Tiny steps make major leaps

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Most of you know by now that I am on a quest to get my mojo back. After five years sitting in front of my computer screen eating Oreos, writing blog posts and producing two kids, I thought it was time to get back in shape.

My first tentative step was to join a gym six months ago. I worked out one day, then paid the membership for six months without even putting my hand on the front door one time.

Then about two weeks ago, something snapped. Or rather, didn’t snap, as in most of the pairs of pants I have in my closet. My four-year old Josh said “Mom, why don’t we go to that place where you lift heavy things and get healthy?” I couldn’t argue with that and signed up to work out with a trainer.

Two weeks into the process, I am four and a half pounds lighter and feeling much better.

As I was warming up on the treadmill yesterday, it dawned on me that there are direct parallels between taking the first step out of a dreaded cubicle job and slowly melting five years of Oreos off your frame.

Here are my parallels:

  • There will never be a better time to begin than right now.
    It is a little crazy to focus on getting in shape the week before Thanksgiving, isn’t it? That is what I did, even though I knew it would be a challenge to eat in moderation while huge platters of mashed potatoes and gravy were passed under my nose. I didn’t count calories and skip pumpkin pie, but because I was feeling sore from workouts I simply didn’t want to eat three times more food than my body needed (only twice as much).

    Cube correlation: There will always be a time that makes “more sense” to start working on your plans, like after the holidays, or your annual bonus payout, or when you get through the piles of work on your desk. Don’t fool yourself. These small delays add up to weeks, months and years of thwarted plans. Take a tiny step right now, this moment, even before finishing this post. Then come back and read the rest.

  • Make tasks concrete
    I love big picture planning and creative possibilities. But when I am focused on a specific goal, I want to know exactly what I have to do to complete it. When my trainer tells me “do as many push-ups as you can, ” I HATE it. Tell me to do 25 and I will do them. Give me three sets of 10 and my brain will coerce my body into compliance.

    Cube correlation: You need to move vague ideas into specific tasks. “Create a profitable business next year” needs to move to tiny little tasks like “Create a 10/20/30-style PowerPoint presentation for new partners.” or “Write first paragraph of book proposal.” Your brain will get overwhelmed with huge, overarching tasks, and will end up doing nothing, or at least much less than your true capabilities.

  • Schedule the time
    For six months, I paid gym membership dues while thinking “I am going to get in shape really soon.” In the meantime, my calendar filled up with meetings, calls and writing projects.  This changed when I added “training session with Brandon” and “Yoga, 9-10am” to my schedule. Mixed among my “important” other weekly activities, it suddenly became real.

    Cube correlation: Change “I am going to start coding my new project next week” to “Write first 3 lines of code on new project, 7-8 am, Tuesday, December 15.” Guard this time fiercely, and don’t try to cram in too much to each session.

  • You aren’t crazy if you panic while trying to get started
    How hard is it to do 10 sit ups or eat a salad or walk around the block? About as hard as climbing Mt. Everest, if you let your thoughts get the best of you.

    The wonderful Merlin Mann recommended I read The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life by Twyla Tharp. I loved her description of stepping into an empty white room before composing a new dance piece:

    “To some people, this empty room symbolizes something profound, mysterious, and terrifying: the task of starting with nothing and working your way toward creating something whole and beautiful and satisfying. It’s no different for a writer rolling a fresh sheet of paper in the typewriter (or more likely firing up the blank screen on his computer), or a painter confronting a virginal canvas, a sculptor staring at a raw chunk of stone, a composer at the piano with his finger hovering above the keys. Some people find this moment – the moment before creativity begins- so painful they simply cannot deal with it. They get up and walk away from the computer, the canvas, the keyboard; they take a nap or go shopping or fix lunch or do chores around the house. They procrastinate. In its most extreme form, this terror totally paralyzes people.”

    Cube correlation: Don’t let yourself get stuck in white room paralysis. If you want to write a book, start a Word document, divide the document into sections (if you don’t know the chapter titles yet, use “Chapter 1, Chapter 2, etc.) and type out the most miserable drivel you can imagine somewhere on the document. Having words on the page will make you feel like you are making progress.

  • In the short term, it feels better to avoid than to act
    It is hard to argue that having a toned, fit body, healthy heart and clear mind will feel great. But before you get there, there are a thousand moments when you choose between feeling good in the moment (eating chips or Oreos, watching Law & Order reruns on the couch instead of taking a walk) or looking after your long-term health.

    Cube correlation: As much as you loathe your job, it can feel easier to coast through each day, moving from meaningless meeting (where you secretly farm on Facebook while pretending to pay attention) to lunch to afternoon breaks where you comment on blogs like Escape from Cubicle Nation.  The first step in change is to acknowledge that you are taking the easy road. Sit with the feeling that washes over you as you choose not to take the easy road.  Think about where you really want to be in your career. Then take a step in the healthy direction.

  • Don’t do it alone
    My husband doesn’t see the need for a trainer, since he has always incorporated exercise into his every day routine. He does squats while brushing his teeth. And does a few sets of crunches before bed each night.

    I am not my husband. I know myself well enough by now to know that I will never start an exercise program by myself. I need a trainer, or an instructor in a room full of sweaty students to change my habits and create a new pattern. Once the pattern is established, I am pretty self-directed.

    Cube correlation:  I realize you manage million-dollar budgets in your day job or direct marketing for Fortune 500 companies. This has nothing to do with your ability to be objective about your own business. Many people get paralyzed when trying to coach themselves, even if they know exactly what they should be doing. Some of us are just wired like that. So get a mentor, coach, mastermind buddy or teacher. With the right guidance, you will save money, time and resources by doing the right things in the right order. And most importantly, you will get the results you desire.

You and I may have a long way to go in our respective journeys toward health and career fitness. No matter where we end up, we will feel better for taking tiny steps in the right direction.

Enjoy the journey.

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44 Responses to “Tiny steps make major leaps”

  1. I actually take pleasure in just seeing all your weblogs. Just needed to tell you that you can find regular people like me who value your work.

  2. Billy Kirsch says:

    Although this post is old, I’ve just stumbled across it! All of your tips relate to beginning any change process, and are relevant and valuable. When I work with leadership groups, I find it’s the initial inertia that’s the biggest challenge. Once we get started, momentum is a wonderful thing!

  3. […] Page Lambert Comment on Tiny Steps Make Major Leaps at Escape From Cubicle Nation, 8 December, […]

  4. Vin Turk says:

    Great post…you just got another subscriber.

  5. Trish Rubin says:

    I too reminded myself to really be present in the small moments. And the gym is one for me too…off to pump. Thanks!!!

  6. Rhonda says:

    Gretchen at the Happiness Project sent me over here. Funny I just blogged about starting my new workout committment, intentionally just before Thanksgiving. I figured the gyms were pretty empty and there was less chance of embarassing myself. I feel so much better already; my goal is to get fitter for gardening. Everything is truly all about baby steps, but I believe there is something to timing nonetheless. Starting when you have the best chance of staying committed is sometimes the ticket, not necessarily procrastinating.
    Love the common-sense approach of the ‘Cube’.
    .-= Rhonda´s last blog ..For The Love of Gardening =-.

  7. Pam, one of the most important personal development advice you can give – we are afraid of big targets, but small are easy and are like breadcrumbs on our path to the life we desire. Also, each small step gives use satisfaction that fuels us to further effort.

    Thanks for reminding!

  8. Stephen says:

    The “In the short term, it feels better to avoid than to act” Cube Correlation hits home to me and possibly to the ¾ of the work force that is currently disengaged from their work. The reasons for the disengagement could be many and varied. But the effect of this disengagement is a very real and personal attack on your self-esteem. The dissonance can be suffocating and effect the rest of your life. It becomes a malaise, a sickness that saps joy, happiness, fulfillment, satisfaction. And the sad part, in the end, it’s not all the employers fault. I, as a decent employee owe it to myself to contribute. Thanks – great post.

  9. I totally agree with one point in this article. There will never be a better time to start than now. Start now but hold yourself back and just get your foot in the door. Make gradual progress and your results are virtually guaranteed. What is created quickly can be destroyed quickly. Great post!
    .-= Richard | RichardShelmerdine.com´s last blog ..Awareness Meditation =-.

  10. My husband and I breakfast on frogs, to use the cliche. We do what we dread most, first–our run. No small feat given the subzero temps and colder than twenty below windchills on many a Minnesota morning.

    The rest of the day is easier, because the worst is out of the way. We come home to warm showers and the good feeling of the best health insurance money can’t buy.

  11. Carlos Velez says:

    Does it ever go away completely? I am finding a rhythm to the blogging process but I still fight these hang ups and procrastinate for some amount of time before I get to work.

    my friend Aaron wrote a post about the blank page that helped me get my mind warmed up to the task of starting my posts…Filling In The Blanks – Unstressed Syllables. Your part about the anxiety of a blank canvas reminded me of it a lot.

    thanks for the tips. there’s so much change going on right now…it was a much needed refresher!

  12. Cheryl Kling says:

    Pam, The part about ‘don’t do it alone’ is really helpful. I could do Pilates at home after work, but the couch is easier to nap on than the floor. It actually takes less effort and motivation to go out to a Pilates class on Saturday morning where I appreciate other people around with a common goal. Fortunately, there are no couches where I work and lots of people to collaborate with.

  13. I love the point about there never being a better time to begin than right now. This is a good slao in the head for me. Saying, “I’m going to start this up tomorrow” sounds so authoritative and decisive.

    And yet tomorrow never quite turns into today. Eek.

    Instead of starting up my new marketing 2010 plans on January 1st, I think I’ll begin right now. Thanks.
    .-= Jason of Kim & Jason´s last blog ..A Quick Thought on Toys =-.

  14. Kevin Kuzia says:

    I really got a kick out of the fact you started your new fitness program right before Thanksgiving. I have always been a bit of a health/fitness/exercise nut, but I wanted to take all of that to a new level. So I hired a really good diet coach to advise me… and for reasons I will never truly understand, I started this 12 week program about 7 weeks ago.

    Right in the middle of the good eating holidays.

    *sigh* I ain’t too bright.

    But at the same time, your point is a profound one in that I just didn’t feel like making any more excuses for myself to keep waiting. There is ALWAYS a reason to put things off and it’s so easy to rationalize.

    The funny thing for me (and this may reveal how out-of-whack I truly am), the fact I am doing this during a less-than-ideal time of year is something I am enjoying as a real challenge. If I can get through this well… why not the rest of the year? Thus far I am down almost 13 lbs in 7 weeks and my lifting performance in the gym has actually gotten better.

    Now if I can only take all of this mojo and apply it to figuring out my direction for striking out on my own… : )
    .-= Kevin Kuzia´s last blog ..Sometimes it’s just about getting out of bed =-.

  15. Nate says:

    Pam – I LOVE point #2: “Make Tasks Concrete”

    I think so many fail at their endeavors and goals because they are too vague. Let’s take working out for an example. Someone might say, “I want to get in shape.” They then join a gym and end up quitting after a month. Instead, make it specific and measureable.

    EXAMPLE: “I want to lose 10 pounds so I look good in my swimming suit for the Spring trip we have planned in three months.”

    So, this does two things. You have a specific goal: Lose ten pounds. And you set a timeline to achieve success: Three months.

    I think doing the above makes it much more likely that you’ll stay motivated.

    As always, thanks for the great advice!
    .-= Nate´s last blog ..Fearless Doing: Mindfulness Practice =-.

    • Pamela says:

      I am totally with you Nate! When you spell out tasks concretely, they become so much easier.

      Have a great holiday season — I appreciate your support and frequent comments!


  16. Judy says:

    I am a new reader of your blog and this is my first comment. I had to let you know how helpful this post is for me. I am still employed full-time, but looking forward to making my escape. My main “problem” seems to be with procrastination and this post really helped me see some of the reasons why I am procrastinating. I feel like if I don’t get to spend all my free time working on my new life, I’m not getting anywhere. It is very helpful to see that even spending a few minutes a day can help move me toward my goals. I need to pay particular attention to “making tasks concrete” and “scheduling time.” I also found the point on avoidance often feeling better for the short term. How many times I have thought “you, know I don’t really “hate” my job. I get a good steady paycheck and benefits and I know what to expect every day. It sure would be easier to just stay here.” I know that in the long-term that would not be the right thing to do. I want to make this change for a better lifestyle (more creativity, two more hours in my day thanks to not having a crazy commute, spending more time with my family) than working full time at a “regular” job allows me to have. Thanks again for the great posts. I always look forward to reading them.

    • Pamela says:

      I am so glad you left a comment Judy!

      Your description reminds me of that awful metaphor of boiling frog — if the water starts cold and slowly heats up, it doesn’t notice it is being cooked alive.

      Maybe too gruesome of a metaphor, but it seems to fit my experience in both working out and career/biz moves.

      Hope to hear from you again!


  17. Fabulous post! I appreciated that your commitment to honoring your exercise schedule shifted once you wrote it down. As a a home-based working mom, I’ve learned over the years to write down all my obligations — to work, self or family — and it has helped increase productivity and enabled me to enjoy the “me” time guilt free!

    • Pamela says:

      I need to do that too Nancy! My nemisis is snack helper duty, which I always forget. I now have it in the calendar. 🙂


  18. This is very true, “Tiny steps make major leaps”.

    Nice Piece, very interesting!
    .-= Free Internet Business´s last blog ..Internet Business for Non Profit =-.

  19. Great post, and congratulations on your two-week success at the gym! Just keep in mind that improvement can sometimes come really quickly but the key is to stay dedicated and KEEP it off. Other than that this is wonderful advice and I am very thankful for you sharing this with us!
    .-= The Emotion Machine´s last blog ..Create A Progressive Timeline To Better Envision Your Goals =-.

    • Pamela says:

      I hear you! Back in the day when I was super into martial arts, I was exceptionally consistent in my workouts. As in I didn’t miss a class in 10 years! I need to get that rhythm back in my workouts, and I know I will stay on track.

      Good luck with your plans!


  20. I want to plug one of my favorite writers and trainers here: John Allen Mollenhauer. He has just published a book, The Curse of the Capable, with Dr. Arthur P. Ciaramicoli. I have added the link to their book where my URL would normally go. Their specialty is moving high achievers away from the six-figures-and-six-pack views of success towards a total lifestyle in which one holds meaningful life goals and maintains the health, stamina, and balance necessary to achieve those goals.
    .-= Barbara Saunders´s last blog ..The 10 Ways to Manage Holiday Stress =-.

    • Pamela says:

      That sounds like a great read Barbara, I will check it out!

      I am finding that lopsided “success” (only in one area of life) is not totally satisfying.


  21. Erin says:

    Thank you for a timely posting — both on the exercise/being healthy-front as well as beginning with creative dreams. For me, I’m recently reestablishing my commitment to yoga and regular cardio exercise so I can relate!! It’s easy once you get your groove! However, on the creative dreams side of life, I find myself paralyzed by not knowing what to do…or is it that I only think I don’t know what to do? I know I want to write. This is my creative dream. But I don’t know what I will write or what it will look like. I like your recommendation to just start writing drivel and labeling chapters. This type of advice can be contorted to ANY type of creative desire where one feels stuck.

    Thank you!

    • Pamela says:

      Thanks Erin! My companion book the entire time I was writing my own was Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. You MUST buy this book! It will help you so much to start writing, and her style is hilarious.

      You can do it — step by step!


  22. Kimmoy says:

    This definitely hits home for me Pam. You’re so right, weightloss and business success has so many parallels. They’re both great personal development tools. I can relate to the “Don’t do it alone” tip because naturally I go at it with all my gusto on my own, lose some steam along the way, then try to get the support I need and it takes a while before I find the right support which can be such a bummer. So having a strong support system in place well before it’s needed is also a great tip for both weightloss and business. Cheers to finding our mojo back!

    Congrats on your weightloss!
    .-= Kimmoy´s last blog ..Giving Your Financial Goals A Purpose =-.

    • Pamela says:

      You certainly keep me motivated Kimmoy! You are such a great coach and teacher in the way you approach supporting those around you.

      I know you will get through the tough parts and make 2010 just the way you want it. I got your back! 🙂


  23. Beto says:

    These are the kind of posts I love to stumble upon. Three years ago my father died while I was in the middle of a stressful work project and my body shape was a sorry mess. I also used to say, like 99% of the people out there, that I didn’t have time to work out. All of these factors summed up into a nervous breakdown that took me off the deep end and forced me to do something about it before I just died there too.

    After a much-needed vacation trip, I signed up for a gym and well, the benefits of working out proved an almost instant cure to channel all my stress and frustrations through. It took me about 3-4 months to make an habit out of going 3 times a week. Choosing a workout routine you really enjoy really helps keep you going (I chose cycling). Ever since, I’ve lost about 20 pounds and have switched clothing sizes. It’s come to the point I don’t need to exert any pressure on myself to go exercising after office – my body just asks for it.

    Diet is also an important part; sweating your heart out and keep downing Oreos will bring you no improvements. I signed up with a nutrition specialist recently and I am watching out my calorie intake closer than ever. Plus I have a concrete goal now – to reach a 176 lb plateau (down from my current 184).

    Also, although I am still a full-time employee, I have plans to break free and pursue an independent career on children’s illustration (otherwise I wouldn’t be reading this blog!). Of course the main challenge for me now is that there’s still only 24 hours in a day and, honestly, giving up sleep to pursue my dreams is not really an option, but I have been thinking lately on how I was able to overcome my health crisis by making working out a habit. The hardest part of everything is getting started. But doing a little advance every day -a tiny sketch here, working on my personal site there- is better than doing nothing at all. But having a concrete goal, a timeframe and a focus really counts. Now I gotta work on these.

    • Pamela says:

      What a powerful story to share Beto! Thanks so much for sharing.

      You are so right — it is about finding small little moments to get more healthy. Then the momentum builds.

      I am so glad you are reading this blog! I had to tease you all of course. 🙂 If you can break down “pursue an independent career on children’s illustration” into much smaller steps, you can chip away at them, then be ready to leave the cube.

      Keep at it, we need your illustrations! 🙂


  24. Rachel says:

    This is just what I needed to hear today! I am just a few months away from a translation certificate. Last night, I was looking at my to-do list and thinking that I should just wait until I have that certificate in hand before attacking all of those tasks. But if I want to escape this cubicle (so to speak—my office doesn’t actually have cubicles), I need to get started right now!

    I needed this little push. Thank you!
    .-= Rachel´s last blog ..Business Description =-.

    • Pamela says:

      There will always be something making the present moment not quite right, don’t you think Rachel? Congrats on almost finishing your certificate — if you get things moving now, you will be in a great place when all is finalized!

  25. Susi Elkins says:

    I agree completely – this post is so timely for me. I just found you recently on twitter and now I’ll think I’ll have to buy the book too. Good work!
    .-= Susi Elkins´s last blog ..Finding the Courage to Just Show Up =-.

  26. Lori says:

    Pam, this article has met me where I am in every way! Especially the very first point… that there is no better time than right now!

    • Pamela says:

      We can get kind of paralyzed in our routines, don’t you think? You are making great progress, keep at it!

  27. Page Lambert says:

    My father, Loren Dunton (internationally recognized Father of Financial Planning) used to have what he called his Five Minute Rule to help overcome procrastination so that he was ACTING rather than AVOIDING. He knew that the hardest thing to overcome in terms of getting any project started, was INERTIA. So he played a game with himself: “Dunton,” he’d say, “you don’t have to write the ENTIRE article today, you just have to spend 5 minutes on it. Then you can go play 18 holes.” Then he’d set the egg timer for 5 minutes. He knew that once he’d invested 5 minutes on a project, he would’ve overcome inertia and created momentum. Usually, when the egg timer went off, he’d spend another half an hour, or maybe even an hour. But he also knew that at the end of 5 minutes, he could go play that round of golf!

  28. Susan says:

    I love hearing from you, Pam, in your newsletters I receive. This article just hit home:) Thanks…and here is to those tiny steps! I am on it!