Every step counts
Making your goals reality
For many people, the New Year is a good opportunity to make changes in their lives. But you don’t always need the New Year to get things started, you need a goal, a realistic goal and then you can get there, step by step and every step on your way there counts.
According to behavioural scientist BJ Fogg it is crucial to set the bar really low if you want to be successful when developing new habits. “If you set the bar too high, you set yourself up to fail,” says Fogg. I read first about him in the Magazine Psychologies (issue February 2020). BJ Fogg is the director of the Stanford Behavior Design Lag, Mike Krieger, the co-founder of Instagram attended his boot camp of the same name. And he also points out that consistency matters as well as the emotion behind the habit. We’re more likely to develop new habits when we have positive associations with them, right?
Let me share a story with you. A couple of years ago I got a grant from the EU for a training course in England. I’d been to England many times before but never had I driven myself. The course would be in August, so I started practising in April. Some years before I had had a car accident. I was badly concussed with a broken nose and a painful whiplash injury. I only remember that I made the police look for my then 5-year-old son who I thought was with me which he wasn’t, he was at a friend’s birthday party. I woke up again in the ambulance and wanted to get out, I had to pick up my son, so I thought, and then woke up again in hospital because the treatment of my nose was rather painful. I had to stay in hospital for a couple of days. I’ve passed the scene of the accident many times, still no memories but for a long time an unpleasant feeling of anxiety stayed with me while driving.
Well, as mentioned above I had the chance to drive to England. My first trip in April was to take my family to our friends in Switzerland. I had never driven for such a long time before, I was completely exhausted when I arrived there after a 4 ½-hour drive. Our friends had prepared a wonderful barbecue for us. No food for me, I just went to bed, I felt slightly sick as I had been so tense.
About two months later I went to nearby Andernach with my family, only a 1 ½-hours drive from us, no big deal really. But for whatever reason I felt extremely anxious. Driving on the left lane, overtaking other cars, everything seemed so fast and the lanes so narrow. What if I caused an accident with my family in the car? I didn’t exactly panic but I was probably close.
My last chance to practise a longer distance drive would be in July, on our way back from the Black Forest. Again I was driving with my family. And again I was driving on the left lane when, all of a sudden, I thought: Why driving on the left lane, why putting yourself under pressure when you can drive on the right lane? Sure it’ll take longer to come home but so what? That was what I did and it took all the pressure from me. I was relaxed when I drove us home. I am a very performance-oriented person. Taking away the pressure off me did the trick, but it took some time to get there.
Our big day had finally arrived. I would drive to England with my son, knowing that he would be an excellent navigator. I felt well prepared. We had planned a lot of extra time, so that we would arrive in Calais in good time for the ferry to Dover. That would give me the chance to have a break every 90 minutes. Everything had been so well planned and in the end everything went so differently. Driving through The Netherlands and Belgium went really well but then, in France, all the traffic was redirected by the police, we all had to leave the motorway, past heavily armed soldiers, around a roundabout and back to the motorway. There had been the most terrible terrorist attacks in France before, so the French didn’t take any risks. A huge traffic jam made any breaks impossible, coming closer to the port, all service stations were closed, so no break and no more buffer.
Still, I stayed calm and had faith that everything would go well. Once in Calais, we could get on a later ferry, and everything went well. We arrived at Twickenham, London in good time, stayed with friends there before we spent the day in London the following day – I drove into London by car! – and later a 2-hour journey to Cheltenham after an exhausting (but also interesting) car spotting tour with my son through London😊.
Had I known beforehand that the French border control would take so long and no chance to have a break, I would have been completely overwhelmed. But taking things as they came, I arrived in England tired but otherwise fine. After a 13 1/2-hour drive I deserved to be tired.
Apart from now driving mostly comfortably and yes, I’ve been to England again, in fact, I quite enjoy driving in England, I took away very valuable lessons, lessons for life:
1) Take small, manageable steps, in my coaching training we called them baby steps. Most of our projects fail because we expect too much from ourselves. Driving to England mightn’t sound like a big deal for other people but it was for me, a very big one. Once I took the pressure away from me, I succeeded.
2) A question of perspective. Most of the time it is not the plan itself that causes stress but our accompanying thoughts. When I take a different, more detached perspective, I am aware that planning in extra time for breaks and driving slowly on the right lane keep my worries at bay. And, getting on a later ferry normally isn’t a problem.
–> Changing your perspective is something you have to practise, a bit like meditating, so that you manage to detach yourself from the actual situation that bothers you.
I often see that my language students put themselves under pressure by expecting too much from themselves. Especially my students who are, how I call them, my „gut feeling“ students. They have a feeling for the language but, like everybody else, they have bad days when they feel detached from their feeling for the language. I then recommend to speak simple English, German, or whatever. Short sentences, direct speech opposed to indirect speech. When you then speak in a nice flow, nobody notices that you’re having a „bad language“ day. Remember, it’s your accompanying, judgemental thoughts which put unnecessary strain on the situation. Because, who really cares if you have a „bad language“ day or drive slowly on the right (respectively left) lane as long as you don’t block anybody?
It’s your personality which counts, that’s something I learned in a beautiful way in the UK. Mistakes don’t matter, but my personality, being friendly, does. Don’t make the mistakes some natives speakers of English I’ve met in Germany do by being super perfect and thus losing your beautiful British lightness and humour for which we love you😊.
And don’t put on shoes which don’t fit you, it’s not one size fits all. Put on the shoes in your size and then start walking. Step by step at your pace.