Stepping Stones to Success — Make Your stones

Stepping Stones…Isn’t success one hop, skip and jump away?

Frequently we keep hearing people talk about stepping stones to success or the stepping stone to achieving your goal. So I started wondering what exactly are these stepping stones that can make one successful. Do you just stumble on them like you would stumble across a stream when you take a random trail? Or is there a way in which we can identify them and make sure they are the right ones to take us towards our goal — towards success.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that there can never be one attribute or quality that makes a person successful. It is usually a group of things. Also the group of things varies vastly from person to person, situation to situation and goal to goal. However these attributes or qualities are built by habits that are developed due to repeated actions.

The process of identifying these is more or less the same. That is why I called this article — Make your stones. So how exactly do you go about identifying and making these stones that eventually will lead or guide you to success. Before we get to the “How”, let’s quickly go over the “What”.

So what are stepping stones?

Google has 2 definitions for stepping stone and it goes as follows -

“A raised stone used singly or in a series as a place on which to step when crossing a stream or muddy area. “

“An undertaking or event that helps one to make progress toward a specified goal”

I would like to make this easier. It is basically the

  • fundamental (its stones, you can’t get more basic than that),
  • simple (you need to step on them, not solving differential equations)
  • and highly repetitive (you need to do the same “stepping” over and over again)

Things that you do on a day to day basis so that your life moves in the direction that you want. You may not be making insane progress every day as it’s one step at a time. But you are surely not sliding back or going in the wrong direction.

Couple of other things that caught my attention from the above descriptions and require our focus -

  1. Raised — This is important because just like raised stones are more visible on a path and show you where to step. There actions or habits that we want to incorporate also are highlighted in our day (like scheduled on our calendar) or are in such a way that we can clearly see them
  2. Singly or Series — Sometimes it’s not just one thing. Might be a series of things that you might need to do to get to the goal. E.g. Both exercising and eating right are steps to being fit. You cannot just step on one stone (exercise) and skip the next (eating right). You will surely fall in that stream or muddy area (of not making any process) that the above description mentions.
  3. Undertaking or event — Sometimes it’s a whole undertaking and sometimes it’s one event. This depends upon the circumstance and the goal. Might not always be repetitive actions. Could be like the exam you write to pass the Bar. Studying regularly on schedule is the steps, the exam is the event and being a lawyer is the bigger undertaking here.
  4. Specified goal — So a prerequisite for all this is A SPECIFIED GOAL. You have to make sure that you specify a goal before you can start spending time on understanding what are steps/events that will get you there and then breaking it down to the actions/habits that result in you taking these steps. More on what kind of goal setting works for me in this article. (Article No )

How do we decide what our stones are?

I will approach this from two viewpoints. One is if you have a specific goal and another when you don’t have a specific goal.

With a Specific goal -

Deciding what the stepping stones are is MUCH easier if you have a specified goal. Also it keeps things time bound so you know approximately when you will achieve the results.

So let’s say your goal is to get through college. Here getting the degree is the goal. We are not talking about getting a job or getting a 4.0 GPA etc.

Step 1 — We need to chart a map to the goal and break the requirements of the goal down. Identify the steps to reach the goal. Remember, the steps have to be easily identifiable, fundamental and repeatable. It can be an actual step or an event depending on the larger specific goal. This might require some serious thinking on your part.

In our case, if I think of a specific identifiable and repeatable step for graduation, I feel that you need to have a certain number of credits in certain subjects/courses to finish the requirement to take the walk. So how many ever credits are needed — the courses that are required to be completed to achieve those credits is the repeatable step. Finish the courses — fulfill the credits and you walk with the degree in your hand. So the Map has your big “X” marked for graduation and the steps back to the starting point of the map include the courses (the number depends on how many credits you need to fulfill) back to where you are today. The timeline is 1–4 years depending on your choice of degree.

Step 2 — Map the major milestones/checkpoints within which the steps you decided to reach the goal fall under.

In this case, the various semesters as a whole are milestones/checkpoints that happen because the steps that you decided (courses to be taken) occur within these milestones/checkpoints called “Spring and Fall Semesters”. Some courses (your steps) occur in Spring (Milestone/Checkpoint) and some in Fall (Milestone/Checkpoint). This way you know the major milestones and which steps fall in them.

So your graduation map will now consist of a number of courses (events) that are spread between different semesters (milestones/checkpoints).

Step 3 — Map the major events that occur within the Milestones/Checkpoints and are dependent on your steps to take place successfully.

This is basically the mini goals that you need to achieve as you go along your map to your destination. In our example, these can be exams, submissions, capstone projects etc. These are like hurdles you need to get in order to move past the event and cross the milestone. If you don’t complete these hurdles, then you might have to repeat the step before moving to the next.

To clarify more, in our example, you are focussing on Course 1,2,3 (steps) of Semester 1(milestone/checkpoint). In order to cross Semester 1 (milestone/checkpoint), you have to successfully complete Midterms/Projects/Finals (Events!) of Course 1,2,3.

To put in another way, failure to complete these events (Midterms, Projects or Finals) successfully will result in a repetition of steps (course 1,2,3) as you will not be able to cross your milestone/checkpoint (Semester 1) and make no progress towards the Big ‘X’ on your map (Graduation)

The reason Step 3 — Identify Major events is important as it helps you focus and understand the seriousness of the steps that you are taking and how not completing it successfully will make you have to repeat the step again. This helps to bring a sense of urgency, seriousness and focus to the repetitive steps. Because if you keep failing your finals, you can be completing the same course for eternity and never graduate.

Without a Specific goal -

Without a specific goal it is much harder to identify the steps, milestones and major events but that does not mean there is no framework to start off on.

Let us take an example of a non-specific goal like being fit. So we would like to be fit because we enjoy the freedom it gives us in terms of energy and drive. We like to be fit because we do not want to experience the ill health associated with poor fitness.

We are not looking for specific fitness goals like running a marathon, lifting 200 pounds on the bench press etc. We just want to be fit.

Here we approach the Step 1 -goal from a time standpoint. We know that we need to create some stepping stones towards our goal of being fit. These steps have to be identifiable and repeatable. So we start by asking ourselves, how much time do we have during our day that we can dedicate to fitness? If we cannot do it every day, can we find a few days in a week (consistent days, not random) that we have some dedicated time? The answer can be yes for everyday or for a few days every week. We also need to identify a time slot.

So let us say that we are able to spare an hour 3 times a week.

Now the next step is to understand what we Step 2-can do within that time span to maximize our progress towards the goal. Basically optimize the time to maximize the progress towards the goal. Here it is fitness. Given that we have only an hour to spare, if a gym is not close by (within 10 mins max) of our home, a good home workout routine is probably the best bet.

Now what kind of fitness are you looking for? Just a toned body, some muscle, good cardiovascular health or all of the above. Based on that you create your steps of yoga/stretching, weight lifting and running for the three days that you have spare time on. You could also consider some sport or physically demanding activity like dancing as a way to stay fit. Basically fill the slots with the steps that you want to repeat.

Step 3 — Create your own events/checkpoints to keep things fresh and interesting. When the goal is not specific, creating mini hurdles (Improving running time, learning to do a split or lifting heavier weights) helps to keep things interesting. Not only that, these events/milestones act as a check to prevent you from sliding back and losing out on the progress made. As there is no specific goal to move forward to, this step will help to prevent excessive sliding back in case laziness, lack of effort or lack of motivation creep into the process. Thus making sure there is a progression plan for each of the activities helps monitor progress and give some amount of satisfaction.

For example, I always do a minimum of 30 pushups and 50 squats no matter how bad the day is going for me. Because this ensures that I am at a bare minimum (my own set checkpoint) level of fitness.

The best thing always is to try and convert a non specific goal as much as you can to a specific one. In my example, we did this in a roundabout way and fixed on specific times that we will dedicate to fitness. The actual goal is to ensure that we maximize the scheduled weekly time to improve fitness. Which is kind of a specific goal in itself.

Success, a stone’s throw away!

Thus, no matter what the task or the endeavor, as long as we understand how to “make our stones”, consistently and repeatedly keep stepping on them, ensure that we cover the major events and cross every milestone/checkpoint, I am confident that we will never feel lost and overwhelmed when it comes to taking on big challenges or goals.

The journey of a 1000 miles, starts with a single step. Identify your stone, take that step and hold that head high as you make progress towards success.

One step, one punch, one round at time “ — Creed, Rocky Balboa

Originally published on my personal blog at For more articles like this, follow me on Medium.




Storyteller | Blogger | Sādhaka | Blog — |

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Ram Ganti

Ram Ganti

Storyteller | Blogger | Sādhaka | Blog — |

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