The Smallest Step Forward

Photo by Céline Haeberly on Unsplash

“What’s the next smallest step you can take?” I asked my eight year old son lying on the floor.

I’d asked him to get up and do his homework, to which he’d lamented he caaaaaaaaan’t. “It’s too hard!”

Thinking of course that he meant the work was too hard, I first pleaded, then demanded, then begged him to just start. That’s how we ended up with him writhing on the floor as I stood over him, wondering what to do next.

I probably said, “It’s not too hard, you know this stuff,” twice already. I very nearly said it again.

I stopped myself. I asked a question instead. “Do you mean that just doing it at all is too hard?”

“YES!” he wailed.

I knelt on the floor next to him.

“Ok, so what’s the next smallest step you can take to get it done?”

“Just go do it…” he said miserably.

“No, no, I mean really, really small. This is something I have to do for myself sometimes. Because sometimes, it really does just all seem too hard. And it feels like I just can’t. So I have to figure out the next ittiest, bittiest, teeeeensiest step I could possibly take. Like, sitting up. Can you sit up?”

He laughed. “I mean, yeah.” And he did.

“Caaaan you… stand up??”

He laughed again. “You did mean small steps!” he said.

“Yeah, I really did. Now can you take one small step toward the table?”

I talked him through it. Walking to the table became a silly micro-step game. Sitting down. Touching the pencil. Picking up the pencil. Writing the first letter of his name at the top. Then the next until his whole name was there. Reading the first word, then the first line, of the assignment.

I have broken down tasks into smaller steps before, but never quite to that level. And ever since that day, it really got me thinking about how anxiety and overwhelm can affect us all. Sometimes just seemingly dopey tiny things feel like far, far, too much to handle. And we know it shouldn’t be, so we get angry at ourselves for not feeling like we can do it.

Ever since that day, I break things down to that miniscule level for myself when things get rough. If my son could listen to me that day, and get things done, then I can listen to me, too. If I can break things down for him, I can break things down for me. I don’t need to throw my hands up and feel like the whole thing is just too impossible. Anxiety is the thing that tells me it’s too much. And probably some kind of executive dysfunction something-or-other too.

Annoying as it is, I have to dig deep and find that part of me, the part that has to swim upstream, through the waterfall of anxiety, and get there. Or get even partway there. That is success, too.

I have to BECOME the salmon, y’all. (And not get eaten by a grizzly at the same time.)

Do you do this too, fellow anxious parents? Fellow anxious writers? As we head into this new year of 2020, and return to work and school and new writing goals, if you ever feel so overwhelmed you just can’t even, try to think of the teensiest, tiniest step forward. And then the next one.  And then the next.  And see if that helps.

Wishing you luck in your micro-step progress, friends! We got this!


“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
Chinese Proverb


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