You have big dreams. But when you look at where you are now and compare it to these ambitions, getting from point A to point Z seems just about impossible. This is why most people give up on their loftiest goals and either go after something that seems more attainable or settle for what they already have.
You don't have to do either, according to best-selling author and executive coach Wendy Capland. You can make real progress towards any goal, no matter how ambitious, by taking baby steps that get you closer to your objective. And, she says, this approach gives you the greatest chance of actually getting there.
A while back, I wrote a column from an interview with Capland and as a follow-up we decided she would coach me and that I would write about it. In a recent session, I told her I was frustrated with myself because, while I've made good progress toward some of the things I want to do, on others I seem to be stuck in neutral. That's what got us talking about taking baby steps toward big goals.
Taking baby steps, she says, "seems doable, and doesn't trigger the fight-or-flight response in the brain." A few years ago, she recalls, someone in one of her leadership programs asked her what dream she had not yet realized. She heard herself answer that she had always wanted to be on TV.
"As soon as I said it, I thought I was an idiot for saying it," she says. "My amygdala, the part of the brain, that triggers the fight-or-flight response kicked in big time and I tried to figure out how to back myself out of what I had said. While I was thinking about my dilemma, a woman in the program came up to me and said that if I was serious about TV, she was being interviewed the following week on a local cable TV show. She asked if I wanted to come and watch. I thought, 'I can do that!'" Capland observed the interview, continued learning more about television, and eventually became the host of her own show for several years.
"Baby steps are simple, non-threatening, and appear easy to do so we do them," she explains. "Movement may seem slow as molasses but in the long run it's the most effective approach. It's like the marathon vs. the sprint. Baby step after baby step gets you to your goal with ease and joy."
Ready to give baby steps a try? Here's how:
1. Define your goal or goals.
You can't get what you want till you know what you want so take the time to decide exactly what your goal is. "Write it down so you can see, taste, feel, and imagine this goal," Capland says.
Writing down my goals was literally the first thing Capland had me do when we began our coaching work. I had a hard time committing to specific objectives, but I'm glad she made me do it because every time I get wishy-washy or say I'm not sure I want to do something--usually because I'm having a fight-of-flight reaction of my own--she can remind me of what I wrote.
2. Pick your first baby step.
"Ask yourself, 'What's the first easy thing I could do to head in the direction of getting this thing?'" Capland says. Whatever it is, write it down under the goal, along with a deadline by which you know you can do the baby step. "Make a commitment to one thing and then do it. Check it off when you complete it," she says.
3. Take the next step.
"Once your first step is complete, do another one," Capland says. "Tape your progress to your office wall, refrigerator or bathroom mirror so you can celebrate every single time you complete a baby step along the way."
4. Get someone to check in with you.
If you're highly self-motivated, Capland says, you may not need to do this. For the rest of us, she advises, "Use a friend or spouse to check in with you and ask you what next step you will take," she says.
5. Go bigger if you want to.
If you're making progress toward your goal, should you confine yourself to baby steps? Not necessarily, Capland says. "If you feel like taking a big bold leap, go for it!" she says. Every time you complete a step, large or small, check in with yourself about what's next.
"Ask yourself if you still want the thing you are headed towards," she says. "And if the answer is 'yes,' then come up with your next step--baby or big."