Achieve Little Victories to Get Back on Top
Set and achieve small goals to re-build your confidence
Spiraling down and out of control is no fun. But circumstances get thrown at us like gusting winds tossing debris in our faces. I’ve been there and I’ve opened my home to others who have watched success slip away, and they can’t grasp it again no matter how hard they try.
You can get back on top with consistent small steps that lead to do-able goals.
Helping others deflated me
My family’s journey from foster care to adoption to guardianship led to having up to 10 combative teens and young adults in our home. We dealt with alcohol abuse and pregnancy on top of handling numerous relational conflicts.
I faced an emotional battering in the mid-2000s. Think of our kids like a jetliner taking off, and bumping from one altitude to another through major turbulence. Except, their pathway to adulthood happened over several years.
Meanwhile, my professional life was in tatters. I co-launched a marketing agency that didn’t work out, went into roofing sales with Home Depot
I struggled career-wise and then landed a business development position with a digital marketing agency. I got several contracts in the works, but it was 2009 and 2010. People changed positions and after a year I was left with nothing.
I was emotionally and mentally deflated. I couldn’t land a sale and home life was a battle.
What did I do?
I got the help I needed.
Find good listeners
For the first time, I went to counseling with a person who was earning his clinical hours as a marriage and family therapist. That meant I wasn’t paying full price for sessions. He was good.
How do I know?
He listened well and asked me probing questions.
In sales, I learned the old adage about having two ears and one mouth — meaning, we need to listen more than we talk. But that doesn’t only apply to sales.
When you’re struggling, you need to find someone who will listen well. A good listener will maintain eye contact and won’t keep interrupting you with opinions. They’re quick to listen and slow, or thoughtful, to speak.
I enjoyed counseling because it was the only place where I could have one, an uninterrupted hour with someone listening intently to my processing. In an ideal world, it seems your spouse or long-term partner should fill that role.
However, their personality may prevent them from honing in on you. For my wife, her mind clicks and she gets bored easily so she begins doing chores while I talk.
I only went to him for six sessions but I could have gone for many more. During this time, we had a family who needed a place to stay for several months while the husband finished his graduate studies. I hesitated but their daughter was best friends with our granddaughter.
Saying, “no” seemed my best option but I felt bad. My counselor pointed out something key. He said, “You’ll feel bad whether you say ‘yes’ or ‘no.’”
He was right. I said, “Yes” but I would have preferred saying, “No.” But the good news is I made a decision.
That’s another lesson learned. When you’re spiraling down, make decisions. Getting stuck and agonizing between two tough choices only prolongs your challenges.
Go for small successes
I was writing online in earnest, especially after losing my business development position in which I made zero sales. I reviewed where my achievements had been career-wise and they related to writing.
Online journalism was booming and I began regular business article contributions to Examiner.com, one of the content mills as they were called. People liked my articles even though they didn’t pay well. Soon, I had PR agencies calling me and I was interviewing CEOs and successful entrepreneurs.
In baseball terms, I was hitting singles and doubles. Great. This is referred to as the “progress principle” in The Power of Small Wins, a 2011 article in the Harvard Business Review.
A study showed that a person’s good days involved making progress in their work in a supportive environment while bad days had setbacks. That’s why counseling helped me. It was a supportive environment.
I also began writing fiction and published a few novels through a small press.
Those small steps set the stage for more notable achievements. Today, I’ve had several repeat clients in content writing, I have enough articles to package those into e-books and I’ve written five crime-thriller novels with a co-author.
I’m not raking in the big bucks, but I’m functioning at a level of consistent output with personal and professional satisfaction.
Take care of your body
If you’re struggling, find ways to relax before going to sleep. Eat lots of fresh vegetables, lean protein, and exercise.
Our bodies and our emotions are connected. That’s one of the key lessons I learned while writing blog posts for a chiropractor.
When I was struggling in my career and with my family, I had a terrible habit of running to the freezer late at night when the house was quiet. My wife bought those tubs of cookies and cream ice cream. That wasn’t my favorite but it drew me like a magnet.
I’d dig in a spoon and find little cookie chunks, basking in an uninterrupted kitchen. I’d dig a scoop, eat it, and promise, “Just one more.” It was more powerful than drugs.
I couldn’t stop, kept eating, and would go to bed full. I felt lousy about myself and woke in the morning feeling lousy. You can imagine what my mental state was like.
Sometimes during the day, I’d stop and grab a cheap hamburger or chicken sandwich from McDonald’s or Jack in the Box. Here I was, a former long-distance runner who was always concerned about my health, chomping and chewing the wrong stuff.
I was putting on weight and thought I’d never run again. My self-esteem was taking serious hits.
Fortunately, I found a group through a health products company where other people of all ages were in the same situation. I was always the athlete, but now I was out-of-shape, overweight, and grumpy.
The group helped me change my need for craving junk. Instead, if I felt like running for the freezer, I’d stop, lace up my running shoes and walk down the street for five minutes to ten minutes. That was all.
But it changed my mindset and gave me a small goal that I achieved.
I went for one week with eating only vegetables and drinking lots of water and saw that losing weight was possible. I took Omega 3 supplements and Vitamin B supplements. My thoughts began changing and I started setting goals.
That gradual change prevented me from spiraling further.
I found out how important it was to eat right and sleep well.
Care for your spirit
When the flurry of freneticism hit me hard, I stopped going to church. The reason became clear to me: I attended one that was relatively large with nearly 4,000 people on Sundays.
My brain was foggy and the church was as busy as the rest of my life. The activity was too much for me. Plus, I found a phrase that drove me crazy — one we say all the time in U.S. culture: how’s it going?
It was going terrible and I couldn’t answer. A friend of mine who had gone through trauma encouraged me to drop off my wife and kids, park, and go sit alone on the balcony if I found interactions with people overwhelming. So I did that.
It was about the quietest place I could find. I’ve always enjoyed reading the Bible from cover to cover about once a year but I had to stop. It was too much so I began reading the most inspiring verses over and over.
Instead of trying to read quantity, I focused on the quality that spoke to me the most.
Caring for your spiritual side is so important. If it’s not the Bible, then maybe there’s uplifting poetry or music to read and listen to. Or the combination of uplifting texts, music, and nature when you can access it.
Your inner person needs refreshing.
Find one task to complete
Finally, if you’re in an overwhelmed state, you may be like me and need to learn to say, “No” once in a while. Or lots in a while. Find supportive relationships and don’t spill your thoughts to just anybody, only those you know you can trust.
Above all, don’t blame yourself. It’s not worth the pain and won’t get you anywhere. Take small steps to accomplish small goals. Then take larger steps to achieve larger milestones.
Be patient and persevere. You’re laying the foundation for a brighter future.