We waste our time waiting for a path to appear. But it never does. Because we forget that paths are made by walking, not waiting. And we forget that there’s absolutely nothing about our present circumstances that prevents us from making progress again, one tiny step at a time.
So, let’s cut to the chase today: What we truly need to do is often what we most feel like avoiding. This is a harsh reality, even in our present times.
Because, if we don’t go after what we want, we will never get it. If we don’t ask the right questions, we will always get the wrong answers. If we don’t take a step forward, we are always going to be standing in the same exact place.
Life is a journey comprised of small steps. The key is to take these steps, every single day, even during harder times that require us to be extra resourceful.
To an extent, we know this already, right?
Yet how often are we stuck in a cycle of worry, fear, and other forms of over-thinking? How often are we aimlessly distracted? And how often do we hide from our problems, or procrastinate?
After consistently working on my mindfulness and time management habits, I’ve become reasonably proficient at getting things done with minimal distraction and procrastination, even while working from home.
Today, for example, I proof-read and cleaned up a chapter in a new book Marc and I are co-writing, coached five of our Getting Back to Happy Course students, responded to comments and emails from dozens of students and readers, worked on business planning and strategizing for a few active projects, spent quality time with my family, and of course now I’m writing the words you’re presently reading.
It might seem like a lot, but it happens one small step at a time, with presence and focus.
With that said, however, I’ll be the first to admit that Marc and I still struggle with some detrimental habits that sneak up on us sometimes and get in the way of our effectiveness (because we’re human). And there is one particular habit we struggle with that’s super common among our friends, family, acquaintances, and students alike—this is something we all do that ends up wasting our lives, one precious moment at a time. The word “waste” may sound overly dramatic, but it’s really not. After spending over a decade coaching hundreds of people, and working through my own personal issues, there’s little doubt that this is one of the most popular ways we all collectively waste our lives:
We waste our lives with a lack of self-discipline.
Self-discipline is a skill. It’s the ability to focus and overcome distractions. It involves acting according to what you know is right instead of how you feel in the moment (perhaps tired or lazy or uneasy). It typically requires sacrificing immediate pleasure and excitement for what matters most in life.
A lack of self-discipline for most of us is often the result of a lack of focus. In other words, we tell ourselves we are going to work on something, but then we don’t. When this happens to me, first and foremost, I forgive myself for messing up, and then I strive to be mindful about what’s really going on. Am I procrastinating for some reason? Am I distracted? Am I taking the easy way out? Instead of telling myself that I’m “bad” or “undisciplined,” I try to productively uncover a more specific, solvable problem, and then address it.
For example, I was feeling kind of down yesterday at lunchtime, so I wrote down a quick list of what was contributing to the funk I was in:
- Didn’t get enough sleep the night before
- Overwhelmed by a combination of family and business obligations
- Hadn’t exercised in a couple days
- Got in a small argument with Marc
- Feeling uncertainty and pain about COVID-19 and other current events
So, there were five factors contributing to my funk. And that’s actually quite a few distinct things to be dealing with at once. Initially it felt depressing to think about all the things I needed to focus on in order to feel better and move forward.
Of course, I knew I couldn’t focus on everything at once, so I just started with one tiny step. I meditated for a five minutes.
Then I took another step: I made a list of what I needed to do—I organized my obligations and prioritized them.
Another step: I went for a walk and got my body moving.
Then another step: I sat down with Marc, and I apologized first.
Suddenly, with these tiny steps, I started to feel better.
So, I moved on to the next tiny step and the next.
Then I took a break and spent a some time with my son, to play with him, and read to him.
I ate a healthy meal.
I reflected on my uncertainty and pain in a positive way, and stayed with my feelings as long as I could, with compassion and openness.
I went to bed early and got a good night’s sleep.
All just one step at a time.
And like I mentioned, I woke up this morning and really hit the ground running, because all of those tiny steps I took yesterday afternoon changed my mood and my trajectory.
The same can be true for you…
Tiny steps, taken one at a time, with presence and focus, can make all the difference in the world.
The concept of taking it one step at a time might seem ridiculously obvious, but when life gets hard we tend to lose our better judgement—we all get caught up in the moment and find ourselves yearning for instant gratification. We want what we want, and we want it now! And this yearning often tricks us into taking on too much too soon. Marc and I have seen this transpire hundreds of times over the years: a coaching client or course student wants to achieve a big goal or life change (or multiple big goals or life changes) all at once, and can’t choose just one or two daily rituals to begin focusing on, so nothing worthwhile ever gets done. Let this common mistake—this quick-fix mentality—be your reminder today.
You can’t lift a thousand pounds all at once, yet you can easily lift one pound a thousand times. Small, repeated, incremental efforts will get you closer to what you ultimately want. It doesn’t happen in an instant, but it does happen a lot faster than not getting there at all.
What do you do if your life is in complete disarray?
Seriously! What do you do if your life is in complete disarray, you have hardly any self-discipline or consistent routines, can’t stick to anything, procrastinate constantly, and feel completely out of control right now?
How do you get started with building a healthy ritual of self-discipline when you have so many changes to make?
Again, you start small. Very small.
If you don’t know where to start, let me suggest that you start by simply washing your dishes. Yes, I mean literally washing your dishes. It’s just one small step forward: When you eat your oatmeal, wash your bowl and spoon. When you finish drinking your morning coffee, rinse the coffee pot and your mug. Don’t leave any dirty dishes in the sink or on the counter for later. Wash them immediately.
Form this ritual one dish at a time, one day at a time. Once you do this consistently for a couple weeks, you can start making sure the sink has been wiped clean too. Then the counter. Then put your clothes where they belong when you take them off. Then start doing a few sit-ups every morning. Eat a few vegetables for dinner. And so forth.
Do one of these at a time, and you’ll start to build a healthy ritual of self-discipline, and finally know yourself to be capable of doing what must be done… and finishing what you start.
But, for right now, just wash your dishes. With focus and presence.
That is the path forward.
Leave us a comment before you go…
Did this post resonate with you today?
Which specific point resonated the most?
Leave a comment below and share your thoughts with us.
Also, if you haven’t done so already, be sure to sign-up for our free newsletter to receive new articles like this in your inbox each week.
Thank you so much for your positive thoughts. Today, I simply opened my email and found the link to this much needed advice. One step at a time was the most relatable one. Keep inspiring!!!
Ahmed Rafi says
Thank you for the inspiring column. I have bought a bundle of thank you cards because l wanted to send thank you notes to many people who helped me recently. But the long list of people and stack of cards overwhelmed me and kept postponing. Now l started and did my first card today and hope continue with more everyday. Appreciate your advice. Thank you.
Joseph Nahak says
Thank for your nice thought, I agree with, you are right.The problem is in ourselves, we do not have focus and self-discipline.so many times we waste our time for the things that we do not need or things that have no any connecton with our tasks..two important things are focus and self-discipline.
christy a. self says
With what’s going on in the world right now & the guys in my life playing games, was feeling lost & hopeless. Reading this helped in a small way. Little by little the small steps may get easier & I may find a guy who won’t play games or be overwhelmed by me. Seem to be attracted to younger guys that are “bad” for me.
Same is happening to me
I had to think about how to apply this excellent advice in ‘retrograde’ being a person who is always thinking, planning, doing feeling guilty if my mind isn’t active. I have always been this way, and it’s getting worse the older I get – trying to outpace the clicking clock! This morning I realized it’s my way of ‘controlling’ and short-circuiting my intuitive. So I decided to take small steps at letting go, holding back, not thinking so much… Boredom?! Scarry! I’m going to try it for a couple of days which will no doubt feel like an eternity and I would like to retrieve my ‘humanity’ .
Kimberly Bicket says
With stay-at-home orders in place almost all of our daily routines have been jumbled. Many of us have gained, what they call the quarantine 15. Reading this post today has encouraged me to make new daily rituals , and make the best of being home. I want to come out of quarantine stronger not heavier. This 15 is going to go. One pound at a time.
Thank you so much for this post.
I am trying to get up early daily in lockdown time, but unfortunately I am not able to do. May be I am becoming lazy in this lockdown time. But your post has motivated me to take little steps daily to reach my goal.
Thanks guys. This really helps
Linda Gray says
I sometimes feel overwhelmed taking care of my handicap husband. Even though he does have visiting caregivers that time is limited. I think about what happens when my husband passes on. Have I talked to him about his fear or should I avoid that conversation. He is 86 years old and his disease is terminal – slow process with him losing his speech and leg and hand coordination.
Then I am dealing with weight lose and back and knee pain. Also trying to close up personal business in another country. I have support from my sisters and best friend.
I know I need to do my gratefulness list every day.
Reading about taking things step by step really opened my eyes.
I do have a routine which keep me emotionally stable.
In addition to the step process I need to remind my self of what I can change and control and what I cannot.
Thank you for helpful words and bringing me to mindfulness.
Thank you for continuing to encourage us during these unprecedented times we are currently living in. One step at a time message resonated with me today.
Thank you so much for this post. It really did get to me, been so down this past few weeks. It’s a new month hopefully I’ll be able to take one step at a time.
Thank you soo much… I am in a difficult situation in my life battling loneliness and uncertain future with no hopes of settling down. It’s soo overwhelming and I feel soo alone.
Doing what must be done regardless of how I feel is a great reminder.
Today, today in particular, among many other days, this is what I’m battling with. Indiscipline and inconsistency. I was supposed to edit some pieces of writing, and I was supposed to start a course, but since morning, I just couldn’t bring myself to do this. But, this is helpful. Start! One step at a time. I would just stand up and take my bath first.
Victoria Williams says
Doing task one at a time and getting it right, is better than doing many things get tired and get them all jumbled.
It is lock down time I take one day at a time doing what I need to do. I sometimes forget what day it is because of this long stay at home policy. Thanks for your encouragement, they always help.
Raymond E O'Neill says
I might suggest “Making your Bed”. As a Retired Widower, I found this tiny chore started off every day on a positive note. Want you to know I read everyone of your emails. Actually, look forward to them. Stay Safe, physically and mentally in these trying times. God Bless America.
Reading from you has always been a delight. “One step at a time” sank right deep because I truly have my plate full with a lot of activities I couldn’t prioritize to get done… and now I must do. It’s complicated because I get more responsibilities to attend to daily… Prioritizing and time management are skills I must pay attention to keenly to avoid loosing my mind.
Emmanuel Koech says
ALWAYS keeping the fire burning
1. Walking…..I’ll just keep walking….One step at a time and sooner a foot path will be clear to all…
2. Self Discipline… Aha! My socks… I don’t remember where I disposed them…maybe under the bed or somewhere…. But I promise to be self discipline.
3. TO always focus and avoid distractions… now I know that, we have to let go all our immediate excitement and focus on what really matters. now or never (avoid procrastinating)…Get the job done and finish what I started.
I have not been reading your message lately, but today, something told me to open up and it is just what I need “self discipline”.
It is more for my 15 year, who is in disarray, personal hygiene neglected, chatter with friends and staying up till late trying to complete assignments ect. and not waking up on time for school. she has been told to have that discipline and structure and I am getting no where with her. She does not like when I tell her, so I decided to make her be responsible for her actions. In doing so, I hope she realises what I am trying to do for her. I am a single mum by the way.
So I hope she will be willing to read parts of your article which I have snapped and start taking the first step and then another…..
Gary Ware says
The exact advice I needed to see today. Another example of how we are all connected. Thank you Angel for doing the work and providing a light for us to follow.
Bryce Wright says
Thank you so much for your words of wisdom. I greatly appreciated them. It’s very difficult some days when you’re trying to do things the right way and nothing seems to be working. Just need to take a step at a time and day by day.
Reading this is exactly what I deeply needed to read. Thank you.
Hi, your article is really helpful to me. I am stuck with the same situation. I was looking for an answer then I found your mail in my inbox. When I read I found it really helpful.
Thanks for your article.
This article is an eye-opener. Taking a step at a time.We waste our time waiting for a path to appear. But it never does. Because we forget that paths are made by walking, not waiting. And we forget that there’s absolutely nothing about our present circumstances that prevents us from making progress again, one tiny step at a time…God bless you
soyi Isaac says
This post has really motivated me. I am going to start gaining my humanity by taking a step at the time
Thank you for inspirational words. It can’t be coincidence, every word resonates with me and my feelings this afternoon. I feel much better now, knowing that I am not alone. It’s so genrous and thoughtful of you!
Thank you so much for this positive advice If I can’t go for what I want, I will never get it this build my heart 100times… Thanks alot M&A
I used to do nothing, and it feels gross and bad. Self-discipline, focus, doing what I say I’m going to do – these are all character traits I’m working on constantly because it just feels better to have them. It doesn’t feel like a waste of your day when you go to bed.
I used to think that not having a daily routine worked for me, but I find I’m much more disciplined when I write out everything I need to do in ap lanner and have it in front of me at all times.
Thanks Annabel for this, a planner is very essential. I’m always lazy getting to the office in the morning, though ik i sleep late at night (chatting and doing other things online) how can i avoid this?
Katherine Swarts says
“You can easily lift one pound a thousand times” IF you are willing to properly space those times out over a course of days, weeks, or months. What if you’re in the habit of thinking, “I must get ALL the lifting out of the way as quickly as possible, without stopping for anything else before it’s finished, and then my life will finally be where it needs to be”? Do you have any posts in getting the lesson home that “checking everything off the list” isn’t the be-all and end-all of getting where you want to go?
As I read your article this evening, it really resonated with me. During this COVID19 time period and not working I have tried to stick a routine walking, yoga, reading, cleaning but today I didn’t feel like doing squat.
Perhaps it’s the virus, news, being locked-up but after reading this article, I forgave myself and looking forward to tomorrow with new anticipation.
prabhjot singh says
actually i was feeling bored because i did not have anything to do so i decided i read a blog, and while searching for a good blog to read, i found your website, i started reading this blog and believe me the way you exposed the reality of everyone’s life is so brilliant and it’s so true, and actually we all know this thing that what is that thing that is preventing us to get what we want in our life and we also know the solution to all these problems but as you said, we all have lack of self-discipline in our lives that makes us procrastinate and blame ourselves, but if we start taking those little steps only one at a time, we can defiantly change the world, thank you so much for your effort brother i’m gonna take those little steps in my life from now on…
Siahara Shyne Carter says
I agree We need Self -Decipline. So that We can work properly Sleep early Eat Well , Clear Our mind and Let go of Not Relevant in Our daily lives
Binit Kumar says
This is really an insightful reading. I could relate it with many events that could have better outcomes if they were acted as planned rather changing the path often if any impediments come on the way.
This is human psychology to aim for big always and thinking that all the great things could only be achieved by exhausting.
As Confucius rightly said: ” does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop”
Thank you for the reminder…
I needed to “do my dishes” today…
love and peace…
Thanks so much.
The idea of starting small resonated with me.
Lindsey D says
You get back what you put out in the world. Just because you are a good person doesn’t mean you automatically will receive life’s gifts in return. You have to move, to take those steps – to get back what you put in. You will be rewarded for positive momentum…even if it’s just washing the dishes. Thank you for this reminder.
Seth Asante says
“What we truly need to do is what we most feel like avoiding” : You couldn’t have put it better. I personally do that sometimes because I’m not sure of the outcomes of my actions especially if these decisions and actions have life changing consequences. But I’ve picked a lot of courage from your article. Thanks. You’re truly an Angel.