As some of you know, I have started a new, healthy habit in the weeks since mid-July — running. In my last post, I mentioned that I had a goal of running five miles each day for four days a week by the end of October. Today, I’m excited to announce that I met this goal last week — yes, during the final full week of September, a full month ahead of schedule!
As I celebrated last week, I found myself reflecting once again on the thoughts that had supported me in achieving what I had set out, and wanted, to accomplish. I determined that one particular idea had been instrumental in the process. I decided to call this idea, ”Moving Forward by Breaking Down” — not in the sense of breaking down psychologically, but in the sense of breaking down my goal. I was reminded of the joke that asks, “How do you eat an elephant?” If you haven’t heard the answer before, it is, “One bite at a time!”
You see, as I was adding an extra mile to my route over the course of the previous weeks, I engaged in a certain kind of self-talk whenever I was feeling the strain of the increased distance. I noticed saying to myself, “Get as far as that bend up ahead!” and then, “That big tree, with the branch hanging over the trail, is not much farther!” and so on — until I reached the five-mile mark, and could begin my cool-down. I was breaking down the extra mile into shorter sections that I could define by visual targets, and finish one at a time. I celebrated each ”milestone” that I met with an internal attaboy, then, and used my success in reaching that point to propel me forward, toward the next.
The result was being able to get through that fifth mile even on days that I was really feeling the extra distance and time on the trail, and I’m betting that I can put this principle to use in other circumstances, too. I think of the writing that I like to do, for example – on posts for this very blog – and how overwhelmed I can start to feel when I’m focusing on the whole of my goal, and have lost track of the goal’s constituent parts. I’m now remembering what Anne Lamott, in Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (1995), recalls her father saying to her older brother, who, at ten-years-old, was paralyzed by the prospect of writing a report on birds: “‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird (19).’” Whether we’re talking about bird reports or blog posts, miles or elephants, breaking down our goals into smaller, more manageable-feeling pieces can be one way to help ourselves move forward, and to achieve what we want to accomplish.
When have you broken down a goal into smaller steps to help yourself accomplish what you wanted to achieve? What other thoughts supported you along the way?
Please note that no elephants were actually eaten, or otherwise harmed, in the writing of this post!
Image credit: bondsza / 123RF Stock Photo
Scott is a psychotherapist, personal development coach, and the founder of Thought Tonic. He dedicates his work to those who identify themselves as struggling with anxious thinking, and often their self-esteem, to help them experience their lives with greater calm and confidence.