what's the best step you can take today? (hint: it's probably very, very small)

Well, that was fast. I feel like I blinked, and the first two weeks of 2018 went by just like that. 

I spent a few days with close friends around New Years.  During that time away, I had the opportunity to reflect and write and plan for the year to come.  I carefully considered some new goals, and strategized what I would do differently to meet them. 

And then I flew home to San Francisco and jumped into my work at the urgent care clinic where I work.  We're in the middle of one of the worst flu seasons on record, and each day we set a new record for the number of patients we've seen, and the number of patients who test positive for influenza.  

I spend 12 hours a day surrounded by charts and fevers and coughs and people vomiting on my shoes.  I spend the rest of the time drinking tea and soup, resting up for the next shift, trying to kick a respiratory virus I picked up on my way back from South Sudan two weeks ago.

In these busy days, I sometimes I glance at the goals I set for myself and wonder, "When am I going to have time for that!?"

Maybe you feel the same.  Maybe you have the best intentions, the most noble goals, the clearest certainty about the steps you will need to take this year to walk toward well.

And maybe your year started out with a bang, too, and you're wondering how the good intentions you set on a silent, glittery night translate into your life that's filled with dishes and homework and errands and laundry and traffic jams and meetings and coffee stains and....well...life.

If that's you this morning, take a deep breath.  It's going to be okay.   We can do this together.

Here's how. 

Think about the goals you set for this year.  Remember the changes you wanted to make, the things you wanted to do differently, the objectives you wanted to accomplish.

Now, just pick one of those.  Just one.  It doesn't really matter which one.  Don't overthink it.  Just pick one of the changes you were hoping to make this year.


Now, ask yourself: What's the smallest step you can take today to make that goal happen?

I know.  Asking about the smallest thing you can do seems trivial, insignificant, maybe even silly.  Or useless. 

But this is how change happens.  It happens with small, incremental, manageable, nearly-imperceptible steps.  But the important thing is -- it happens.

That change happens with the smallest steps is a reality that's been proven by research. 

A few years ago, doctors who wanted to get out-of-shape patients to exercise split those patients into two groups.  

To the first group, they said, "Go to the gym four times a week and spend 45 minutes walking on the treadmill each time." 

To the second group, they broke down the steps it would take in order for them to end up at their fitness goals, and asked the group to take one simple, infinitesimally small step at a time. 

The first step?  To simply put on their workout clothes.

That was it.  They didn't even have to leave the house.  They just had to change into sweats and running shoes.

The next week, they were asked to show up at the gym.  They didn't have to touch a piece of exercise equipment!  They just had to show up four times that week.

The next week, they put on their workout clothes, showed up at the gym, and spent two minutes walking on the treadmill. 

The following week, they spent a few minutes more. 

They kept adding minutes, kept taking the next step, until they were working out for 45 minutes four times a week. 

And it turns out, the second group -- the one that took the smallest steps and walked toward well over time -- was more successful.  They were more likely to stick with the recommended fitness routine than the first group that tried the all-or-nothing approach. 

So today, if it seems impossible to reach the goals you'd hoped to achieve in 2018, relax.  Give yourself some grace.  Remind yourself that we're just getting started, there will be plenty of opportunities to make forward progress this year.  

And today is one of the 354 opportunities you have left! 

Today, pick one of your goals.  

Identify the smallest step you can take toward meeting that goal. 

(Just a few suggestions....If you want to get in shape, take a walk around the block.  If you want to save more money, make coffee in the break room instead of buying it at a coffee shop.  If you want to spend more time with people you care about, call a friend on your commute home from work.  If you want to improve the environment, recycle litter you find on the sidewalk.  If you want to heal our hurting world, ask your cashier or Lyft driver or post office clerk how they're doing and take the time to actually listen.)

When you wake up tomorrow, take another small step.  And then another.  And then another. 

Soon, you'll look back to see that with steady, small, faithful steps, you've been moving forward.  

You've been changing.  

You've already started walking toward well.