Did you know that swallows can take up to 14 days to build a nest? It is usually made of mud (which is why they like nesting near water sources or muddy banks). Both male and female birds contribute to building the nest, though the female is observed to do most of the work! They mix soil and water and bring the mud, beakful by beakful, to build their nest. On countless trips from mud source to nest, they fly. There are no shortcuts, no equipment they can use to increase efficiency. Just beak by beak, they fly the mud to the nest before lining the inside with grass and feathers to make it softer. Over time, the nest is completed, providing the all-important function for the female to lay the eggs that will hatch into their offspring in the near future. The entire nest is only formed because the swallows took little steps each time to build it.
If you examine success in any field, be it business, relationships, sports, hobbies or anything else, you will find that it is made up of numerous little steps. Regardless of how big the vision or goal is, it boils down to a single step that must be taken to progress to the next level. It is never just one step but thousands of steps. It is hardly ever quick or fast. The ‘overnight’ success usually has 20 years of work behind it.
I remember when I first started salsa dancing. It started with the basic step. As I understood more, I could learn more. As I practised more, the steps got easier. Initially, I was impatient and wanted to be like those fabulous dancers that looked amazing on the dance floor. I then realised they had to put in so much work, practice and time to look like that. I was not qualified yet. So instead of focusing on how to look like that, it is easier to focus on where to place my foot next each time. It is by taking those one-step-at-a-time moments on multiple occasions over a long period of time that you are able to be amazing. Besides, when you are busy concentrating and focusing on where and when to place your foot next, you will not be thinking of other things that do not help you move closer to your goal!
Elite athletes in collegiate and professional sports increasingly follow a philosophy known as ‘The Process’. It is a philosophy created by University of Alabama coach Nick Saban, who taught his players to ignore the big picture – important games, winning championships, the opponent’s enormous lead – and focus instead on doing the absolutely smallest things well – practising with full effort, finishing a specific play, converting on a single possession. A season lasts months, a game lasts hours, and catching up might be four touchdowns away, but a single play is only a few seconds. And games and seasons are constituted by seconds.
If teams follow the Process, they tend to win. They overcome obstacles and eventually make their way to the top without ever having focused on the obstacles directly. If you follow the Process in your life – assembling the right actions in the right order, one right after another – you too will do well. Not only that, you will be better equipped to make quick work of obstacles along that path. You’ll be too busy putting one foot in front of the next to even notice the obstacles were there.
Instead of focusing on trying to lose 20kg, focus on what you eat. Instead of focusing on an idea of a great relationship, focus on being kind, sincere and truthful in every act, thought and speech when you are relating to each other. Instead of focusing on how you will be financially well off eventually, look at how much money you are making and spending at the moment. The reality is that all your actions and decisions you make on a daily basis will culminate in your results eventually. It is more important (and easier) to focus on creating the right habits to take the smallest action to head towards the desired direction. For example, where one may be daunted by the prospect of doing 200 push-ups but focusing on doing one push-up at a time is easier and over time, a lot of single push up will lead to 200 push-ups!
So in your life, certainly have big goals (why not? You are more than you think or feel you are and certainly capable of so much more!) and dream bigger. However, to get there, remember to act small. Think big, act small. Step by step, thought by thought, decision by decision will get you there. Some things can’t be rushed. Your results are not as important as your trajectory. If your trajectory is correct, even if you are seeing the results immediately, you are on your way. Losing that half a kilogram may not seem much if you aim to lose 20kg but you know you are on the right track. And the trajectory is all about creating the habits that allow you to take that small step continuously. The Great Wall of China was built brick by boring brick. There were no shortcuts.
The swallows’ nest was built a beakful by a beakful of mud. What steps do you need to take daily to get what you want? Are you focusing on taking those steps?
“You must build up your life action by action, and be content if each one achieves its goal as far as possible – and no one can keep you from this. But there will be some external obstacles! Perhaps, but no obstacle to acting with justice, self-control, and wisdom. But what if some other area of my action is thwarted? Well, gladly accept the obstacle for what it is and shift your attention to what is given, and another action will immediately take its place, one that better fits the life you are building.” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 8.32