As a teenager, I often injured myself trying to run mountain trails. Then I noticed that bikers downshift to climb hills. I began mimicking them, taking steps so tiny they felt inconsequential. This allowed me to run uphill quickly without getting tired, winded, or hurt. The one race in which I actually placed was on a mountain trail where I scurried along like a mouse on a mission, zipping past runners whose gazelle-like leaps were taxing their lungs and ruining their knees.
It turns out that the tiny-steps approach applies to any difficult thing, from schoolwork to parenthood to career. The bigger the task, the smaller my steps. If I feel myself tiring or avoiding tasks, I cut my steps in half, then in half again, until each step feels easy. Between steps, I give myself a reward—nothing huge, just a ten-minute nap in the sun, a smoothie, some online window shopping.
My clients find this shocking. They want to achieve big goals, and they love those spectacular, gazelle-like leaps. One client I'll call Roberta planned to start getting up two hours early each morning, running to the gym, and lifting weights before work. She'd had this plan for five years. She hadn't acted on it once. I suggested that, instead, she get up five minutes early, put on gym clothes, then have coffee—full stop. She thought this ridiculous (they always do), but it worked (it usually does). Roberta's five minutes in gym clothes grew to ten, then to 15, then to a Zumba class she loved. She's still increasing her fitness, one tiny step at a time.
3. Lie down and rest for a while.
Speaking of health regimens, there's a big piece of getting fit that most of us shortchange: rest. The majority of my clients who complain of depression, anxiety, irritability, and weight gain are actually chronically tired. The problems caused by lack of rest can feel so intricate, but the solution is so simple: Lie down, dear. Just lie down.
If you've ever attended a meeting after lunch, you know the mild coma endocrinologists call postprandial dip, which makes you want to lay your head down and drool during your boss's PowerPoint presentations. And why not? Totally relaxing for just ten minutes can reenergize your body, sharpen your mind, and make you much less likely to weep when you can't find a stapler.
In many cultures, it's customary to lie down during the day. In ours, it's emphatically not. To get used to the idea anyway, try a yoga class or the Alexander Technique, which you can do on the floor—any floor, even at work (instructions available online). If all else fails, just channel your inner worm.
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