Often the correct path to move you closer towards your goal is simply in taking the next logical step. It can be very easy to get caught up in making fantastic plans and searching for that great big idea. This approach often results in a lot of procrastination and very little results.
I think that the self-help industry has done a disservice to people by creating the illusion that most of improvement comes from huge leaps. Although it may be less sexy and motivating to write about, I believe that the majority of your growth will come from simply taking the next logical step.
What is the next step? It is your best guess at what next action will move you closer to your goal. If that is losing weight your next step might simply be going to the gym. The next step in improving your finances could be simply keeping an accurate list of your current expenses. The next step in your relationship life could simply be going out to meet new people, or adding a little more value to the lives of the people you already know.
What the best next step is will always be a guess. You can’t know the implications of all the possible choices you have, so you just have to estimate. Perfectionists get caught up in constantly trying to figure out what the absolute best next step is, and never end up taking it. Take a step, if it is the wrong one you can back up and step again.
Planning and Stepping
When you are starting in a new endeavor, it can be easy to think you know more than you actually do. This is why a lot of your big plans collapse on execution. In the simplified world of your mind they held up, but when applied to the rigors of reality they crumble. Taking the next step doesn’t have this problem. You learn, test and improve in the real world.
Looking at the path to your goal from a distance can be overwhelming. But when you focus on just the next step you have control. The next step is under your control. Even if you can’t see yet how it will bridge with where you want to go, you are moving forward.
Our brains are strategic machines that like to think far ahead. This is good because it allows us to see our lives beyond our circumstances. But the downside is that it is our natural tendency to think far further than the next available step. Our minds are constantly search two, three, even fifteen steps ahead of where we are.
The problem with thinking this far ahead is that a lot of the time we simply don’t know enough to make accurate guesses about what to do beyond the next step. Lacking understanding, trying to figure out the fifteenth step is pointless.
Planning is like trying to make a map of a place you’ve never visited before. You can visualize the terrain and ask other people what the map should look like. But when you actually go to see the area it may be completely different than you expected.
Planning is definitely important, but I think people give it a lot more usefulness then it actually has. Your plan is simply that, a map you charted without seeing the terrain. It is certainly better than nothing, but spending all your time trying to perfect it is a waste.
Stepping Into Fear
Fear keeps you from taking the next step. Planning is safe, stepping is not. Stepping into the world means you need to move into the unknown.
Each of us has our own internal level of courage. This form of optimism allows us to push into that unknown at different rates. The next step for you might terrify another to the point of inaction.
Part of taking that next step is understanding your own level of courage. The next step you have to take is always the largest step forward you can handle. If the next step to your business success is delivering a speech, but you can’t bring yourself to do it, rehearsing the speech in front of a group of friends may be your next step. If the next step in your relationship success is approaching a new person, but you can’t seem to do it, try asking a mutual friend to introduce you.
Sometimes the next step can’t be broken down. Sometimes the next step you need to take can only be taken all at once and it terrifies you. When this happens you need to put enough leverage on yourself so that the move forward becomes a must.
I can’t tell you that doing this is fun. It will probably be one of the most stressful things you ever do. But when you move past a major obstacle and take that next step the result is an enormous feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment. Even when the situation turns out badly, usually you still feel great for conquering your fears.
Tripping While Stepping
Taking that next step will result in a lot of mistakes. Tons. You may not want to trip. You might want to plan your step carefully so that you wont. But I think you will learn and grow a lot faster by tripping first rather than trying to avoid it.
Give up on trying to be perfect. Give up on even trying to be good. Just aim to do. When you trip a lot you learn a lot. Few failures are permanent, by trying and failing a lot you will learn a lot faster and get to where you want to be.
I like to think about it as if in each new endeavor you have a certain amount of mistakes that you need to make before you can reach a certain level of success. A certain amount of tripping before you can walk confidently. You’re going to have to slip up the same amount whether you plan excessively or just do it. Don’t delay the inevitable.
The idea of simply taking the next step may not be revolutionary or mind-blowing. But how often do you actually use this approach? Do you have a propensity for doing, or do you like to sit, imagine and plan to avoid the fear and failure that lies ahead? What is your next step? Do it now.