7.21.2012

The Enlightening Mat: Think in Small Increments

flax seeds
tiny steps

You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.
- Martin Luther King, Jr.

Learning something new, changing a habit, making big transitions, grieving loss, and healing a serious illness are all about going through a process. Sometimes when my brain gets a gander at the big picture of a process -- all the stuff that needs to happen to propel me from my uncomfortable starting point to a place of balance -- I begin to create unnecessary anxiety, which then of course increases my reluctance to begin.

The mind loves safety, stability, consistency, and predictability. Sometimes you become overwhelmed with questions like: Where do I start? What if this discomfort never ends? What if I don't have enough strength? Who's going to help me? How will I figure it all out?

The first time I experienced this overwhelming sensation was when I was a senior in high school. I had over extended myself and my mind couldn't grasp how I was actually going to complete everything I had promised to do. A extremely wise teacher took me aside and shared with me a technique of mentally storing things away on the shelf to look at later and then taking down only one thing at a time to focus on. At a very young age I was given the gift of working in small increments.

One place I challenge myself to think in small increments is during a Bikram yoga class. Sometimes I feel tired, sick, or unmotivated. So I create mini goals for myself. First I tell myself, "Just do the first three postures and forget that your stuck in here for 90 minutes." Then usually by the third posture I'm willing to go a little further, and I promise myself to just make it to the floor series, and so on. I keep coming up with small steps to get through the grueling process and forget about looking at what I know is involved in taking an entire class. I stop thinking about the future and keep my mind focused on the current posture -- just one step.

Thinking in small increments during Bikram yoga or any strenuous activity is a great way to strengthen your willingness to endure discomfort and develop tenacity. Your brain likes to revolt when it senses hardship, so learning to ease yourself into a difficult process through tiny steps is one way of not letting your suffering determine your final outcome. You can apply this teaching to almost anything in your life: having a baby, finding a new job, starting a project, building a house, learning a language, healing an injury, etc.

Many times we let ourselves stall out simply by getting caught up in our overwhelming feelings of the big picture and future thinking. Starting is the most important step. Even if it's a false start or a shaky start you're moving down a path by taking action. The beauty of process is that you can always backtrack or change direction.

Here's a exercise to get you started thinking in small increments:

Think about something big in your life that you are procrastinating on completing. Something that you might be afraid to start or are dreading the process. Write one sentence on the top of a sheet of paper describing the end goal. Examples might be: "Find a job," "Apply to college," "Lose 50 pounds," "Sell the house," etc.

Below your sentence start breaking the goal down into increments using the following guidelines:
  • What steps can I make in the next hour to move me closer to completing this goal?
  • What steps can I make in the next day? Week? Month? 3 Months? 6 Months? 9 Months? Year?
  • Then under each of these mini goals for day, week, month, 3 months, etc., break those down into even smaller steps. 

Then put this paper away and just focus on the step you need to do for the next hour. Tomorrow take the paper out and work on the steps for one day. Next week take the paper out and work on the goals for one week and so on. Each day think: "Just for today how can I move myself closer to my goal?"

The Enlightening Mat is a blog series exploring moments of awareness that come to Beth Hemmila while practicing Bikram Yoga.

To shop for yoga charms that celebrate the different poses click here to view this blog post Sterling Silver Charms for Bikram Yoga Postures.   

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