The Two Types of Toughness Required for Success
You can either experience baby steps as insulting frustrations or as small, precious achievements.
Change “means setting small, reasonable goals for yourself, one step at a time, one day at a time,” writes Dr. Leo M. Marvin in his book Baby Steps: A Guide to Living Life One Step at a Time.
Spoiler: Dr. Leo M. Marvin isn’t real. Bill Murray fans might recognize the name of the villainous psychiatrist, played by Richard Dreyfuss, from the 1991 film What About Bob? Though the fictional doctor’s advice is, in reality, spot-on, it’s telling that the movie delivered it through such a condescending and uncaring character.
In concept and in practice, small steps can feel inherently insulting, like serial jabs about our ineptitude. They’re also tedious. It’s easy to lose motivation when you’re faced with the slog of incremental change instead of a single, triumphant leap to success.
My friend Ann’s most recent attempt to learn Spanish is a great example of the trouble with baby steps. “I feel like I can read a bit and say words,” she told me over coffee. “But when I hear the language spoken, I have no idea what is being said. I feel like that’s my own stupidity.”
Her response? “Basically: QUIT!” she said. “I think I’m never going to get this. I think, ‘Maybe I’m just stupid in this area, or it’s not my thing. So why should I bother?’ I mean, if I keep going, it’s just going to mean more reminders of how stupid I am.”
Before Ann are two choices: Live happily in the thought bubble of “someday I’ll learn Spanish” or deal with the painful experience of feeling incompetent by actually trying to take the steps to reach her goal, thus seeing how far she is from what she wants and getting disappointed. Facing these two choices, the protective part of her wins out. It’s paradoxical: Ann feels happier about her goal when she’s not actually pursuing it.
Hope is a scary risk
Each hope contains the risk of disappointment. The higher your hope for a better future, the greater potential for a possible fall into disappointment. Not only do small steps raise your anxiety about future disappointments, but they are…