The unsung art of baby steps

The best advice I’ve ever received in recent years has not been “have another gin and tonic” (not a bad try though, ALL my friends) or “get a rich boyfriend” (thanks, Dad). Like most of the wisest gobbets of knowledge it came from someone I didn’t particularly want to hear it from.

And that pearl of wisdom was: take baby steps.

No, this was not said in an attempt to coax me out of bed when I’m late for work with a raging hangover and mild confusion as to when and how I acquired the over smiley-rubber stress pig staring at me. It was meant in a metaphorical sense.

I have suffered from depression for a lot of my life. And I refuse to be ashamed to admit it; both the illness and stigma around it are serious problems, and that shouldn’t be the case. One thing I can get embarrassed about though, is asking for help. So it was only about a year ago I actually decided that it might be in my best interests to talk about my feelings to a trained professional.

So there I was sulkily dragging myself to cognitive behavioural therapy sessions with someone I was unreasonably resentful of because I was embarrassed, when, that breakthrough comment happened. “You need to set yourself achievable goals. Take small steps.”

He effectively reminded me that you can’t run before you can walk and that if you break things down into small manageable chunks, everything will seem less daunting and more achievable.

It sounds like such a silly, simple thing, but it has managed to change my whole perspective on life.

I had been feeling so inadequate and down on myself – I thought I should be more successful by now and I’m far from the only person to feel like that.

My theory is that we live in a society that moves so fast and encourages people to have it all as soon as possible. Programmes such as The X Factor thrive on pushing forward the youngest contestants they can and claiming to propel them to superstardom. Our whole celebrity culture is mainly focused on young, good-looking stars. And having their success thrust in our face constantly through the media is panic-inducing. Not many people can compete with the likes of Emma Watson or Jennifer Lawrence. Social media plays its role too – Facebook is a platform for people to constantly show off and we all worry about looking our best, our most successful on there. Just look at the number of selfies and statuses carefully tailored to make the writer look like they are having the time of their life on your news feed. LinkedIn is always a kick in the CV teeth, too.

Instant communication methods and the celebration of youth combined with an economic climate that is dire and lacking in job opportunities just isn’t a great recipe for most people’s self-esteem.

However, the advice that I should take baby steps, changed my life. Changing my goals from becoming super fittest person ever who does exercise every day at least once to go to two martial arts sessions a week and go from there, had an astounding effect. I was more likely to just show up in the first place as my feeble limbs were safe in the knowledge that this pain was only going to be brief.

Instead of fretting about not being a Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for a national paper, I took to focusing on the small things I could be better at in my job. And, lo and behold, my job satisfaction rose when my improvements were acknowledged.

Now, I have applied that as much as I can to every area of my life (I do still of course relapse).

So thank you for that advice, poor man who had to deal with me scowling at him once a week. I now feel better than I have ever been.

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