PLEASE Stop Using This Phrase

getting started neuroscience subconscious take action wording Jun 22, 2020

Baby steps. It’s a common phrase. We all know it and we’ve likely all used it before. Now I want all of us to stop. Please. I implore you. PLEASE stop using this phrase.

Quit cheating yourself with baby steps and actually make the change.

I understand why we say it. It means we’re feeling overwhelmed by the bigger picture and that we’re happy that we made at least some progress. But if you are measuring progress in “baby steps,” do you feel like you made any real progress? And are you actually happy about that progress? I’d say nope and nope.

Yes, progress can take time. For example, if you have a completely disorganized house where nothing has a place and everything seems to be sprinkled about you can’t ever find anything... then, yes, it may feel like a “baby step” when you get the kitchen counter cleared off. Or it may feel like a baby step when you get your Etsy account set up when you’re starting an online business selling your handmade jewelry. Of course there are a lot of other things that need to happen to reach your ultimate goal in either of those scenarios, but….

Why minimize your progress by applying such an insignificant value to the work that you’ve made towards your goal? How do you think that impacts your motivation to keep going?

If your son has been diligently working on his new 1,200 piece Lego set for an hour and comes to show you the car that he’s completed (that only required about 20 of those 1,200 pieces!) to celebrate his progress, I wholeheartedly don’t think you would say, “Baby steps, son. Keep plugging away. You’ll get it done eventually.” I have a feeling you would say something more along the lines of, “Way to go! Good job!” Right?

So why on earth do we think it’s okay to minimize our own progress like that?!

Progress is progress. LET’S CELEBRATE IT!!

 When I jump on a weekly organizing coaching call with a client, the first thing I have them do is to show me what they’ve completed since our last call. I celebrate their successes with them and ask how the space feels now. Inescapably, they smile, and, with an uptick in their tone, they say, “Good!” Then we move on to the next area and I give them a new set of manageable tasks that they should easily be able to complete before our next call. These are steps that will show progress, not baby steps. As we wrap up our call, I typically also suggest that they open the closet or peek in an area that’s freshly organized and to really feel how good it feels to have at least that one area done despite having more to do.

Why do I do this? Why is this such a big deal?

It’s simple neuroscience. This client has likely been feeling overwhelmed by how much needs to be done and they’re not confident about their organization or project management skills. (After all, they called me in to help.) So they've been thinking these thoughts and feeling these feelings over and over again, which means that their brain has literally been wiring itself to believe this is an overwhelming and stressful situation that will never be fixed or look how they want it to. In other words, it becomes a habit.

My client is going to be so much more likely to maintain the changes over time when they actually feel that they can reach their goal, so reinforcing the positive emotions from celebrating the progress is going to help change the way they think about their situation and abilities. For my life coaching clients, I have them do the equivalent by maintaining a daily gratitude journal. Again, we’re working on shifting their preconceived perceptions and beliefs into a much more “possible” place.

In both cases, we’re moving from the perspective of “baby steps” to the more motivating “making progress.” Wording IS important! That said, let’s flip that around and acknowledge that wording, perspectives and beliefs are only part of the equation.

Yes, I always want you to recognize and celebrate your progress. However, if you are trying to reach a relatively significant goal then why take what you view to be a “baby step”? After all, you want this thing, right?

Here’s a visual for you. Let’s say that you are in Minneapolis and you want to make the change (metaphorically speaking) of going to Costa Rica on foot. The distance between Minneapolis and Costa Rica can feel overwhelming, considering that it’s about 3,500 miles away and would take about 70 hours of driving to get there!

So, in this metaphorical example of Minneapolis (current state) to Costa Rica (the goal), how many “baby steps” to make even a mile? At the “baby step” level of momentum, how long will it take for you to reach your goal?

Using the phrase “baby steps” is just another way for us to stay stuck.

When babies begin learning how to walk they are very wobbly and unsure of their steps. But they also take action. They keep trying to walk, over and over and over again. More and more baby steps. They don’t give up or lose sight of their goal. And then one day they walk straight across the entire room. Sure after this significant achievement they may fall down, but they did it! And then they keep going with this and we all understand it's time to get serious with the baby-proofing because there’s no stopping them at that point.

The thing is, though, that it’s all relative. Adults might see it as a “baby step,” but these steps are a much bigger deal to a baby considering their tiny feet. So, if a baby learns to walk by taking “baby” steps, shouldn’t we, as adults, be taking “adult” steps towards our goals? And once we find our momentum, there’s really no stopping us either.

Of course, sometimes we take these baby steps, and label them as such, so that we can stay small. We subconsciously like to stay in our comfort zone. Our brains even reinforce this because our neuropathways are setup to make staying stuck in the same behaviors easier than changing.

I’d like to challenge you to break free from your comfort zone. As many of my clients can attest to, I often say, “Shock the system!” Do something different. Stop talking about baby steps and start taking some very tall adult steps. Do something you’ve never done. Drive a different way to the store or work. Shake things up and create new neuropathways in your brain.

Sometimes all we need is a little perspective change and some serious clarity to give ourselves momentum in reaching our goals. So if you’re feeling overwhelmed with your goal or a process, a step in the process, or anything about it, then stop to answer a few questions:

  • Do you have a clear vision of what you want?
  • What do you need to get clear on your goal?
  • Are you clear on the steps to take to get there?
  • Do you need help from a friend, boss or coach?
  • What progress have you made towards this goal already?
  • Is this truly something that you want as opposed to what you think you “should” do?
  • What shifts in your perspective could you make to help you feel more optimistic and thereby gain more momentum?

And, what word does “baby” rhyme with? Maybe! Maybe, baby! As in “maybe someday I’ll reach my goal by taking all of these baby steps.” That sounds completely exhausting and sad, doesn’t it? That’s not good enough because, Baby, there should be no “maybe” about you living your dreams!

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