When I first began writing on Medium 6 months ago I had no idea what I was doing. I made a lot of mistakes and really embarrassed myself all the time. I look back and wonder how in the world I ever made it to where I am today.
But now that I can look back with the 20/20 vision of hindsight, I see the exact steps I took to get here. It was the small, incremental steps every day. Not large strides.
This is why so many people give up in the first few tries of doing anything new. They think that they have to be an expert it right from the beginning and if they aren’t then it must not be for them.
Admit it, you’ve been there more times than you’d like to admit. And you might even be there with your New Year’s Resolutions right now.
I’ve been there too, it’s okay.
I can imagine you might have set a goal like going to the gym for an hour every day. Or from the moment the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve, you got right on your diet (which, a diet won’t work anyway).
Problem is, goals like this just don’t work. They are more plans than goals anyway. These goals don’t work because they aren’t sustainable.
A sustainable goal is an accomplished goal.
So how do you set sustainable goals? You have to start slow at first, then add more effort as you progress. So many of us work backward at this — starting big with our efforts then decreasing because we can’t take it. Until we quit.
In one of my favorite books, there is what is known as the allegory of an Olive tree that illustrates this principle.
Olive trees, like most fruit trees, can have good fruit or bad fruit, depending on the quality of the tree. But it is possible to change a tree with bad fruit to a tree that bears good fruit through a process called grafting.
Grafting is when branches are taken from a tree with good fruit and connected to the tree with bad fruit. The way they are connected allows the branches to grow together as one, and the bad fruit can become good.
However, in this particular story in my favorite book, there is a bad tree that has too much good grafted into it at once. The tree becomes even worse than it was before and ends up being burned.
Many times, we try too hard to do too much too early when trying something new. We spend too much time or expect too much of ourselves. The reality is, this kind of work towards accomplishing our goals is ineffective.
Let yourself grow into your goals slowly, day by day, and you will accomplish them. Consistency is more important than intensity.
For example, this year I’m wanting to get to bed earlier. I set a goal to be done with writing at 10:00 pm so I could be in bed by 10:30.
But it’s 10:40 right now and I’m not done writing.
It would be easy to get frustrated with myself at not reaching my goals. Instead, I recognize that it’s not realistic to expect this kind of immediate change in myself. So I relax and move on, doing the best I can.
I will still end up getting to bed at least half an hour earlier than my average time recently, which is an improvement. If I was only improving by 5 minutes every night, I would, with consistency over time, reach my goal.
The same works for diet and exercise, or financial goals, relationship goals, or whatever else it might be. You might not be able to do as much as you want to right away but that’s okay and you need to let it be okay.
Let yourself be imperfect when you begin something new, and you will go farther than you ever imagined possible.