House & Home

Use A Lesson from “The Little Engine that Could” to Make Changes in Your Life

So many lessons learned come from outside the classroom or the subject being taught. Those lessons come through books we read and through the television shows we watch. Those lessons come from the groups we join and the friendships we nurture. But how many of those lessons do you remember?

Years ago, I taught swimming lessons and lifeguarded at the YMCA. I taught beginning swimmers through the advanced swimmers who were perfecting their strokes for competition or developing endurance to be able to pass the lifeguarding tests. Each swimmer learned their strokes, but each swimmer also developed self-confidence, determination, and the feeling of success. Did I teach that? Not directly.

I think my favorite swim students were the pre-schoolers in the non-swimmer (beginning) classes. The first skill to ensure was trust between the students and me. I started by making sure each student’s float belt was secure. Then, I sat with the students along the edge of the pool with our legs dangling in the water and learned how to get into the water safely. Some were brave enough to lean forward and play in the water – splashing with their hands while others pulled their feet out and sat cross-legged. Some were fish who just needed a bit of encouragement while others needed more focused confidence-building and teaching. But I digress.

I was that preschool swim teacher who got into the water to hold the hesitant swimmer or swim in front or beside them while holding on to the kickboard. We would go only to the first ladder along the side of the pool; then, to the mid-way point just before the floor of the pool dropped off to the deep end; then, as they kicked and I guided the kickboard, we chanted, “I think I can. I think I can.” Each time just a little further until one day each swimmer had gone the length of the pool. They worked, little bit by little bit.

What has this got to do with us as adults?

Think about the last time you began a major project like cleaning the garage or cleaning the basement. It can seem like a monumental task. So can painting the inside or outside of the house or doing the spring or fall clean-up of the yard. I’ll bet you can name a few more tasks that can feel insurmountable.

When tackling monumental tasks, take it a little bit every single day. I do this with the spring or fall cleaning of my kitchen – or deep clean if you will. I take one section of cabinets each day. Everything comes out of each cabinet in the section, the shelves get wiped down, the wood gets wiped down with a wood care product, canned goods and mixes get date checked (and tossed if expired), and dishes and bakeware get evaluated (keep, sell, or donate?). Depending on the number of cabinets I set as my goal, this task can take me upward to a week. That might sound like a lot, but the entire task doesn’t feel monumental. It doesn’t overwhelm me. It doesn’t consume an entire day. And, I find that I am more apt to tackle the next project.

The philosophy of working a little bit every day works for almost everything: learning better eating habits, adding exercise to your daily schedule, decluttering, cleaning the garage, downsizing your possessions, learning to play an instrument, learning a new language, or ___ (You can fill in the blank.)

It’s the same philosophy I use when practicing new music, reading required material for a class (You know, that dry content material.), or working on finishing my first novel.

How about a couple of examples

Little bit by little bit is how we have improved our eating habits. We started with one meal and made one adjustment like adding a vegetable to dinner. That was easy. Other substitutions were made, and we learned how to just cook for the two of us so there was a single serving for each instead of tempting our appetites with what should be leftovers for the next night.

Little bit by little bit is how we have incorporated exercise into our daily routine. We’ve tried before to hit the gym and complete a 30-minute exercise session. We burn out quickly. Instead, one day hubby got up right before lunch and started using the landing step to our second floor to do 10 step-ups with each leg. “Now you do it,” he challenged. A few weeks later we had our steps up to four sets of 10 with each leg. Then we bought two sets of weights (5 pounds for me and 10 for him). Now each day we try to get in a few sets of various exercises into our day. We are up to working our way through two songs.

About two months ago, we purchased two e-bikes. I wanted to get Hubby outside and enjoy some exercise without calling it exercise. We started small, riding to the end of the driveway and back. (For my husband, this was a magnificent accomplishment.) Little bit by little bit, we have made enough strides that we loaded the bikes into the bed of the truck last weekend and went to ride the bike/walking path along the river (a 3+ mile round trip).

Why does “little bit by little bit” work?

Tackling something little bit by little bit eliminates the overwhelm of a task or experience. It eliminates the burn-out. It gives you the feeling of success and accomplishment. You can do this. You can accomplish anything.

What about you?

How do you tackle projects and goals? How do you make sure you don’t burn out? Please take a moment to share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below.

Until next time . . .

Photo by R. Kojetin & Created with Canva

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