mothering

Small Steps

I have a friend who told me that she started her weight loss journey by deciding to take the stairs instead of the elevator. She read in a book that this simple lifestyle change would accumulate to a five pound weight loss over a year.

My first thought was, “That’s a really cool way to think.” And my second thought was, “OK, but I want to lose weight FAST! Maybe I can run up and down stairs for an hour a day and lose five pounds-A DAY!” Moderation is not my forte.

During one month of counseling several years ago, I talked to my therapist about my inability to keep my room clean. I described the pile of dirty and clean laundry covering the floor of my room in my apartment. My therapist thoughtfully listened, and suggested that maybe the next week I could start making a change by, at the end of every day, putting away the clothes I had worn that day into the dirty clothes hamper or back in my closet. She emphasized not worrying about cleaning up the room except doing that small step. She was so logical that I left really encouraged by my opportunity to make change.

I did not put away my clothes that week.

And I think I’m OK. I don’t think I’m failing at this life thing.

But I do think I could benefit from valuing the occasional small step, the first step toward a bigger change.

It is just so hard for me to do small things. I want all the conditions to be right. I want to plan in advance and have sharpened pencils with perfect erasers and a brand new notebook with sectional dividers–and then I can start my writing project.

I’m thirty now and I have a son who fills my days with joy all the while slowing my productivity to a trickle. Where did all my time go? How was it possible that I ever watched an entire season of 24 in two days? I simply no longer have the luxury of getting to have all the conditions perfect before I go downstairs to do the laundry. (Well, I could decide to continue living this way, but work prefers you to show up in clothes not covered in baby spit-up.)

There are a lot of helpful hints for people like me. I see them in the magazine section of my local Barnes and Nobel, or in the sidebar on my Huffington Post articles, or on the posts of those magical, DIY people on Pinterest. But all of those things just seem like another thing to do, and having too many things to do was the problem in the first place.

After my son was born, I joined the ranks of mothers who realized that they were never again going to have time to brush their teeth. Ever. I cried about this for awhile. OK, I cried about this every day for the first three weeks. So my husband came up with an idea.

On our dry erase board, we made a t-chart. Rachel’s Accomplishments/Husband’s Accomplishments. And then below our name we got to write down any amazing thing we had done that day. For example, brushing our teeth. Or drinking a glass of water. Or getting out of pajamas. Or keeping our son alive. These were great joys.

Shifting our minds from thinking about all the things we didn’t do, and instead focusing on all the things we had already done, allowed us to celebrate the day.

Which I think was my stair-climbing friend’s point.

Maybe you didn’t follow your eating plan perfectly. Maybe you didn’t squeeze in your morning work out. Well guess what? I didn’t go running this morning. I didn’t throw in a load of laundry before work, or put together a crock pot meal. I didn’t wake up on time. I didn’t shower.

But I made it to work. I brushed my teeth(!). I talked with a bunch of students about the books they read. I helped two girls improve their reading fluency. I gave some coworkers a high five. I told my husband I love him. I used the stairs instead of the elevator.

I could focus on the first list. But I find myself much happier focusing on the other one.

My resolution for 2014 is to celebrate the small steps, the small victories, trusting that they will, in fact, accumulate to big victories. And in my good moments, maybe I will even believe that it’s the small victories that matter after all. Maybe.

small victories261755_10150290602379874_2436766_n-Rachel
P.S. If you like this idea and want to join a community that celebrates small victories, check out www.superbetter.com. You can learn more about it on Jane McGonigal’s TED talk here.

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