I realized something this week–something really important:
“I talk a lot about Baby Steps, but do I ever really define what that means?”
It’s been awhile since I actually addressed that topic; here’s the original writing about my philosophy. Seems like a simple idea, too. Like any half-decent idea, you can sum it up in one sentence: “Small steps of progress lead to massive results over time.” Sounds great, but what does it mean? Let’s unpack the idea and see how it works. We might learn something on the way.
What Are Baby Steps?
I talk about goal setting a whole lot and why that’s important for our well-being as people. The reality of having some objective to work towards, especially one that benefits us directly, creates an urgency to move forward. Where do we develop this urgency, though? What class taught it to us, or what seminar do we attend to learn that need to move? Actually, you’re like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz: it’s always been inside you to make the move.
We started reaching for goals before our memories even switched on. Know what your first goal was? Walking! Just like with any decent goal, you didn’t just stand up and start booking it toward Mommy, either. You had “baby steps” on the way to your literal baby steps: incremental progress goals that carried you to the destination. Before you walked, you learned to sit up, then crawl, then pull yourself up, then–months after starting–you took those first, wobbly steps.
Here’s the thing: no one explicitly told you how to walk. You’re born with the map right there in your DNA, boosted by observing others who’d already done it. You knew right where you wanted to go–baby steps to Mommy and Daddy–but you didn’t know every step along the way. Instead, you figured out that first small step of progress, mastered it, then moved to the next one, until you learned to walk. You were literally born to reach beyond your limits.
Somewhere along the way, though, we learned to stop trying. We get so complacent in just getting by–first in school, then in adult life–that we forget how to reach for something bigger. Life, like those first baby steps, becomes routine and complacent. What would it feel like to reach for something again, that just-out-of-reach goal? What would it be like to take that challenge and joy from learning to walk and apply it to something new as an adult? That’s what Baby Steps does.
How It Works
1) Establish a SMART goal
Before you head out on a journey, you’ve got to know where you’re going. I’ve found that the SMART approach to goal setting works best here. SMART stands for Specific Measurable Attainable Realistic Timely. We’ve got the Timely part covered (90 days, remember?); here’s a helpful guide to establish the rest.
Got your 90 day goal established? Write it at the bottom of your Baby Steps form, which you can download here. Now that you’ve got your form in hand, you’ll notice that it’s split into three monthly sections. That’s because we’re going to take that big goal and break into smaller pieces.
2) Chunk it up
Just like learning to walk had its steps, so does your Baby Steps goal. We’re going to take that big goal and chunk it into month-size bites.
If this is your first time doing a Baby Steps map, make your best guess on where you’ll be at the beginning of each month. You can always adjust later on. Number-based goals are easiest to measure, since the path is all math. For example, if you’re looking to lose 30 lbs in 90 days like I was, you’d expect to be 10 lbs down at the end of each month (results vary). If you’re running a 5K, then you’d be 4 weeks down on a 12-week program. If you’ve got a savings goal, then you’d be ⅓ of the way there by month 2. Again, results vary, but the principle remains the same.
At this point, it’s tempting to try and talk yourself down from your monthly steps. “How can I be halfway to a 5K when I can barely walk a mile today?” “How can I work on that Month 3 step when I don’t even know if I can reach Month 2?” Don’t try to answer those questions right now. When it comes to Baby Steps, we’re only going to focus on the week ahead. Follow the weeks, and the month takes care of itself.
3) Take it one week at a time
Just like any great journey, we start at the beginning. Now that we’ve got our bigger checkpoints set out for the Baby Steps journey (Month 2 and 3 benchmarks), we’re going to map out the first month.
These first weeks set the foundation for the rest of the 90 day journey. Starting with Week 1, identify those small steps of progress that, when stacked together, will carry you to Month 2’s benchmark. My first Baby Step on the way to weight loss? I replaced my McDonald’s sausage McGriddle breakfast combo with a protein shake. That was my first week’s focus–nothing earth-shattering, but a step in the right direction.
If you’ve got a weight loss goal, maybe your first week focuses on making dinner at home every night or drinking 2 bottles of water per day. Set that first week’s step, then map out the next week, then the next. Remember: we’re adding in additional baby steps along the way, so each weekly tweak builds on top of the last. Start small with something you will do consistently.
Make the Map, Follow the Journey
Complete the Baby Steps map as you go along. Understand that, just like when you learned to walk, you’re going to stumble. Some weeks are better than others, and you won’t know what obstacles pop up along the way. You might not even reach your 90 day goal on the first try!
Here’s what I do know: you will change along the way. The person who completes a goal, whether it’s 90 days or 2 years or 1 week, is different than the one who set out in the first place. Achievement changes us, makes us better. Stay the course. Reach out to a friend when it’s hard. Keep following your Baby Steps path, one week after the next. You don’t need to know the whole path in the beginning; you’ll just need to start.