Baby Steps — Fastest Way to the Top!

"Life’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

― Dr. Phillip McGraw, American television personality, author, and psychologist

Baby Steps — Fastest Way to the Top!

Recently, my son Josh and I did a 28-mile trail run in our beloved Absaroka Beartooth Mountains. There’s something awe inspiring about being high up in the rugged wilderness that sets my soul free. But, it wasn’t too long ago for me that such an endeavor could be only a dream. In fact, I remember a short hike I took with my son and daughter that nearly did me in. I was having so much back and knee pain that I didn’t know if I was going to get home. How did I go from barely-making-it to ultra-trail-runner? BABY STEPS.

I had to take about three years of gradually running longer and faster. I had to learn about nutrition and how to feed my body for such a long run. I learned about using the right equipment, finding the right shoes, proper clothing, hydration packs, compact survival gear, and predator protection. Any monumental endeavor in life requires that we break it down into manageable steps, setting measurable goals, and keeping at it.

This process will be required for all of us as we begin to get healthier. Nutrition, exercise, good thinking, and spirituality all require that we start where we're at, and begin to take small steps toward achieving great health.

I tend to get in a hurry, to overcommit, and then to get discouraged, forgetting that the journey is usually more rewarding than the destination. The pace of life has increased. Rushing through our days — our lives — has now become the norm. We want everything now: happiness now, success now, health now, love now! Not surprisingly, this is the way many of us approach our goals and life changes as well. Patience is hard to come by. If we haven’t reached our goal yesterday, it must be because we’re not working hard enough or fast enough, or we’re lazy and undisciplined.

Hard work and discipline are certainly valuable traits when trying to make changes in our lives or attain important goals; however, even diligence and persistence are often not enough to get the results we’re looking for. The lack of an effective strategy (breaking it down into baby steps) is often our greatest obstacle. In our impatience for results, we try to change too much at once and expect too much of ourselves. This impatience usually leads to frustration and failure.

Sometimes we don’t even take the first step because our dreams, goals, and desires seem so overwhelming, so intimidating, and so unachievable that we give up before we even start.

Maybe we just need to try a different strategy. Dr. Phil says, “Life is a marathon, not a sprint.” That same philosophy can be applied when we’re attempting to make life changes, whether it's in career advancement, building a business, educational, weight-loss or fitness goals, eating right, thinking right, or getting right with God.

a man walking in nature with a walking stick

Learn to Take Baby Steps

  • This may be the simplest, yet the most effective, strategy we can use, because consistency and learning to build on small victories are the keys to success. The happiest and most successful people will tell you that they have achieved everything by taking small steps and making one positive choice after another.

A buff man holding a weight in each hand

Start Looking for the Mini-Victories

What's a mini-victory? It’s a completion of a baby step — a realistic, quickly achievable, small portion of a larger objective. Baby steps will vary depending upon our specific intention, timeframe, and motivation. The reason this strategy works is because we can see tangible progress rather quickly, so we feel a sense of accomplishment and are encouraged to move on to our next mini-goal. We then use the small successes as stepping-stones to change your mindset. A few examples:

Consider nutritional goals. When we are attempting to eat better food, don’t expect to go from eating Big Macs, french fries and a coke, to salads, soups and smoothies overnight. You will doom yourself to failure. Try adding a delicious fruit smoothie to your breakfast for a few weeks. Once you’ve made that a habit, start adding kale (what's that?) to the smoothie, then carrots, then broccoli. Over time, you'll find yourself desiring this type of food even more. Swap out one unhealthy snack for a piece of fruit, or eat one vegetarian meal a week, and replace one soda or cappuccino with a glass of water. When we try to eliminate all sugar or soda or junk food from our diets cold-turkey, we usually fall off the wagon within the first week or two.

Consider exercise goals. Train to run a 5K, then a 10K, then a half-marathon rather than training for the full marathon all at once. This advice holds true even when tackling the full marathon. Many successful long-distance runners say that they don’t run 26 miles; they run 1 mile, 26 times.

Most of us want career success, but it usually comes one rung up the ladder at a time. Take one course at a time. Achieve one certification. Improve one skill.

This strategy is useful in almost every area of life, and when trying to achieve nearly any goal. Just take baby steps, work towards one mini-victory at a time, and make sure you celebrate each achievement in some small way (no, not with that donut!) — a little success goes a long way in propelling you to the finish line.

a man staring off at a mountain landscape

Why Taking Baby Steps Is the Best Path to Great Health

When we watch TV or browse the Internet, our inquiries into how to improve our health and happiness are often met with an endless supply of quick-fixes like diets, meditation videos, the latest fad product or fitness workout. In the craziness of our lives, we don’t think we have the time for much else, so we find a diet or cleanse that makes the most attractive promises and we do the workout plans that are short, quick, intense, and that makes the most attractive promises.

If we don’t see remarkable results quickly — if we don’t sweat our butts off during a workout or “sweat it” through a 10-day lemon-cayenne cleanse — it doesn’t seem worth it, so we give up on it. No pain, no gain, right? We are often sold the idea that positive life changes can come from drastic action in a super-short amount of time and it’s exciting to think this, because who wouldn’t want it as fast as possible? There’s only one hitch: the “results” from these quick fixes don’t last either, and they don’t make us healthier or happier in the long run.

I love getting out on my road bike (pedaling that is) and riding the roads around my house in our beautiful valley that is nestled on the western edge of the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness. There’s something about the views and the wind blowing through my hair that is energizing. My favorite loop is about 17 miles long. When I first started, I remember taking two snack breaks before I got home. It took me about two hours. After a couple of years of riding and improving my equipment, I got that down to about an hour. My fastest time was an 18-mph average.

That was quite an improvement, right? But I wanted a little more speed. Maybe I could reach a 22-mph average? I worked hard for quite a while but seemed to hit a plateau. While surfing the web I came across an ad that read: “Do you want to improve your bike speed? Guaranteed 15% speed improvement in only 90 days!” What was I to do? It was only $159! Out came the credit card and I jumped into it. After 90 days, I hadn’t improved much. At the end of the 90 days, I celebrated with a bike crash and ended up dislocating my shoulder. Lesson learned for me: it’s better to take baby steps and enjoy the journey!

the silhouette of a man jumping with a sunset behind him

What Can We Do to Live Healthier and Happier in Today’s World?

  • We need to move beyond the “no pain, no gain” idea and instead consider this: No pain, all gain! One can achieve true, sustained health and happiness by taking small, continuous, and most importantly, gentle steps forward — the very opposite of a quick-fix paradigm. Incrementally add things into your life (healthy foods, exercise, positive thinking and spiritual health) in amounts that don’t add large amounts of stress to your already stressful life, and only what can be reasonably sustained. Increase and move on to the next step when we’re ready.

    This approach enhances the quality of our lives, it begins an actual transition to increased health and happiness and immediately shows us what diets and workout plans cannot: what it feels like to be a person who treats himself well and deserves to be treated well. This approach reminds us that what we truly want is what we think weight loss (or ripped abs) can deliver for us: to feel good in our bodies, and happier in our lives.

    By easing our way in with small steps we come to understand that health and happiness is a long-term pursuit and involves a much bigger picture than anything a quick-fix can deliver. The simple fact is that yo-yo dieting and unsustainable workout plans add stress to our bodies and minds, while small improvements change our lives over time with minimal or no added stress.

    We are a natural species living in an unnatural world. The concept of quick-fixes is as foreign to our natural design as is the idea of “no pain, no gain.” (There are no diets, workout schedules, or calorie counting in nature.) Our bodies are designed to do the very best they can every minute of every day to stay alive. When we minimize self-inflicted pain, only then do we see what real gains look like

    Being a healthy man takes consistent effort, requires change, and is not automatic. One of the tools each of us should have in our mental toolbox is the concept of BABY STEPS.

    Work with Dave Skattum at The 4 Pillars of Men’s Health to find a health coach, spiritual coach, triathlon coach, or coaching on how to find your purpose in life.

Success comes when we take a first step towards good health, enjoy the feeling when we succeed, then repeat.