By Rebecca A. Watson
Nothing builds self-esteem and self-confidence like accomplishment. —Thomas Carlyle
About a month ago, I finished knitting my first sweater. I’m so proud of it. I think I’ve worn it more often than anything else in my wardrobe since then. When I tell people I knit it, most people—even some of the knitters—say “Oh, there is no way I could do that.”
I used to feel this way, too. About sweaters and novels and 14-mile hikes, and much more. I think a lot of people, including myself, look at a big project that is seemingly over their heads and decide they will fail before they even begin. But tackling something you think is huge isn’t about having loads of time to dedicate to it or even all sorts of ambition. It’s about stamina and persistence. Sure, you might only be moving an inch every day, but a year from now, you’ll be a lot farther ahead than if you never started at all.
In the past few years, I have worked on loads of different “big” projects. I’ve knit an afghan. I wrote a novel. I saved money for several big vacations. While they all have different outcomes, I looked at every one with similar attitude and approach.
1. Break It Down
The phrase “You can’t eat an elephant in one bite” comes to mind here (although, who knows why you’d want to eat an elephant). One of the best things you can do when faced with something big is to make it small. Create a little map of all the small things you need to do to get there.
When I wrote my novel, there was no way I was going to sit down and just hammer out 85,000 words. I would’ve laughed if you told me to do that. But I knew that’s what I wanted to do, so I worked backwards. I decided that I wanted to finish a first draft in two months, which meant if I wrote every day, I had to write 1,400 words or so. Of course, I might write a little more or less one day, but I had a basic outline. And sitting in front of my computer and saying, “Ok, time to write 1400 words,” seemed infinitely more easy than, “Time to continue writing my 85,000 words.”
Try This Exercise
* Grab a piece of paper and a pencil (really!), and at the top write one thing you want to accomplish. Let’s say you want to run a 10-kilometer race.
* Next write down what you would need to do that. Well, shoes for starters. An accountability partner, maybe? A training program next.
* Set up your days—create a map to follow. Put your shoe shopping day, meeting with your running buddy, and how far you want to train on your calendar from now until the race.
* Now get out and do your one thing for the day or week. Go shopping. Run. If you follow your map, when race day comes, you’ll be ready. If you keep doing what needs to be done today, the accomplishment comes easily.
Small tasks are always easier to complete than big ones, so why not just make your big ones a series of small ones? They’re quick to cross off your list, and they move you toward your goal.
2. There’s a Lot of Power in 20 Minutes
One of my favorite bloggers had a New Year’s Resolution to spend 20 minutes doing housework every day. She said by the end of January, her house practically cleaned itself.
So often we don’t start something because we don’t think we have enough time. My linen closet sat in complete disarray for months until I finally broke down and organized it. You know how long it took me? Twenty minutes. I had been putting it off because I thought I needed an afternoon free to finish it.
You would be amazed what you can get done in 20 minutes if you just focus and ignore distractions. It’s actually how I knit my sweater.
And here’s the big lesson I learned from that. If you don’t finish your task in the allotted amount of time, you can stop and start again tomorrow. It’s not essential to finish everything you start right away. Next time you see a project you really want to get moving on, make a decision to spend 20 minutes on it right away. You’d be surprised how much you can accomplish.
3. Hold the Big Picture Loosely
When you’re working on a large project, you don’t want to lose sight of the goal in front of you, but you don’t want it to overwhelm you either. This is a tricky balancing act that often gets me in trouble. When I’m hiking up the side of a mountain, I try not to look for the top because it feels like I’ll never get there, especially because I’m already gasping for air. But if I don’t look around, I can’t enjoy the gorgeous scenery along the way. So, I appreciate my surroundings without taking in too much at once.
That map you created when you broke down your project into smaller tasks is a great way to keep you on track here. As you accomplish each mini-task, reward yourself by looking back at your progress. After that, look at the whole picture with the perspective of, “Look how far I’ve come!” to keep up your momentum. When I was writing my book, I would graph out my progress on an Excel sheet. That way I could see how far I had come and if I met my goals each day. It was a great way of congratulating myself and keeping me on track for the next day. Then I’d look to my 85,000 words and be proud of how I was getting closer every day. I felt motivated, not suffocated, by my mountain because I could appreciate the scenery along the way.
Every one of us has goals and projects we want to complete. All humans want to have that feeling of accomplishment, whether big or small, for all of humanity or only for ourselves. I believe that each of us has the fire inside to make these things realities—it’s just a matter of lighting the match at the right time, knowing how to shield the wind, and stoking the flames occasionally.
Rebecca Watson is a Truth Advocate and Soul Connection Coach who supports women who’ve dealt with trauma and abuse to find and express their truth in harmony with their soul. A recovering journalist, Rebecca uses journaling and writing as a tool to teach women who feel unheard, broken, and misunderstood to listen to their own truth, trust their instincts, and connect with the divine part of themselves. You can read more of her work and learn more about her coaching programs at sunnysanguinity.com.