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Finding the Juice in Small Steps

Our goals (if we've created them correctly) are inspiring and attractive and exciting to us. But all those small steps to get there? Ugh.
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hand squeezing lemon isolated...
hand squeezing lemon isolated...

"It is good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters in the end." -- Ursula Le Guin

We've all heard it: The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. Lao Tzu told us that centuries ago. He forgot to mention that it's not just that first small step, but also the one after that, and the one after that. Depending on how far the destination or how big the goal, we might have to take a zillion of those small steps to get where we want to go!

And the problem many people have with all those small steps is that they aren't very sexy or juicy, are they? Our goals (if we've created them correctly) are inspiring and attractive and exciting to us. But all those small steps to get there? Ugh.

And sadly, that's why many people give up on their goals. Not because the goal was too far out of reach. Not because the obstacles were too daunting. Not because the goal became undesirable. Just because those small steps were, well, boring.

On the flip side, we've got the goal gobblers. These are the people who hunt down goal after goal, belt notch after belt notch. They experience a brief sensation of "yahoo!" when each goal is completed, but then instantly start chasing after the next one. They grind it out, day after day, simply to keep moving. Not much juice there, either.

Does either of those sound a great way to spend your life? Isn't there a better way to pursue our goals?

In my NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) and hypnosis workshops, we talk about not only how to achieve your goals and get your unconscious mind on board, but also how to make the journey fulfilling along the way. There are several components to this:

Stay Present: It's a little scary to notice how often we are not where we are! By this, I mean we're texting the office while at dinner with a friend. We're talking on our phones while walking through the airport. We're worrying about our kids while sitting in a business meeting.

We carry this over to our goals, spending our time imagining how great it will be when they are achieved and neglecting to notice how great things are in this moment. Rather than focusing only on where we want to go, how about some appreciation for where we are now?

Maybe we want to be 45 pounds lighter -- but isn't it great that we have our health even now? That we have the means to sign up for a gym membership or the intelligence to discover a nutritional plan that works for us? Isn't it awesome that our spouses and children still love us at our plus-size? Isn't it amazing that others share our journey and have succeeded?

Honor the Season: Every journey to a goal has "seasons" that are natural and valuable. There is winter, when you hit some level of discontent that makes you aware that you want something more. Next comes spring, when you plant new, fresh, exciting ideas about where you want to go and how to get there. Summer is the time of longer days, keeping your ideas alive, nurturing them through doing. And autumn is the harvest time when your ideas manifest.

As with mother nature's seasons, you may prefer one over the others. But each of these seasons is necessary for creation. Pay attention to which season you're in and appreciate it as you take your journey.

Find the Lesson: Olympian Bill Toomey once said, "Realize from the start that every activity has value and the ability to teach you something." So it's not just the overall goal, but each small step that is valuable in itself.

For example, say your goal is to find a romantic partner. One of the small steps you may need to take is to go out and meet new people. Ugh. Well, you can either look at sorting through all the Mr. and Ms. Wrongs as a drag -- or you can make it a classroom. What can you learn by doing this step? How can you train yourself to be more comfortable in these situations? Are there ways you could learn to read people better? What can you enjoy about all those Mr. and Ms. Wrongs? By approaching it as an opportunity to learn, you'll gain valuable skills that apply to all areas.

Notice Who You Are Becoming: Over a century ago, Henry David Thoreau wrote, "What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals." It's not just the end result or the "what" of your goal. It's who you will become because of your journey.

Your goal might be to own your own business. What talents, skills, understandings, awareness, and maturity do good business owners possess? A business is not just about the product. It's about the leadership at the helm. Who will you become along the way? How will you stretch and grow? What self-image do you need to have?

We know that goals are important to living a fulfilling life. But most of our hours will be spent doing the steps along the way, not in the achieving of each goal. As American writer and cancer survivor Greg Anderson said, "Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it."

Enjoy the journey! Mahalo!

Dr. Matt

Got questions? Please respond here or contact me through my Facebook fan page, Twitter, or my blog.

About the Author: Matthew B. James, MA, Ph.D., is President of The Empowerment Partnership, where he serves as a master trainer of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), a practical behavioral technology for helping people achieve their desired results in life. Dr. Matt has also immersed himself in Huna, the ancient practices of the Hawaiian islands of forgiveness and meditation for mental health and well-being, and he carries on the lineage of one of the last practicing kahuna. In his most recent book, Find Your Purpose, Master Your Path, Dr. Matt melds the ancient wisdom of Huna with modern psychology to assist us in leading conscious, purpose-driven lives. He contributes regularly to The Huffington Post and Psychology Today blogs. For more information and to receive Dr. Matt's NLP Fast-Track Video eCourse for free, visit

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