You want to start a podcast.
You’re considering adopting a dog.
You need to buy some sunglasses before summer slips away.
It’s really amazing how creative we can be when it comes to procrastination—there are so many ways we can put off doing things that we actually want to do.
From making major career moves to something as simple as updating your wardrobe, there are always sticking points along the way.
What if I choose the wrong thing?
Why start when the finish line is so far away?
I don’t know how I’ll possibly have the time later if this actually happens. . .
So much procrastination stems from our projections of the future and what it might look like. But, of course, the truth is, we never really know what the future will look like. The only thing we can do is make the most educated decision in the moment with the information we have right now.
How does this translate to achieving our goals?
It means that if you focus on small steps you can take immediately, like, right now, you’ll make incremental progress that eventually adds up to big gains. Inspired by this Fast Company article about the stress-reducing benefits of optimism, we’ll call them “Now Steps.”
As positive psychology researcher Michelle Gielan writes: “A now step is the smallest meaningful action you can take in the face of a challenge. It reminds the brain that your behavior matters as you experience a win from completing it.”
In short: Now Steps will help you get unstuck.
Here’s how to figure out what the next ones look like for you.
Ask Yourself If You’re an Inventor or an Outliner
I have friends who are insanely good at making plans. They’re as comfortable in a spreadsheet as I am in my pajamas rewatching The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel for the fourth time. Outlining comes naturally to some people—and that’s great!
If you’re a hard-core Outliner, it might be easy for you to work backward from your goal. Say you want to start a podcast—you can go all the way into the future and pick a date to debut your first episode. Working in reverse, you can create a detailed plan for researching equipment, interviewing guests, editing the episodes, all the way back to your present self to find your Now Step.
What can you do today?
Maybe it’s deciding on a format, or a title, or writing a list of possible cohosts. Try to silence all the voices that tell you “but what about” and try to distract you. You can recognize a Now Step because it’s immediate and, probably, quite small.
But if you’re an Inventor, you might like to make things up as you go along. Also totally OK! Your Now Step won’t come out of a carefully detailed plan, but more out of a hodgepodge of ideas swimming in your head. Rather than forcing yourself to construct a six-month journey to your goal, lean into your strengths, and invent some steps on the spot.
Consider the resources and time you have today and brainstorm five possible Now Steps regarding your newest goal.
If you want to adopt a dog, for example, your Now Steps could include texting your dog-loving friends to find out the names of the shelters where they found their pets, Googling around for dog care info, or ordering a pet owner handbook on Amazon. Again, the step should be small, so small it might not seem like a step at all!
Recognize Your Progress—No Matter How Small
The circumstances in our lives can radically change from month to month or week to week. (Anyone who’s been swamped on a Monday but bored by Friday can relate.)
That’s why it’s important to note that your Now Steps can look very different at different phases of your life.
Here’s an example from my own life:
A few years ago, I was training for a marathon and so my Now Steps were intimidating: Run 4 to 5 times per week and 25 miles per week, minimum. Now that I am running more casually, my Now Steps have drastically changed. I tell myself that running one mile is all I need to do—and usually that’s all I do!
Research shows that there is power in small wins, and they can positively affect our personal and work lives. Let’s say you want to have a bit more money to spend this year. Depending on how far along you are in the process, your Now Steps could include the following:
●︎ Researching the best strategies for asking for a raise from your boss
●︎ Improving and documenting your output at work
●︎ Asking colleagues and peers about their salaries to get a sense of the field
And so on. Instead of telling yourself “I want more money,” breaking down this goal into achievable steps can give you hope that circumstances can, in fact, change.
Realize There Are No Wrong Now Steps
Here’s the great news: A Now Step can take two minutes, or 20 minutes, or two days—and they’re all equally valuable.
Because making the tiniest bit of progress proves to yourself that this is a project that has meaning for you. That you value it. That you’re thinking about it, and you’re moving forward.
Plus, once you complete one step, the next ones will start to fall into place. All you have to do is locate the following Now Step—and do it.
Your brain also begins to work in strange ways. You might start to see your project or your goal all around you. It’s like when someone raves about a TV series that you’ve never heard of, and the next day you see recaps and billboards and more signs (literal and otherwise) for this thing that was previously alien to you.
Taking a Now Step every week or every day, whatever works for you, will keep the engine running. It’s you telling yourself, “This is important.” It’s you deciding to get to it—right here, right now.
This article originally appeared on Shine and is reprinted with permission. You can download the Shine app here for daily self-care support, personalized to you. Explore meditations, articles, and more to help you calm your anxiety and feel more confident at work.