How small steps lead to giant leaps

You’ve heard the saying, ‘If nothing changes, nothing changes”. It makes sense, doesn’t it? We can’t expect to improve something without changing it in some way. So why is it that many of us allow our careers (or our lives) to fall into monotonous patterns?

We don’t start out that way. Babies are fascinated by new things, even something as simple as the feel of grass. Toddlers spend whole days exploring and pushing their boundaries. Schoolchildren build up their knowledge year after year. If we go on to further study, the habit continues. However, many of us lose the habit of learning once we join the workforce. We may gain more knowledge or skills incidentally but not always as a result of deliberate or planned progression. Why not?

Losing sight of the big picture

We all get caught up in our day-to-day activities like work projects or paying bills. Focusing on details is a good thing and it keeps us organised. Yet, not thinking past the next month or focusing more on the company’s progression and goals than on your personal ones also has consequences. If you had ‘big picture’ goals at all, they can get pushed aside for ‘another day’ until you forget what they looked like.

Over time, it’s easy to be caught in the trap of your own comfort zone. It’s invisible and sneaky. You don’t see it until you get nudged against it. If you have no real incentive to go beyond it, the easiest thing to do is to stay where you are, especially if you find change scary.

The easy road versus the hard road?

This isn’t always an easy choice. It may seem counterintuitive but often the better option is to take the hard road.

“Isn’t that just overcomplicating things or making them more difficult when they don’t need to be?”

It depends. Sometimes the easy road is fine. If it’s also more efficient and we don’t cut corners. However, it’s also not likely to teach us much. Taking the hard road, on the other hand, forces us to find ways to overcome obstacles, develop new strategies or challenge our current beliefs and fears.

One step at a time

You don’t have to dive in and make major changes. It’s ok to start with small steps. What is important is to know where you’re heading and why you want to be there. Your ‘why’ has to be a rock-solid motivator that drives you from deep inside. You need to know your destination – whether it is a personal goal, something you want to physically create or a level of improvement you want to achieve.

Once you know that, you can develop a plan to get there using steps that take you just outside your comfort zone each time. True, doing that can make you feel uncomfortable and apprehensive. In fact, it should do that – that’s a vital part of the growth process.

We humans are resilient creatures, though. We learn to adapt to change and after a while, it becomes our new ‘norm’. The challenge for us is to not stop there but to keep going.

How to stretch your own boundaries

Successful people are the ones that do the little things others don’t. It doesn’t matter if your end goal is a professional or personal one, the strategies you can use to move forward are similar. Here are a few to consider:

·      Learn a new skill. This could be anything from doing an online tutorial or weekend workshop to enrolling for an accredited course at a TAFE or university.
·      Do something in a different way to see if you get a better result. Experiment with a recipe, try a new strategy to communicate with someone more effectively or redesign a product from scratch.
·      Expand your network and learn from what others are doing. Meetup.com is an online directory for interest groups in just about any area imaginable. You can get together with others and share ideas and experiences. LinkedIn groups are another great way to do this.

Our boundaries are elastic, once we stretch and hold them there for a while, they never return to their original shape. The wonderful thing about stretching ourselves is the confidence it builds in us to keep taking that extra step and the sense of achievement we feel when we look back and see how far we’ve come.

Call to action…

One person who knows exactly what it takes to keep putting one foot in front of the other (literally) is long-distance runner, Richard Bowles. Richard has taken on challenges such as the 5500 km Bicentennial Trail which runs the length of Australia’s Great Dividing Range and other international trails, as a solo runner – often spending days or weeks alone on the track.

In his podcast interview on The Mentor List, Richard shares how the mental strategies he uses to keep going even when surrounded by immense challenges are equally relevant in our careers and personal lives. After hearing him, you’ve sure to be motivated to put your shoes on and start moving (or running) forward too.

Kick start your personal journey to success from the conversations David has with his inspirational guests on The Mentor List. www.mentorlist.com.au

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