Notes from a Floating Life Thoughts about productivity, digital living, and leading a simpler life

Small Steps, Not Big Splashes

One Sunday morning a few years ago, I woke up feeling under the weather. And in a move that was very uncharacteristic of me, I marked out my territory on the sofa with a couple of pillows and a blanket and turned on the TV. But instead of watching the usual fare, I tuned into BBC World News.

One of the shows was a weekly call-in programme, in which the host took phone calls, emails, texts, and Skype calls from viewers around the world. That particular was devoted to climate change and how to reduce your carbon footprint. The one email that I recall was from a viewer in Scotland. He wrote that he couldn’t afford to convert his household to green technologies and, that being one person, his efforts wouldn’t put a dent in the situation.

I remember what I thought at the moment: that’s the wrong attitude. Why? Sure, that viewer couldn’t afford turn his home into a bastion of renewable energy. But he could have take several small steps — like using energy-efficient bulbs, turning off lights, air drying his clothes. Admittedly one person doing that makes no appreciable difference. If a 100 do that, it puts a small dent in the problem. A million? That makes a huge difference.

What does that have to do with you? A lot. There are two lessons that you can learn from that BBC News programme.

First, the need to pace yourself in everything you do or attempt. Someone once told me that overnight success takes a long time. You won’t reach your destination in a day or a week or a month. Nothing happens all at once. No matter what you’re doing — building a career, creating a habit, learning a language, picking up a new skill — you need to take small, steady steps to reach the point that you want to reach.

Pouring all of your effort and energy into something could quickly reap rewards. More likely, though, you will either burn out or get frustrated because after a certain amount of time you won’t be where you think you should be. The temptation, the urge to quit is strongest at those points. Yes, I am speaking from experience.

Second, play a long game. No matter what you’re doing, too much can get in the way. Family. Friends. Social commitments. The day job. No matter how focused and dedicated you are, all of that (and more) can throw you off track.

When playing that long game, you need to set reasonable expectations. You need to set reasonable goals. Take, for example, a colleague of mine He’s doing an academic course which, when undertaken full time, requires four years to complete. He’s doing the course part time, and figures it will take him five or six years.

While completing a journey by taking small steps requires more time than taking big ones, those small steps can have as much of an impact. Taking small steps gives you time to reflect and recharge. It gives you time to take more in. It gives you time to notice other paths and solutions. It gives you a chance to find a balance.

You’ll reach your destination in the end, but you’ll be better and wiser person.

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