’ mark. Remarkably, when I got to the 5 miles turning point, I wanted to go even further. I didn’t though, because I had to go back home, since dinner was on its way [1].

Nike’s slogan, “Just do it”, is inspiring. Yet it doesn’t solve for how you get yourself to “do it”. Taking a small, modest and non-committing step is the most effective way to get things done. But I’m not saying something new here. Much was already written about the power of a small step. Kaizen [2] is built around this concept. I’m just attesting that it really works.

Back to the first sentence of this post. I though about all of this during my run, and figured it might make an interesting post. But by the time I got home, had dinner and set to finish my presentation, I was too tired to start writing. I also wasn’t too encouraged to do it, given the finale of that run (more on it in a sec). I convinced myself, though, to write only one sentence, the one that opens this post.The power of small steps…

Now let me conclude with an anti-climax: this heroic run. I got to the 2.5 miles mark and turned back for the second half. But then, about a mile before the finish line, my legs failed me, and vetoed my aspirations. They forced me to stop at once, and did me a favor by carrying me that last mile, clumping and aching. This breakdown, which I never experienced before, left me confused: should I be happy for not giving up on this run, or disappointed for stopping before reaching my goal. I’m too tired though, so I’ll leave it for you to decide.

[1] By now I should have stakes in Seamless. Ordering every night for the last 2 years makes me an angle investors, at least…

[2] Kaizen is the practice of continuous improvement. Read more about it.

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