On Friday the13th (yes, actual Friday the 13th) in March 2015, the boiler that heated my family’s home unexpectedly exploded. In the process, it took out walls, ripped out natural gas lines, and ruined the furniture and belongings in multiple rooms. Seven fire trucks and 42 firemen responded to the emergency. It was a disaster. Since the nanny cam caught the explosion on video, our drama soon made national news.
I had a one-year-old and a three-year-old, my then-husband and I both had demanding jobs to manage—and no house to live in. During the months after the explosion, we had to move five times while coping with all the insane demands of our life. Fortunately, we gradually got past that crazy chapter of our lives, the kids stayed healthy, and (rather amazingly) neither my husband nor I missed a single day of work.
If we had stopped to think about the immense challenges we faced, we would have been overwhelmed and been stopped in our tracks. The only way we coped was breaking down the craziness into smaller, manageable tasks, and then dividing them up between us. We made a master list of everything that needed to be done, and we passed it back and forth to each other. Since our house was cordoned off during the investigation, we couldn’t get to our closets, so someone had to buy clothes for all of us to wear. Someone had to deal with the insurance company. Someone had to meet with the people at the bank to get a loan to bridge the gap until the insurance money came in. If one of us had a busy week, the other took lead on our master list. Ultimately, by taking one slow step at a time, we both got through it with our sanity intact—and we ended up in a house we like even more than the one we lost.
Most of us like to think of life in terms of great adventures and amazing achievements, but many times, success is simply the product of doing the same thing—the same tactic, the same practice, the same exercise, the same tedious little task—over and over, day after day. It sounds boring, but it’s also comforting when you’re in the middle of a crisis or during those times when life seems overwhelming. Believing in the power of the slow trudge can get you over even the steepest challenges.
Smalls steps add up to a big difference
The power of the trudge can do amazing things in your life, too. For example, if you want to have physical health, you’re not going to run a marathon one weekend and then sit on the couch the rest of the year. Instead, you’ll need to move every day. If you want to have a company that has fantastic customer service, you can’t sit down and answer all your customer emails once a year; you have to answer them every single day. Great things happen when you do small steps that are compounded by the power of time.
This approach will get you through the crises in your life, but it’s also great for when you want to improve your life in a variety of ways. Your job may seem so challenging and exhausting that when you come home all you want to do is slump down on the sofa and watch TV—but small steps don’t require that much energy. By doing one or two small things every day, you can transform your life.
For example, a few years ago I went back to school for my nutritional therapy certification. The baby steps toward that goal consisted of studying at least 20 minutes a day. Twenty minutes a day was the litmus test for success or failure. Many days, I studied more than 20 minutes, but so long as I was consistent about at least those 20 minutes, I knew I would ultimately reach my goal.
Consistency is powerful. Best-Day-Ever success comes from all those tiny consistent steps, one after another, when you’re tired, when you’re bored, when you’re sad, no matter what.
Let’s say you have a goal of eliminating sugar from your diet. Instead of saying, “I’m quitting all sugar,” you could say, “I’m not going to have regular sugar in my coffee. I’m going to downgrade to honey, and I will not eat refined sugar in the form of candy.” That’s your goal. That’s it. Do that for a month. Do it for six months. Then do it for a year. By that time, it will have become a habit and you can set yourself a new, slightly more challenging goal if you want to. You’ll be healthier than if you had done nothing—and you are far more likely to be consistent about small, manageable goals than if you had set yourself an impossibly high mountain to climb.
The power of the paperclip (yes, paperclip!)
Author James Clear shares a simple yet powerful strategy for utilizing the power of the trudge. In 1993, 23-year-old Trent Dyrsmid was a rookie stockbroker who surprised everyone by making immediate progress toward success, thanks to two jars and some paper clips.
Every day he would start with 120 paper clips in one jar, while the other jar was empty. At eight o’clock in the morning, he started making calls, and each time he made a phone call, he would move a paper clip from the full jar to the empty jar. For the rest of the day, he just kept making calls until all the paper clips had been moved from one jar to the other.
After a year and a half of making 120 calls every day, his book of business grew to $5 million in assets. Within a few years, other firms were recruiting him because of his success, and eventually he got a new job where he was making $200,000 a year.
Trent earned his success one paper clip at a time. The paper clips gave him a visual cue that helped him commit to the same small act over and over and over, day after day.
Consider using the paper clip strategy to motivate you for the slow trudge. And remember—even though the trudge can get boring, it’s also hopeful. Just do this one small thing, every day, and it will change your life.
Photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen on Unsplash