“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” – Neil Armstrong
When you really think about it, what a powerful statement that is! What a true and quite often unnoticed truth it is, too. Many scenarios rapidly come to mind when I think of practical examples of this and it’s been something flowing through the last few weeks of thoughts for me. I have been working with an ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) therapist over the last year and a half and this recently came up in conversation. When we are experiencing big feelings or what feels like overwhelming tasks or life circumstances, it is very often a small choice that can, over time, make a big difference. For example, with ACT therapy, there’s significant focus on one’s personal values and learning to make decisions based upon those values. Over my time in therapy and as I really began to highlight my values and what that looked like in my little life, they often led to rather small shifts in my everyday choices. I struggled and felt silly when I found myself discussing with a therapist something as insignificant as the snooze button on my alarm, but now more clearly than ever am I really seeing what “small steps” can do for my purposeful living.
Let me explain the snoozing and how a delightful domino effect can happen. As I spent time reflecting on my personal values, a particular area that landed at the top was my parenting and being as present as possible for my children. Digging a little deeper, that leads to practical examples such as creating more opportunities to be able to actually look them in the eye, giving them my undistracted attention when I’m not washing dishes, on my phone, rushing to get myself dressed, etc. This led to the very simple, but oh so difficult for me choice dating back to circa 1990, which is waking up in the morning to an alarm at a reasonable hour that allows for dressing and eating in a civilized manner. This may sound foreign to those of you who are actual grown-ups and don’t still act like a 13-year-old in the morning, but that damn snooze button is my arch enemy and causes me to wear my hair in a ponytail 362 days of the year, bark at my children to get up and find their other shoe, do a lot of sweating getting loaded up in the car and possibly tempt speeding to school. I am not present on those mornings. However, when I PRACTICE making a simple shift in my choices and drag myself from the bed to the bathroom when the alarm goes off, I then have the option of having a cup of coffee in quiet, matching my socks or accessories with my underwear, helping kids with breakfast and sitting down with them while they eat, and just plain feeling better and ready to face the day. I could go on and on with ways that the dominos continue throughout the day, but you can likely imagine that it leads to meeting other personal value goals like productivity, creativity, etc.
What led me to begin typing this morning is another small change I’ve been recently working on (and failing a lot on, too) is that dang social media habit! The brain and fingertip mindlessly tap on the app and suck me into a vortex of time-sucking, productivity-wasting, and guilt. That’s a bit dramatic, but something I despise nonetheless. It continues to come up in therapy as a frustration for me and at this last appointment, we set a very simple goal to try. I’m (supposed) to quickly set a 5-minute timer on my phone right before opening a social media app. When it goes off, I choose to take two slow breaths and then decide if I want to keep scrolling. It’s my choice at that point, of course, but it gives me a small window to assess whether I’m enjoying the scrolling as a mental break or if it’s mindless and unhelpful. Maybe this sounds silly, but this very small, seemingly insignificant choice, can potentially help me with living my life focused more on my values of productivity, mindfulness with my faith, self-care of my mental and physical health, being more present and available with my dear children, creativity projects, renewing my love of reading, etc.
This message and encouragement goes for big and small goals. Have a disaster of a mess in your house? Start with one thing. One thing at a time. Feeling the overwhelm of weight gain or emotional discomfort? You get to choose to start with one small thing. In the mental health world, the phrase used for helping those struggling with depression to find health and routine again is called Behavioral Activation. It was certainly one of the hardest pieces for me when my depression was heavy because you simply “don’t want to” to the nth degree because it feels almost painful to take the first step, but it is the first step that slowly leads to the feeling of hope that we desperately want. Wherever you are today, whether that be in the depths of frustration or simply aware of an annoying habit, set a tiny goal with realistic expectations of the classic “one step forward, two steps back” and keep going.