Whether we like it or not, we’re always moving forward in life. Constantly. Every day moves us closer to something new. We grow older, hopefully wiser. We’re constantly in motion.
We set goals for our journey. We have dreams. We hold the pictures of our ideal destinations in our hearts and minds. They’re often big and wonderful, and feel like they need to be done in total this minute, or they’re not going to happen…ever. “I need to sell everything and move to Montana and buy a tiny house and write a novel RIGHT NOW!” These goals can feel so big that they become overwhelming.
Sometimes it’s not our dreams, but the circumstances of life that overwhelm us: An illness, a death, a job loss, financial issues. We don’t feel like we can ever move past these things. We feel stuck, stagnant. We definitely don’t feel like we’re advancing while dealing with the very real things we’re given. Life itself might feel impossible.
In both cases of overwhelm, things slow drastically. Maybe we spend days on our couch watching re-runs of sitcoms, eating takeout, and not wearing real clothes. Maybe we withdraw from the world and feel like we’re spiraling downward. Maybe we don’t feel like moving forward anymore at all.
In 2009, I was experiencing a whole lot of overwhelm. All kinds of doors were closing around me. I’d lost a business. My first marriage was ending. I fractured my spine. These are just some of the events I was dealing with. Nothing seemed like it was going right. To say I was overwhelmed might be an understatement. I spent plenty of time on the couch eating junk and wearing my pajamas. I definitely wanted to stop moving forward. I wanted everything to stop.
Somewhere during this time, I had to go pick up some medication from a pharmacy. I pulled my car into the parking space, shut off the engine, and I broke down. Full on sobbing…out loud…in my car…in public. It was a wailing, ugly cry that surprised me. I knew there was a bigger, better world for me, but I was tired of moving through all of the crap around me. I wanted good things to happen and bad things to stop. Neither felt like they were happening quickly enough and I felt like I was drowning in stagnant water.
Then a thought came very clearly to me: All you have to do right now is go pick up that prescription. That’s it.
The smallest thing I had to do to move forward in a positive direction was to walk into the pharmacy and pick up medication that would help me feel better.
It was a revelation. First, realizing that action makes things better. Second, realizing that the action didn’t have to be huge and immediately life changing.
I still use this to focus and ground myself when things feel like they’re out of control in either a good or a bad way. I step back, find some quiet, take a deep breath, and ask myself:
What’s the smallest thing I can do in this moment to move forward in a positive way?
Try that. Think about something you’re currently struggling with at the moment. What’s the smallest thing you can do to take action? Is it opening an envelope that you’re afraid might contain unwelcome news? (Note: you don’t even have to read the letter right now, if that feels too big. That can be your next small step.) Is it taking five minutes to brainstorm names for your super awesome novel you’re going to write in that tiny house in Montana? Whatever that small step is, name it and take it. There is power in action. There is a gain of strength and confidence in action.
What’s the smallest thing you can do in this moment to move forward in a positive way?