When I was a high school freshman, a 260-pound freshman girl showed up for track and field tryouts right alongside me. Her name was Sara, and she was only there because her doctor said her health depended on it. But once she scanned the crowd of students who were on the field, she turned around and began walking away. Coach O’Leary saw her, jogged over, and turned her back around.
“I’m not thin enough for this sport!” Sara declared. “And I’ll never be! It’s impossible for me to lose enough weight. I’ve tried.”
Coach O’Leary nodded, and promised Sara that her body type wasn’t suited for her current weight. “It’s suited for 220 pounds,” he said.
Sara looked confused. “Most people tell me I need to lose 130 pounds,” she replied. “But you think I only need to lose 40?”
Coach O’Leary nodded again.
Sara started off as a shot put competitor, but spent every single afternoon running and training with the rest of the track team. She was very competitive, and by the end of our freshman year she was down to 219 pounds. She also won 2nd place in the countywide shot put tournament that year. Three years later, during our senior year, she won 3rd place in the 10K county run. Her competitive weight at the time was 132 pounds.
There was a time when Sara was convinced that it was impossible to lose weight because, in her past experience, it had never worked out the way she had hoped. She had completely lost faith in herself. But with consistency — with a daily ritual of trying again and again — she restored her faith and achieved the “impossible.” And when Sara showed up to my 40th birthday pool party and BBQ last year, I smiled when I overheard another guest that she had just met compliment her on her bathing suit and physique.
Of course, Sara still works really hard — she tries again — every single day to maintain what she has achieved.
And, so do I…
I Lose Faith Sometimes Too
Some people get this idea about me, because I’m a New York Times bestselling author and coach who has spent the past decade writing and teaching people how to create more success and happiness in their lives, that I don’t ever fall short and fail miserably in these areas. But of course I do — I’m human. I fall short and fail at things far more than anyone could imagine, and certainly far more than I’d often like to admit. And it feels just as horrible for me as it does for you or anyone else — I absolutely lose faith in myself sometimes.
Deep down of course, I know these negative reactions aren’t helpful. So I own up to what happened, learn a lesson or two, and then I get back up to try again. And the final part is the most important part — the trying again…
- I fail at eating healthy and exercising sometimes, but I try again.
- I fail at loving myself sometimes, but I don’t give up on myself either, and so I try again.
- I fail at being a great dad and husband sometimes, especially when I get distracted with stressful business endeavors, but I keep trying, and oftentimes I invoke a fresh smile on my son’s or wife’s face.
- I even failed at writing the article you’re reading now. I made an initial attempt yesterday and scrapped it because it didn’t feel right. But I started again, and now I’m done.
When I try again and again, I often succeed and feel much better about myself in the long run.
If there’s only one thing you take away from this article, let it be that trying again — giving yourself another chance every day — is always worth it. Because…
What You Do Again & Again Defines You
Many of the most meaningful results you will ever achieve in your life — the milestones, the relationships, the love, the lessons — come from the little things you do repeatedly, every single day.
Regardless of your unique talents, knowledge, life circumstances, or how you personally define success and happiness, you don’t suddenly become successful and happy. You become successful and happy over time based on your willingness to try again and again — to create little daily rituals that amass gradual progress, through thick and thin.
So what do your little daily rituals look like?
You really have to sort this out and get consistent with what’s right for you on a daily basis. Because failure occurs in the same way — it’s gradual. All your little daily failures (those that you don’t learn and grow from) come together and cause you to fail big. Think in terms of running a business:
- You keep failing to check the books.
- You keep failing to make the calls.
- You keep failing to listen to your customers.
- You keep failing to innovate.
- You keep failing to do the little things that need to be done.
Then one day you wake up and your whole business has failed. It was all the little things you did or didn’t do on a daily basis — your rituals — not just one inexplicable, catastrophic event.
Now, think about how this relates to your life: your life is your “business!”
Too often people overestimate the significance of one big defining moment and underestimate the value of making good decisions and small steps of progress on a daily basis. Don’t be one of them!
Keep reminding yourself that the vast majority of the results in your life — positive and negative alike — are the product of many small decisions made over time. The little things you do today, and tomorrow, and the next day, truly matter!
Obvious but Not Easy to Sustain
The concept of taking it one day at a time, one step at a time, might seem ridiculously obvious, but at some point 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. Angel 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 three) all at once, and can’t choose just one or two daily rituals to focus on, so nothing worthwhile ever gets done, and gradually they lose more and more faith in themselves. Let this common mistake — this quick-fix mentality — be your wake-up call today.
You really 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 there. It doesn’t happen in an instant, but it does happen a lot faster than not getting there at all.
Do your best to consciously shift your daily focus away from the big goals you want to achieve in your life, and redirect your focus toward the little daily rituals that actually support those goals. Consider the following:
- If you’re a competitive athlete, your goal is to win sports competitions. Your ritual is the time you dedicate each day to training your body (and mind).
- If you’re a university student, your goal is to learn and earn a degree. Your ritual is your daily study habits.
- If you’re a parent, your goal is to be a great role model. Your ritual is the time and energy you commit to setting a good example each day.
- If you’re a human being, your goal is to live a happy, meaningful life. Your ritual is the small, positive steps forward you take every day.
Now consider this small excerpt from our New York Times bestselling book: “If you stopped focusing on one of your big goals for a while and instead focused exclusively on your corresponding daily ritual, would you still make progress? For example, if you were trying to lose weight and you stopped thinking about your goal to lose twenty pounds, and instead placed all of your focus on eating healthy and exercising every day, would you still lose weight? Yes, without a doubt! Gradually you would get closer to your goal — your target weight — without even thinking about it again.”
And if you mess up occasionally?
You own up to it, you forgive yourself, and you try again.
One day at a time, one step at a time, you get to…
Restore Faith in Yourself
Restoring your faith in yourself is arguably the most significant hidden benefit of consistently practicing a daily ritual — of trying again and again and again. In fact, what I lacked before I learned to implement these kinds of daily rituals was the faith that I was actually capable of achieving the positive results I desired in my life. I had tried so many quick fixes in the past that ended in failure, and had grown so discouraged in myself, that I began subconsciously choosing procrastination over future attempts to fulfill the little promises I made to myself.
In essence, I lost faith in both my ability and myself. It’s kind of like another person constantly lying to you — eventually you stop trusting them. The same holds true with the little promises you make to yourself that always end in disappointment. Eventually, you stop trusting yourself.
And the solution in most cases is the same too: you have to restore your faith and trust gradually, with small promises, small steps (your daily rituals), and small victories. Again, this process takes time, but it happens if you stick to it. And it’s undoubtedly one of the most life-changing things you can do for yourself.
(Note: Angel and I build and customize tiny, life-changing daily rituals with our students in the “Goals & Growth” module of the Getting Back to Happy Course, and we also establish a foundational ritual of consistency through daily journaling in our newest publication through Penguin Random House, “The Good Morning Journal: Powerful Prompts & Reflections to Start Every Day”.)
Now, it’s your turn…
Don’t wish away any more time waiting for better times ahead. Just appreciate where you are and try again. If you diligently take small steps day after day, one day you’ll look back with gratitude for how far you have come, and you’ll look forward with unwavering faith in yourself and the next step.
But before you go, please leave Angel and me a comment below and let us know what you think of this essay. Your feedback is important to 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.
I was nearly 50 when I finally understood the compounding power of daily effort. Now I’m trying to help my 23-year-old figure it out, but it’s been a tough process. She always quits if she doesn’t get the results she wants quick enough, or if the going gets too tough along the way. I’ve been leveraging your book, blog and emails to assist her. And she’s learning slowly, but we still have a long way to go. I did recently get her a recording of your 2018 conference and she devoured it, which I am thankful for.
So, thank you both again for being a source of light for me and my daughter.
Jackie Smith says
I love your messages! It really is a logical, heart-felt read, every one I read them. It’s so worth my time 🙂
M&A, as you know I found your work when I lost faith in myself earlier this year, and the daily rituals you set me up with have made a significant different over the past 8 months. I’m looking forward to our next coaching call, and I’m also hoping to attend your next Think Better Live Better seminar next year too.
One day at a time, I’m restoring the faith I once had in myself. Thank you.
You guys focus me on the right stuff and I’m truly grateful! Whenever my life gets a little off-center I tend to read your emails and go back through a section or two of your online course that I completed last year. And more so often than not your teachings set me right back on track. Also, I couldn’t agree more with this post. Focusing on daily rituals is definitely the key! Today, I’m going to crack my journal back open, and I’m going to build upon it tomorrow. And I’m also pre-ordering your new Good Morning Journal too. 🙂
At 76 years old, I’m able to look back and see that the little daily rituals that I’ve practiced (not always religiously!) for the past 20 years have contributed to my current happiness and health. Before I even get out of bed, I say “Thank you” out loud, take 5 deep breaths, do 5 pelvic tilts, 5 minutes of isometric stretches, and as soon as I get up I make my bed. After my bathroom ablutions, I drink a glass of water and then make my Holy Basil (tulsi) tea with raw honey, lemon, turmeric, pepper, ginger, and mint leaves. I eat primarily organic foods, meditate, journal, read positive and uplifting passages online and in books (yours included), use essential oils, crystals, do chair tai chi and yoga, and have vases of fresh flowers in every room. I have no TV or smartphone. I haven’t had a drink or a cigarette for years. I no longer have to take any prescription drugs, have been “cured” of Type 2 diabetes, have avoided joint surgery by doing tai chi and yoga, and have dropped 40 pounds effortlessly. Every moment is spent mindfully, taking enrichment classes (drumming, ukulele, memoir-writing), going to local theaters, concerts, music festivals, salt-water fishing, volunteering, writing old-fashioned letters, and exchanging back rubs with my partner. It works for me!
LIS YOUNG says
A lovely note. The going has been really rough lately and your letter helped focus me on what’s important. And remind me to go back to the basics. Thank you.
I’ve been a grateful follower and disseminator of your messages for quite some time but have never posted. I figured it was time I say THANKS for your willingness to continually and generously share the raw truth of the stutter steps of progress. I have been stuck in a rut for some time due to career transition, major relationship breakup and traumatic brain injury from a totaled car accident. I got so used to laying in bed and watching Netflix etc. that it became a pattern that became comforting. When I was younger I had no fear and believed if I worked hard with my many God-given talents and did the right thing, I would be successful. Unfortunately, for me life wasn’t like how it was in school (e.g. if you ace the test you get an A). In real life – due to the unfairness of gender discrimination, pay, politics, jealousy, corrupt work people and places, I’ve become pretty demoralized realizing that unlike my complete success in school for working hard and earning the resulting rewards, in the real work world, I can do everything right, work hard and produce great results but that doesn’t mean I’ll get the “A” in rewards. I don’t want to get into the negative because that won’t help, I know that all I can do is to choose to “try again and again” and control what I can control – my own faith, effort, and choice to self-love and attitude. After your “try again” post and being asked the question, even though you have lost faith, “in what way will you try again today” – I struggled but finally focused on one small positive thing I could do, and it resulted in a prospective job interview, and opportunities for new relationships/group involvement. For how globally defeated I felt (and falsely believed was true), it’s amazing how just focusing on one tiny thing and taking one small action can quickly become so much more. Thank you for changing my experience of my life today.
I can relate to so much of what you shared. Please share one more bit of information…what was the one small positive thing that you could do that started you on the better path for your “today” 🙂 Right now I’m overwhelmed with things that I could-should-would do if I could decide on just one thing. Decisions are beyond my abilities to function even moderately well…think years of bonsai pruning.
troyann moore says
This essay is so refreshing for the soul. I have been struggling and stressed about situations in my life that has lost complete faith. After reading this has inspired me. Thank you so much for writing this.
Marjorie Ocho Kouns says
I started smiling at my thoughts and then, towards my friends and co-workers, and then…random people I walk by on my errands outside. What a difference a simple yet daily action makes. On the smile side, people also start to smile and then do a raised eyebrow as if they are surprised to receive energy and joy from that simple action. Plus a daily and evening ritual of gratitude, meditation, exercise and soulful reading build a compounded new me to BE present. Thanks M & A for the daily reminders!!!
Tess Graham says
Thanks so much for the great content on a rough Friday morning!
I’ve been subscribed to your emails for so many years and I’ll be honest, I don’t read them much. But something made me read this after I saw the caption. I feel the lowest I’ve ever felt in years, no hope in anything and mentally tired like I’ve never ever been. I’ve been unemployed since July 2022 and this January I was given an opportunity to start a new career in a field I’ve never ever been exposed to. I did the training and started. It’s been gruelling – I second guess myself all the time, I have so much self-doubt and I am terrified of failing. I haven’t been to the office in almost 2 weeks because I feel I just can’t succeed in this. I know I’m being way too harsh on myself. All your advice is so true – consistency, daily rituals and faith in self. Thank you for writing this piece. Reading it has cleared the clouds and given me the glimmer of hope I need and reignited that flame within. “small promises, small steps (your daily rituals), and small victories.” My faith in me is restored….
Lauren Baccetti-Eck says
A wonderful reminder for strength to succeed, instead of giving up because of failure, to stay consistent or low self-esteem doubt.
I am a chronic loser of faith in myself and my motivation. Reading this helps me to remember that I can restore that faith over and over and get back up, dust myself off, and give it another go and try to remember to break it down into smaller tasks so that procrastination cant take over and bulldoze my efforts.
I appreciate your wisdom, guidance, suggestions, writings, and commitment to helping others. Thank you for what you do!
Julia Hamilton says
Thanks for a new spin on the old adage of try try and try again! It’s encouraging to see and hear real world examples of how gradually, overtime with sustained effort, little changes do add up to big ones. I’m a recent subscriber to your newsletter and I’m grateful to have you in my inbox.
Thank you. I am so impressed with your open and soul searching newsletters. These have resonated so strongly over the past few years when circumstances have been particularly challenging for me, yet have still, along with my own practices and rituals, found yours a strongly authentic and inspiring voice. Thank you both, I’m so pleased I found you.
Joseph Kirchner says
Nick Saban, the great head football coach at the University of Alabama, is famous for coaching his players to do every small thing just right. He calls it “the process.” The theory is that if you take care of every little detail to the best of your ability, this very act will produce great results in the long run. Every detail! Every little action. It’s hard to argue with Saban, who has produced many national championships employing this method.
Do every little thing to the best of your ability. And do this every single day.
Watch what happens!
Good morning, what away to start my day. This is just a reminder that I can be good to myself. I don’t have to fall and stay down but can get up and walk. Thanks for inspiring words.
Tricia L says
Thank you for writing this beautiful reminder. Sometimes I forget how I got to where I am now. I shared this article with my best friend so she can be reninded how to trust herself too.
Debbie Kuby says
Thanks for sharing this article! The timing is impeccable.
I keep a daily gratitude journal that also contains letters, poems, song lyrics, important notes to myself and my goals.
Johan Coetzee says
I’m in the final phase of publishing a book in South Africa called Screw Retirement (the Afrikaans versions is already published), where the importance of standing up and trying again is reiterated. It very much relates to my personal story, where staying down is not an option and continuous trying and learning becomes a way of life.