When beginning a long, complex project, people tell you to take things one step at a time.
Sure. That sounds practical and logical, but how many people truly take their own advice? There’s a huge goal looming out there, and it’s extremely difficult see anything but the finish line. It’s also extremely easy to forget to celebrate each successful step taken along the journey.
This piece of advice has been on my mind a lot lately. It seems like my goals tend to fall on the long-term side: novel writing and overcoming horseback riding fear in particular.
Let’s talk about horses this time.
Three years ago, I was afraid of everything. I thought I was going to die every time I went to the barn, but I still loved horses and wanted to overcome my fear. I heard lots of trainers say that I needed more time in the saddle. I should ride and ride and ride. Every single day. One day off and you’d backslide! Wet saddle blankets! After you ride X,000 hours, you will have gotten rid of the fear. The problem with this mindset is that it creates a huge amount of stress in a fearful rider. Suddenly, you feel as if you must trap yourself inside your biggest fear and you cannot stop until you ride X,000 hours or else you will fail.
As it turns out, duration in the saddle is not really the most efficient way to overcome horseback riding fear. Yes, you have to ride in order to overcome the fear of riding, but the answer is not found in long rides where you are locked in the saddle. It’s found it lots of short rides. In other words, short sessions and small goals do more to affect changes in the rider’s brain than trying to stay in the saddle until you reach your final goal.
This spring, I probably haven’t ridden my horse more than 15 minutes at a time, and yet I have made more progress in those rides than I have in a long time. Darcy and I are tackling my biggest fear–cantering–15 minutes at a time. Yesterday, after two weeks off, I rode Darcy 15 minutes and they were the best 15 minutes! We can now canter at a relaxed pace with no bouncing or resistance from either of us. That is a far cry from last summer when we were flying around the indoor arena like California Chrome on speed.
And it didn’t happen because I rode for hours every single day. It happened because of taking small steps at the pace I could handle.
The same applies to writing and to any large, multi-step project. If you only see the final goal, then you are putting an undue amount of stress on yourself.
I know the value of small steps, but still, every time I begin a new book, I feel compelled to force myself to sit down and write until it’s finished. It’s natural. But if I allowed myself to act on this way of thinking, I would be miserable. I am looking only at the end goal when I should be taking the process 15 minutes at a time. Every 15 minutes–or 1,000 words or whatever–is another step closer to the big goal.
Each small step should be celebrated. The process will go from being a “looming deadline” to being a celebration of completing an enjoyable task and being ready to take the next step without feeling unnecessary stress.