To Get Unstuck, Celebrate Every Small Step

One way to celebrate: Strut around with a balloon in Barcelona!

One way to celebrate: Strut around with a balloon in Barcelona!

There is maybe just one downside to having great big, marvelous dreams for your life: It’s when you realize how far you still are from achieving them. At that point, the only way to keep moving is to celebrate every small step forward.

Today I arrived home for lunch in celebration mode. I bumped the car onto the stone driveway of our medieval manse, singing along with Enrique Iglesias on the radio. I waved jubilantly at my father-in-law, who was bringing in fresh eggs and lettuce from the garden. I was feeling so good! Things were going my way.

My big win? I had bought dog food. I had gone to a doctor’s appointment.

Living abroad can be humbling. Even in a place as idyllic as Catalunya, Spain.

“Things are getting easier,” I triumphantly told my husband over lunch. It’s true. Just a few months ago buying dog food might have gone in any of the following ways:

  1.  I forget where the feed store is and can’t find it.
  2.  I remember where the store is, but I forget it’s a one-way street and have a harrowing driving mishap.
  3.  I go to the feed store when I have a spare hour in the afternoon, only to realize it’s only open in the morning.

And don’t even get me started on what it took to be able to go alone to the doctor’s office.

Today I couldn’t help noticing that things were going better. It was like I was a normal person again. I went to the feed store when it was open, found parking, and bought two bags of dog food. Perhaps there was a minor error at the cash register when I plunked down double the amount needed, but fortunately the saleswoman didn’t take advantage.

I arrived at the doctor’s office and they were actually expecting me. I had successfully booked and arrived at my appointment all by myself. I even avoided my previous communication errors with strangers (i.e. being shy), and as I entered the examination room, I announced to the doctor straightaway: “Hello. I’m American. We’re going to have to talk in Spanish because my Catalan is not good yet, but I’m learning. Also, because I’m new around here and don’t know how everything works, I might have to ask some silly questions.”

“No problem,” he responded cheerfully. “I would speak to you in English but I’m terrible at it.” Thus established, we sorted me out. What a team! I even managed to speed to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription, minutes before they shut down for siesta.  

It’s amusing to me to record all these things, because most of the time I still feel like a bit of a fool for celebrating such small wins. I encourage myself to do it more and more though, because I see, in myself and in my coaching clients, what a huge difference it makes when we’re reaching for something big.

When we have a big goal, it’s really easy to get down on ourselves when we notice how far yet we have to go. I’ve been in Catalunya for nearly a year and I’m still thrilled when I can successfully make a bank deposit. Let’s just say I have a ways to go before I’m living my ideal here.

Here’s the thing though: We need our big, wonderful, out-of-reach dreams. We need them because they are expressions of who we really believe we were meant to be on this earth. It’s so important that we don’t lose courage; that we don’t talk ourselves out of it; that we don’t allow our self-confidence to be eroded by the slow drip of mistakes and doubts.

This is where celebrating comes in. When we’re in danger of losing heart, we need to stop and take notice of our progress on a daily basis. We need to love ourselves for our effort. We need to give ourselves a pat on the back, a gentle word, a good-sized grin. We need to cook up a fun reward. We need to thank those around us for their support and let them in on the celebration too. Because really the only thing that can keep us from our dreams is our own discouragement. We’ve got to learn to encourage ourselves if we want to keep going.

As a coach, a large part of what I offer my clients is this steady, cheering encouragement as they reach for their big-time, inspiring dreams. I am also their ally with an outside perspective, who notices the progress they’ve made and reflect it back to them. At the same time, I introduce ways that they can weave self-encouragement into their everyday lives – just as I’m trying to do in my own.

This, I wager, is the long-term trick to being happy with what you have today, even though you’re not at your ideal yet. It’s also the trick to keep you moving forward.

Do you have some way that you regularly track and celebrate your progress toward your goals? What do you do to be happy with your present even as you aim higher?