Focus on small steps throughout the year. And even when the struggle is real, remind yourself that it always feels better to be exhausted from taking small steps forward, than it does to be tired of doing absolutely nothing.
In 1911, two explorers, Amundsen and Scott, embarked on a race against each other to become the first known human being to set foot upon the southernmost point of Earth. It was the age of Antarctic exploration, as the South Pole represented one of the last uncharted areas in the world. Amundsen wished to plant the Norwegian flag there on behalf of his country, while Scott hoped to stake his claim for England.
The journey there and back from their base camps was about 1,400 miles, which is roughly equivalent to a round-trip hike from New York City to Chicago. Both men would be traveling the same exact distance on foot through extremely cold and harsh weather conditions. And both men were equally equipped with experience, supplies, and a supporting team of fellow explorers. But what wasn’t certain is how each of them would approach the inevitable challenges they faced on the road ahead.
As it turned out, Amundsen and Scott took entirely different approaches to the very same challenges.
Scott directed his team to hike as far as possible on the good weather days and then rest on bad weather days to conserve energy. Conversely, Amundsen directed his team to follow a strict regimen of consistent daily progress by hiking exactly 20 miles every day, regardless of weather conditions. Even on the warmest, clear-sky days, when Amundsen’s team was capable of hiking much farther, Amundsen was absolutely adamant that they travel no more than 20 miles to conserve their energy for the following day’s hike.
Which team succeeded in the end?
The team that took consistent daily action.
Because what we do EVERY day defines us!
Today’s progress is always compounded by yesterday’s effort, no matter how small.
And it all comes down to the power of self-discipline.
Think about the most common problems we deal with in our modern lives—from lack of presence to lack of exercise to unhealthy diets to procrastination, and so forth. In most cases, problems like these are not caused not by a physically present limitation, but by a weakness of the mind—specifically, a lack of self-discipline.
We put the hard things off until tomorrow—because the “weather” is bad—until we’ve lost our edge. We grow accustomed to the idea that things should be easier than they are, and that waiting another day or two makes the best sense. Then one day we wake up and we’re emotionally incapable of doing the hard things that must be done.
Let this be your wake-up call!
Your mind and body both need to be exercised to gain strength. They need to be challenged, and they need to be worked consistently, to grow and develop over time. If you haven’t pushed yourself in lots of little ways over time—if you always avoid doing the hard things—of course you’ll crumble on the inevitable days that are harder than you expected.
And if I had to guess, I’d say Scott’s team suffered in exactly this way. They tried to make things easier on themselves—the fantasy of “easier” became their mantra—their subconscious goal. But this fantasy was never going to be a reality during a 1,400-mile footrace in the South Pole.
Scott’s team lost the race, not on the ground, but in their heads first.
They were convinced that waiting made things easier.
Don’t follow in their footsteps!
Many great things can be done in a day if you don’t always make that day tomorrow. Take positive action and plant the right seeds in your life right now. Nature herself does not distinguish between what seeds she receives. She grows whatever seeds are planted. This is the way life works. Be mindful of the seeds you plant today, as they will become the crop you harvest tomorrow.
So with that principle in mind, I want to share some key daily practices we’ve seen make all the difference in the lives of hundreds of our coaching clients, course members, and live event attendees over the past 15 years—simple (but far from easy) things they do every day that ultimately move their lives and goals forward. And it’s no surprise that many of these practices directly or indirectly involve strengthening your mindset—because when we think better, we live better.
- Start letting go of unnecessary ideals. – When a thought comes to mind, ask yourself if it’s helping you grow or holding you back. Take back control. Make the unconscious, conscious, and let go of what isn’t serving you. This form of letting go is not giving up. It’s surrendering any obsessive emotional attachment to particular people, outcomes and situations. It means showing up every day in your life with the intention to be your best self, and to do the best you know how, without expecting life to go a certain way. Have goals, have dreams, aspire and take purposeful action, and build great relationships, but detach from what every aspect of your life must absolutely look like to be “good enough” for you. Just accept reality and then respond effectively. Focus on what matters—what moves you forward today—and let go of what does not.
- Start putting your heart and soul into the things you do. – There’s a big difference between empty fatigue and gratifying exhaustion. Life is too short. Invest daily in meaningful activities. Don’t wait around! Too often we wait, because we think we need to “find” something new or different to be passionate about. But that’s not true. If you want more passion in your life right now, act accordingly right now! Put your whole heart and soul into the next thing you do. Not into tomorrow’s opportunities, but the opportunity right in front of you. Not into tomorrow’s tasks, but today’s tasks. Not into tomorrow’s run, but today’s run. Not into tomorrow’s conversations, but today’s conversations. I’m absolutely certain you have plenty in your life right now that’s worth your time, energy, and passionate focus. You have people and circumstances in your life that need you as much as you need them. You have a massive reservoir of passionate potential within you, just waiting. Stop waiting! There is no tomorrow. Put your heart and soul into what you’ve got right in front of you! Become it, let it become you, and great things will happen FOR you, TO you, and BECAUSE of you.
- Start stretching yourself just beyond the edge of comfort. – When you’re struggling to make progress, that’s when you actually are. Let that sink in. It’s far wiser to spend an extremely high quality ten minutes stretching yourself, than it is to spend a mediocre hour running comfortably in place. You want to be stretched to the edge of your ability at least once a day; it needs to be hard and uncomfortable for a little while. But most of us don’t want to be uncomfortable, so we run from the possibility of discomfort constantly. The obvious problem with this is that, by running from discomfort, we are constrained to partake in only the activities and opportunities within our comfort zones. And since our comfort zones are relativity small, we miss out on most of life’s greatest and healthiest experiences, and we get stuck in a debilitating cycle with our goals. We keep doing what we’ve always done, and thus we keep getting the results we’ve always gotten. And our true potential falls by the wayside. Choose differently! Go to environments that expand your mind. Spend time with people who inspire you to stretch yourself. Read books. Grow. Get better. Your life is mostly your choice.
- Start taking more deep breaths, so you can mindfully collect more lessons for the long run. – It’s incredibly easy to overestimate the significance of a single decision, outcome, or event in the heat of the moment. But you must remind yourself to take a deep breath when things don’t go your way. Your results in the long run—good or bad—are always the byproduct of many small decisions, outcomes, and events over time. The truth is we all fail sometimes. The greater truth is that no single failure ever defines us. Learn from your mistakes, grow wiser, and press on. Character and wisdom are sculpted gradually. They come with loss, lessons, and triumphs. They come after doubts, second guesses, and uncertainty. The seeds of your success are planted in your past troubles and failures. Your best stories will come from overcoming your greatest challenges. Your praises will be birthed from your pains. So keep standing, keep learning, and keep living.
- Start side-stepping senseless drama. – Tune out the cheap shots people take at you along the way. Don’t waste words on people who deserve your silence. Sometimes the most powerful thing you can say is nothing at all. Seriously, before you waste it on anger, spite or frustration, think of how precious and irreplaceable your time is today. Give yourself a permanent break from the drama that can be easily avoided—don’t engage in it. Life is just too short to constantly argue and fight. Count your blessings, value the people who matter, and move on from the drama with your head held high. Remind yourself that calmness is a human superpower. The ability to not overreact or take things personally keeps your mind clear, your heart at peace, and yourself moving forward. Take constructive criticism seriously, but not personally. Listen to others, and then operate with your own intuition and wisdom as your guide.
- Start staying true to your values and convictions. – Rejections don’t matter in the long run. Accept them and refocus your attention on what DOES matter. What does matter is how you see yourself. So always make a habit of staying 100% true to your values and convictions, regardless of what others think. Never be ashamed of doing what feels right. To help you implement this positive habit, start by listing out 5-10 things that are important to you when it comes to building your character and living your life. For example, Honesty, Reliability, Self-respect, Self-discipline, Compassion, and Kindness. Having a short list like this to reference will give you an opportunity to consciously invoke and uphold your handpicked traits and behaviors in place of doing something random simply for the purpose of external validation. (Angel and I discuss this in more detail in the “Self-Love” chapter of our “1,000 Little Things…” book.)
- Start looking for silver linings. – The most powerful weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another. Train your mind to see the good in the truth. Studies have shown that doctors who are put in a positive mood before making a diagnosis consistently experience significant boosts to their intellectual abilities than doctors in a neutral state, which allows them to make accurate diagnoses almost 20% faster. Similar studies of other vocations have shown that optimistic salespeople outsell their pessimistic counterparts by over 50%, and university students primed to feel happy before taking math exams statistically outperform their neutral peers. It turns out that our minds are literally hardwired to perform at their best not when they are negative, or even neutral, but when they are positive. So think a little less about managing your problems and a little more about managing your mindset. Do your best to keep it positive.
- Start focusing inward more often. – Do your best to focus inward as often as necessary, especially when you need a moment of clarity. And remember that your time spent focusing inward and finding clarity doesn’t just help you—your mind is powerful and your thoughts create ripples in other people’s lives. When you bring clarity into your life, you bring the best of yourself into everything you do—you tend to treat yourself and others better, communicate more constructively, do things for the right reasons, and ultimately improve the world you’re living in. This is why praying, or just meditating on some positive quotes, on a daily basis can actually make a real-world difference in your life. A heightened level of your conscious awareness—mental clarity—instantly elevates you in countless ways. And then interesting things begin happening—good things that are outside of your immediate purview—good things you haven’t even thought of yet.
- Start embracing your humanness and giving yourself more credit. – “Human” is the only real label we are born with, yet we forget so easily. To become attached to a loaded label of overweight, divorced, diseased, rejected, or poor, is to be like the rain, that doesn’t know it is also the clouds… or the ice, that forgets it is water. For we are far more than the shape we’re currently in. And we, like the wind, water, and sky, will change forms many times in our lives, while forever remaining beautifully human. Once we fully embrace our humanness, it’s almost funny to see how quickly we outgrow what we once thought we couldn’t live without… and then we fall in love with what we didn’t even know we wanted. Take this to heart. And don’t forget to pause once a day and appreciate how far you’ve come. You’ve been through a lot, and you’ve grown a lot too. Give yourself credit for the steps you’ve taken, so you can step forward again with grace.
- Start taking the next small, insignificant step (one at a time, every day). – Sometimes it’s really hard to get going again. This is how Angel and I felt 15 years ago when we were stuck in a rut after simultaneously losing two loved ones to suicide and illness. It was really hard to move when we didn’t think we had the strength to push forward. But we pushed ourselves to take one tiny step every day—one journal entry, one workout, one honest conversation, and so forth—and it felt good, and we got stronger. And believe it or not, that’s basically what I did again this morning. I was struggling to motivate myself after a significant business opportunity fell through. I was feeling defeated. So I took the tiniest possible step. Just turning on my laptop, opening up the word processing application, and writing a single sentence. Such an action is so small as to seem insignificant, and yet so easy as to be possible when I was feeling defeated. And it showed me that the next step was possible, and the next. And the end result is the article you’ve just finished reading. (Angel and I build tiny, daily, life-changing rituals with our students in the “Goals and Growth” module of the Getting Back to Happy Course.)
The next step forward is yours for the taking. Just pick one of the aforementioned points and start focusing on it for 15 minutes every day. The key is making sustainable shifts in your beliefs and behavior. That means practicing each point gradually—one at a time, one day at a time, and then letting them build on one another. Go from zero to ten over the course of a few months, not all at once.
Will it be easy?
As you marshal forward in life, adversity is inescapable. It’s much like walking into a turbulent winter storm—like the ones Amundsen and Scott encountered on their race in the South Pole—as you fight to push onward, you not only gain strength, but it tears away from you all but the essential parts of you that cannot be torn. Once you come out of the storm, you see yourself as you really are in raw form, without the baggage that’s been holding you back. And that makes all the difference, because it frees you to take the next step, and the next.
So tell me, which point mentioned above will you choose to start working on today? Why does it resonate with you?
Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.
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.
Rebecca Anthony says
Marc and Angel,
Your articles, books, and emails continue to help me take the small steps forward you speak of. I am truly grateful. And although this whole post resonates with me in some way, I really love the little exercise you mention in #6. I just made my list and posted it up on my refrigerator where I will see it daily. Thank you.
Marc and Angel, I’ve read a few of your pieces of literature like the quotes but this one really, is awesome! And just a few weeks when I got exposed to this kind of online content. This resonates with me – almost all of it. Thank you.
Denorah Edelman says
Wow…what an inspirational article! Now I have to get my butt in gear and implement these words of wisdom!! Thank you.
Such good reminders, especially about the importance of upholding positive rituals and how greatly they effect our ability to think, live and succeed at what we’re working toward. I loved the story at the beginning and also how you wrapped it up at the end wight the analogy of ‘coming out of a turbulent winter storm’ — that gave me a needed visual.
Anyway, I’ve been a student in your Getting Back to Happy course for 3 months now, and the whole idea of building tiny, life-changing rituals has benefitted both my professional effectiveness and my personal relationships. It’s actually quite amazing when I look back at how disheveled I was with everything and everyone that’s important to me, and how focusing on a couple simple, daily rituals snapped me out of the negative cycle I had been spinning in for years, in under 3 months.
One step at a time, one day at a time, in the right direction, with the right support, and magic happens!
So today, I’m going to press forward with the positive rituals I already have in place — just one more small step.
Here I go . . .
Bill V says
Thanks for the emailing me the link to this post this today.
I started with number 9 today.. I reminded myself to drop the crappy labels I’ve been subconsciously slapping on myself ever since my divorce last year. And I just set an alarm on my phone for tomorrow morning too, so I can repeat this reminder to myself. Thank you again.
Patricia Shark says
I am glad that the blog reminds me to keep moving forward. I know that I have been here before and remind myself it’s not forever. Glad to know that as long I repeat the phrase- I am a person who deserves love and respect and can give love and respect.
Mike Tinnon says
Thanks for this very timely blog post. I have just changed cities and starting afresh looking for a career change and needed these reminders. Particilarly #5 and #6 of avoiding drama and staying true to my values keeps me going!
Only I know myself and why I am doing what I want to do 🙂
Thank you so much for the deep insights which really helped me in refocusing on what needs to be done on a daily basis.
Zainab Joshua. says
You are simply incredible! Thank you so much. I am starting with the 10 hard things to do. I’ll see how it goes.
Linda Blood says
Thanks, Marc and Angel, such a wealth of information and good advice. Today number 5 resonates with me and I am thankful that I took the recommended action before reading this article. I will refer to this often as it all is advice that I can use to improve the quality of my life
Lisa G says
I read Articles like this one ALL the time for YEARS but this is absolutely my Favorite one Ever by FAR!!! Thank you so much.
Mike Tinnon says
I will work on Point 1: Showing up everyday in my life.
Thank you for this list of “10 Hard Things to Start Doing…”.
Thanks Marc and Angel! I love getting your emails every day! They are full of great reminders and truly resonate with me.
I had a serious accident last May when a freak tornado caused a tree to fall on me. It’s a miracle I’m alive and a miracle I only suffered broken bones which are still healing.
One small step at a time is the only way I can manage. Now I can do so much more than before! For example, I can walk with a cane instead of crutches , stand in the shower instead of sitting on the shower bench… Every time I do something new, I celebrate it with a little woo hoo! That’s what keeps me motivated and moving forward. I don’t think about the past and what I used to be able to do. I just focus on now- what can I do now ? How can I adapt now?
The other thing that really resonated with me was the positive effect of routines. I’m working on that myself. I’ve got a great morning routine for the days I go to physio but the other days when I don’t have to go out, I don’t do as well. My new goal is to have a consistent morning routine every day getting up at the same time every day no matter what. Just like the explorers who succeeded by being consistent daily.
Nazanin Pashootan says
Thank you so much for this wisdom. This article is loaded with goodness and not so common sense things that I could use. Appreciate you guys!
Cain D Czopek says
My values are Love, strength, learning, exploration, adventure, challenge, art, family, vulnerability, communication.
I am starting with #4, that one really hit home this morning.
Thank you, I needed this today.
I, for one, am thrilled you turned your laptop on, and wrote this article. One of the most inspirational articles I’ve ever read to encourage me to get up and keep moving every day! Thank you! I lean to perfectionism….the perfect day to exercise, work on projects, etc. This makes me realize that it’s the steps taken every day, no matter how small, that get us where we need to go.
This is GREAT STUFF! Thank you thank you thank you!
Katherine Garrison says
I stumbled upon this article on Google. I am in one of those cross road moments. Your article really hit home and I have some reflecting to do today. Especially the putting your all in the task. Thank you.
Kim B. says
Thank you for this article, I really struggle with getting things started. This quote is going to be my mantra this week. So simple, but so powerful.
“Many great things can be done in a day if you don’t always make that day tomorrow.”