Tiny little baby steps

I don’t remember exactly when the entrepreneurial bug bit me. It must have been in late high school or early college, but honestly becoming an entrepreneur is as trendy as Air Force 1’s for Generation Z.

I always thought that being an entrepreneur was slightly synonymous with being absolutely crazy. You had to have big ideas, take big risks, make big sacrifices, and hopefully reap big rewards. But to get started, it was all about ideas. I remember hearing “one good idea is all you need” or “if only I had thought of that first” thrown around in everyday conversation all the time. I must at some point have tied entrepreneurial success to just having a great, big idea because in college that was all I could think about. I read startup books and joined startup clubs but I never had a big idea. I was waiting to find passion and from there, find my great big idea.

But, it never happened. I talk frequently about my dissatisfaction with waiting for things in life, so this was especially frustrating for me. I wanted to hurry up and find that idea so I could get going. I wanted to be crazy and pour myself into a project that I was passionate about. I wanted to make a big change. I wanted to do big things. The point is, I was waiting for a giant wrecking ball to change everything in my life.

My friends often tell me that I’m an all-or-nothing kind of person and I would have to agree with them. I started out seeing this only as my biggest weakness but I have since come to believe that it is also the source of my biggest strengths. While this was exactly the reason I waited to move forward on my entrepreneurial interest until I could go “all in” in on my “one big idea”, it is also the reason for my boundless (some would say tiring) energy, curiosity, and inspiration. And though I never had that one moment of inspiration, I feel inspired all the time. And though I never had that one great, big idea, I have ideas all the time. So what if there was a way to leverage the strengths of being all-or-nothing without being held back by the weaknesses? Well that would be just wonderful, but unfortunately I never asked myself this question until now.

So, I continued college telling myself that I was waiting for a breakthrough, when really I was just doing nothing. And then one day I came across the following quote:

“Great big, innovative, world-changing ideas are plentiful. People who take tiny, little, baby steps towards them are rare.”

I don’t remember exactly where I was when I saw this quote, but I do remember being seriously taken aback by it. Now I’m the type of person who loves quotes, in fact I have a whole Trello board full of them, but this is one of the few that I can recite off the top of my head.

This quote helped me realize that “waiting” is just a less productive way of doing “nothing”. Because at least when we are doing nothing, we have a clear mind and are present. I also realized that the idea might not be the differentiating factor. Now I’m not saying that ideas aren’t important, but that lots of people have good ideas. So instead of doing nothing waiting for an idea to whack me on the head, I could at least start practicing the second half: taking tiny, little, baby steps. And thus Kaizen by Grace was born sans official title.

Taking small steps is essentially the antithesis of my all-or-nothing tendencies, so when I first started, I was absolutely miserable at doing so. Prior to this I was a person of extreme phases. One month I would be obsessed with yoga, then maybe science fiction, then weightlifting, then eating peanut butter, then YouTube videos, then basketball… you get the picture. While this was great for developing varied interests, nothing ever stuck . When I first started trying to take small steps all that happened was the cycles of phases lasted longer. Instead of one month, I could last three or maybe even four months on whatever habit I was working on. But I think this is because (1) change takes time and (2) I still wasn’t good at taking tiny, little, baby steps. I think I successfully went down from giant leaps to small steps, but tiny was still really hard for me. It felt boring. It felt like I wasn’t really changing anything. Little did I know this is exactly why it works so well.

I think meditation is the first habit I successfully developed in line with the principle of tiny steps. And I think the reason why was because no other strategy worked for me. I tried for almost a year to start some kind of meditation habit with my old ways, to no avail. It was actually very discouraging how little progress I made. So eventually I decided to do away with all my ambitious goals around meditation, and try just focusing on the habit. Just focusing on the tiniest step I could take. In this case, one minute a day. I did this for an entire month. I stopped worrying about how good of a job I was doing or how long to meditate or when to meditate. Instead, I set my alarm one minute earlier everything, and after turning off my alarm, set a one minute timer for meditation. The second month I felt ready to try three or even five minutes a day. This might seem like such a small amount of time, but for me it was just the next step on the way. Eventually, after taking many tiny, little, baby steps, I challenged myself to meditate for an hour every day last July. And I succeeded almost every single day. I’ve been meditating for almost a year and a half now but I would still call myself a beginner, as I know there are so many more steps to be taken and depth to be gained in my practice. However, I can very confidently say that right now I would not be meditating at all, if it weren’t for tiny, little, baby steps.

Even today, I still struggle with this process. But tiny, little, baby steps taught me consistency. They taught me diligence and stability and perseverance and many other traits that help me defy my all-or-nothing tendencies when I want to. Tiny steps have enabled me to make some of the biggest changes in my life, and have pushed me farther than I ever thought possible. And best of all, there’s no waiting for that moment of inspiration to hit, or that sign from above that you should stop and change everything. Instead it’s just working hard now, taking tiny steps, everyday, to build habits that take you where you want to go, whether you know where that is or not.