Little steps, big leaps

little steps

Why it’s better to take little steps, rather than do everything at once.

Tidying the house, sorting through our wardrobe, putting photos in an album: These are all time-consuming tasks we often postpone, but they keep nagging at the back of our minds anyway. And that’s a shame, feels US-based Loretta Graziano Breuning, author and founder of the Inner Mammal Institute. In her book Meet Your Happy Chemicals, Breuning advises us to divide an unpleasant task into smaller parts. ‘You don’t need to have a solution when you start, just the willingness to take many small steps,’ she writes.

Pleasure Hormone
One advantage is that each time we finish a task we are rewarded by 
a dose of dopamine. Each step we complete feels like a triumph and will trigger this ‘pleasure hormone’. This has an important evolutionary purpose: It gives us energy and the motivation to keep going. When our ancestors, for example, went looking for a water source, the success of their quest would give them successive hits of dopamine—one for each clue they found pointing to a water source, 
for detecting the sound of water streaming, and so on.

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Bird by Bird
John Perry, professor of philosophy emeritus at Stanford University, US, quotes American writer Anne Lamott in his book The Art of Procrastination: ‘Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day… He was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird”.’

  • More insights can be found in Issue 23.

Text Otje van der Lelij Photography ©Julien Lux/Unsplash