The Small Things
January 12, 2022
Raghavi (she/her/hers), Low Entropy Volunteer Writer
New Year’s is a time of reflection for many. A time to look back on the past year and to look ahead to the future. I used to write out a list of lofty goals every New Year, and then promptly forget about them by the end of January. I would put far too many things on the list and end up too overwhelmed to work on any of them. Over the last few years, I’ve realized that starting small is the best way to accomplish change for me. Now I am much more sparing with my goal setting. I don’t put pressure on myself to set goals for the sake of the new year, so some years I have just one or two goals, and some years I have none.
I also don’t wait for the new year. Instead I just do it throughout the year, as I identify things that I want to work on. I use the same approach with my to-do lists, paring the tasks down to the absolute essentials, and now I am much more successful in getting those tasks done. On the hard days I skip the to-do list altogether and write a have-done list instead. I write down all the things I have accomplished throughout the day, even if it is something as small as getting out of bed or having a shower. It instantly makes me feel better about myself.
When it comes to working toward an actual goal, embracing small steps has been a game changer for me. The old adage “Rome wasn’t built in a day” is a good way of visualizing this. You cannot go from a beginner level guitar player to a virtuoso overnight. It takes many small steps over time. Often when I set a goal, it’s hard to know where to start, as it just seems like one giant, unscalable mountain. This is where breaking it down into smaller parts is helpful. It makes it less overwhelming, and the work I need to do becomes much clearer.
Also, realizing that there will never be a perfect time to start working has been a lightbulb moment for me. I just have to make use of the time I have, even if it’s squeezing in five minutes in the morning before work or a few minutes before bed. The old me would wait for inspiration and motivation to strike, preferably when I had a big chunk of free time, but that ideal confluence never happened. It seems like such a simple concept, but I still catch myself thinking, “I’ll wait for a better time” to start something. I have to actively push myself and say, “I am going to do it right now, even if it doesn’t seem like the perfect time.”
A lot of times, especially when a task is difficult or laborious, my mind throws up a wall and I find myself avoiding the work. A technique that I have found useful to help me break through this mind block is the Pomodoro Technique, which is setting a timer for 25 minutes and working without stopping for those 25 minutes before taking a break. I usually aim for 10 minutes and I don’t always use a timer, but the concept has been incredibly useful in helping me get started. I find that once I actually start, I get into a rhythm and often keep going well beyond 10 minutes, but even if I only do 10 minutes of work, I still feel a sense of achievement.
Self-improvement is a wonderful pursuit, but it is important to remember that progress might not be linear and it might not be fast. There will be ups and downs and productive days and not so productive days. We are our own worst critics and often place unrealistic expectations on ourselves. It is important to have patience and self-compassion and to celebrate the small wins. We may not make giant leaps every day, but the small steps will add up over time to make lasting change. So don’t be harsh on yourself for not getting enough done, instead congratulate yourself on every small step that you take toward the future you dream of.
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