Reach Your Dreams with Baby Steps

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Happy New Year! Welcome back from the holiday sabbatical. I’ve missed you all terribly!

In lieu of decking the halls, I spent the entirety of December crippled by a stomach flu of Biblical proportions, the likes of which I have not seen since the Great Norwalk Virus Debacle of 2001.

The flu put a halt to all activities except squirming in my bed, delirious with fever. Convinced I was dying, I mentally updated my Last Will and Testament, pondering which of my friends was best equipped to inherit my 8′ long boa constrictor.

(Luckily for my chosen friend and the boa constrictor, I survived.)

But the extended sickness left me exhausted, depleted, malnourished. My muscles felt atrophied and I was on the verge of bed sores. My metabolism reset to zero, I lacked energy even to hold myself upright.

Walking Small

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I felt more rest was not the answer. That it was time for movement, fresh air, and sunshine (good luck with that one, Seattle). It was time to get my blood flowing.

In my weakened state, I couldn’t expect to leap right back to my running regimen when I could barely pace the 30 feet from door to bed. So I started small: I decided to walk down to South Lake Union and back each day.

It’s two miles round trip. The outbound route is a scenic, leisurely stroll. Which almost makes up for the cardiac-arrest inducing return.

There is not one single step of the walk home that is not cruelly, unapologetically, up hill.

And I’m not talking “challenging incline.” It’s the kind of hill where you stand at the top and see only sky and water, convinced as you crown the edge you’ll find nothing but air beneath you. The kind of hill too steep to see the bottom, too steep to park a car on.

Too steep for someone who has spent a better part of the last month in bed.

But yesterday I set out for the first time. By psyching myself up for the climb, I made it to the halfway point before stopping. I fought to catch my breath, lungs burning. I gripped my cell phone, debating whether to call a cab or an ambulance.

At this point, an elderly man out of an 18th century London mystery novel emerged from a side street. Donning a tweed coat, he tipped his hat in greeting as his Springer spaniel investigated a tree trunk.

Pipe in one hand, gryphon-topped walking stick in another, he smiled as he watched my horror-stricken face surveying the remaining incline.

“I don’t think I’m going to make it,” I told him in defeat. He tapped his walking stick on the ground in front of me.

“Stop looking up at the top. Look here.” I followed the gryphon’s pointed glare down to the simple square of pavement before me.

“Just put one foot in front of the other.”

“I can do that,” I said, feeling a twinge of hope. One foot in front of the other seemed manageable. I put away my cell phone and stopped searching the horizon for the next bus stop.

I looked down at my feet. I focused. I stopped worrying about how far it was, how much longer. I stopped worrying about the violent climb ahead. I stopped worrying about speed. I just put one foot in front of the other.

And I got there. Granted, it took me awhile. But I had a real sense of accomplishment when I arrived home, flushed and gasping for oxygen. I felt good. The adrenaline had boosted my circulation, the air in my lungs made me feel heady and light. And I had followed through.

Resolute in the New Year

This time of year, many folks break out their New Year’s Resolutions, motivated and optimistic. There’s something refreshing about January — the holidays behind us, a new calendar, a manual reset. I am a lover of fresh starts, so the New Year unfurls before me like a blank canvas.

Making big plans is great. I believe in dreaming big. But when it comes to the daily approach, we need to break it down into manageable bite sizes.

We need to focus on what’s right in front of us and not worry about how far we have to go. Otherwise we get discouraged, we get overwhelmed. It feels like too much work. That’s why so many people abandon their sparkly-eyed intentions, feeling worse about themselves the morning after.

I thought I was breaking it down enough by starting small: one day, just a walk. But sometimes we need to take it down even further.

What New Year’s resolutions do you have that you can break down into bite sized chunks? The smaller you break them down, the more manageable they become. And then you have a better chance of seeing them through.

Get out your journal and write about one thing you’d like to accomplish this year. Then break it down into a month-long goal. Then a weekly, then a daily. Then break your daily down into a handful of tiny tasks.

That’s how we make progress: one foot in front of the other.

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