I bought a new dinette table months ago at IKEA but never put it together for lack of time. It became a fixture, sitting in the box by my door. I knew that deep down I wasn’t wild about the thought of putting it together, even though I’ve done it and know I can. This week I decided to just do it.
I opened the box and saw all the pieces. Then I looked at the instructions. As I went through the pages, I began to flip myself out. The instructions looked complicated. I almost put it all back in the box for another time but knew I should get it done. I realized I was looking ahead too much. Looking at the later steps made me nervous.
We often look ahead, speculate, and let intimidating stuff stop us, in a variety of situations.
A project at work may seem too tough if you think beyond what you have to do right now. How will I do this or get that once I’ve gotten started? What if I screw up halfway through my speech? Looking ahead can sabotage getting the job done, no matter what it is. In work or in life, we block ourselves from doing what we’re capable of doing by looking too far down the road. I decided to put the table together, one step at a time.
When you do something step by step, word by word, task by task, what you have to do becomes doable.
I opened the box and sorted the pieces of my table. Then I went in steps. First step: separate all the screws, nuts and bolts in sizes and make sure I had them all. I felt better when that was done and moved to step 2 in the instructions. When I’d finished that, I moved to the next step. As each one got done, the table came together and I laughed at how big a deal I’d made of the simple assembly. Things had seemed complicated when I looked ahead since I didn’t have the other steps done. When I did, I just kept going.
When you take any situation, task or fear one step at a time, you can get do what you have to do.
Putting the table together taught me a valuable life lesson—that when you stop looking at the bigger picture and focus on the first step to take, you can accomplish a lot more. We often project to the future and worry about what ifs. Plus, looking at things that come after taking the first steps may be harder to envision if you haven’t taken the ones before them. When I looked at all the pieces in the package needing to be put in the right place and instructions that confused me, my table almost didn’t get put together. But, I started at the beginning and got it done.
Once I put the first parts together, the confusing parts made sense.
This made me brazen and I bought a cabinet with doors that was much more complex than the table. I could have paid to have it assembled but chose to do it myself. I opened the box yesterday and my first thought was regret that I didn’t have the store do it. There was a huge bag filled with an assortment of pieces and screws in different sizes. My stomach turned. Then I stopped beating me up for insisting on doing it myself. I could do it—step by step.
There was a big slab of Styrofoam in the box and I used it as a tray to sort all the small pieces and screws and nails. There were many dozens of them! I saw things I couldn’t identify and decided not to worry about them—I’d discover what they were for when I reached the step for them. I identified what I could with the instruction sheet. Then I did the first step. It took a while. I made some mistakes and had to redo things. Each time I forgave myself for not checking that each shelf was facing the right way, etc., before I put screws in.
Instead, I reminded myself that when I put the second cabinet together (yes, I bought 2!), I’ll be a pro!
It took a while but now this cabinet is making me happy by giving me more storage space. Tonight I’ll do the second one and it will take be MUCH faster since I know exactly what to do. Often we look down the road too far and scare ourselves against doing something by allowing the future steps to seem too hard. Instead, do the first step, then try the next, and you’ll find it much easier to get whatever it is done.
Initiating an action, like applying for a new job or agreeing to make a speech, can seem scary. But you can do it if you just focus on what you have to do or say first.
Of course you should prepare for the bigger picture if necessary but focusing too far ahead or analyzing to death future steps will keep you from getting to them. When you take the first step and accomplish it, then look to the second, and so on. As each step is completed, your confidence will increase and you’ll understand more about what to do for the next one. This keeps a big endeavor from becoming overwhelming.
Trying to figure out how you’ll ever manage to finish step 6 when you haven’t done 1-5 sabotages what you’re trying to do.
Looking back, putting the table together was easy. The latter steps no longer seem confusing. After the foundation was together, the rest followed in a logical, doable way. Even the cabinet wasn’t hard when I assembled it step by step. I do this even when I’m writing a book. Sometimes I begin to consider later chapters and get concerned about what material I’ll put into them. But now I catch myself and write the first chapter. When I get to the ones I wasn’t sure about, I know what to say.
Most things are doable if you just take it one step at a time and let each finished one motivate you further. That’s how hard tasks become easier!