Updated on 06.05.14

Take Little Steps, Not Big Ones (1/365)

Trent Hamm

Take Little Steps, Not Big Ones (1/365)

The little boy you see in the picture above is my youngest son. He just learned to walk a few months ago, and all of his steps are little steps.

It takes him a lot of time to accomplish many things you or I would consider simple. He often takes a whole minute to crawl up a single flight of stairs. Holding his hand and walking somewhere means I’m going to be taking three or four times longer, just because he’s taking little steps.

Even given the slowness, there’s still a very valuable thing with those little steps. That little one year old boy has learned that if you take your steps too fast and too big, you fall right on your face.

Most of the time, his steps are small and reserved, but he knows that he’ll eventually get to his destination.

Every once in a while, though, he’ll get excited and start taking big steps. He’ll run across the floor, trip over his own feet, and fall flat on his face. He’ll then emit an ear-splitting yowl and Mom or Dad will come running to the rescue. He doesn’t make it to his destination and, even worse, his nose (or his chin or his elbow or his knee) now hurts like the Dickens.

Here’s the thing: when we’re trying out a new behavior that isn’t familiar to us, we’re all like that little boy. The movements we need to make to reach our destination aren’t ones that we’re familiar with.

Just like that boy, we see a big shiny thing off in the distance and we can’t wait to get there. For him, it might be a big beach ball (we have one that he plays with all the time). For us, it might be debt freedom, some level of financial security, a thin waistline, a promotion, or any number of other things.

But just like that boy, we’re not naturally familiar with the steps it takes to get there. If we’re in debt, that means that frugality and money management aren’t natural moves for us. If we’re overweight, that means that a healthy diet and adequate exercise aren’t part of our normal routine.

Also just like that little boy, if we try to run using those unfamiliar steps, we’re going to fall right on our faces. Our hyper-aggressive focus on frugality will cause us to bounce back with giant spending splurges. Our super-strict diet will result in an entire pork roast for supper with a whole Sara Lee poundcake as a chaser (okay, maybe a bit of an exaggeration there, but you get the idea).

One step at a time. One continuous, lasting change at a time.

Don’t jump into ultra-frugality. Instead, look for some ways to change your spending that don’t alter your daily routines (like air-sealing your home) and focus on making one significant permanent change to your behavior that saves you money (like unhooking that cable box for good).

The same goes for health changes. Make some changes that don’t alter your daily behavior (like getting rid of unhealthy snacks at home) and make one significant permanent change to your behavior (like giving up fast food).

You can repeat this same exact phenomenon for any change you’re trying to make in your life. Little steps will always get you there. Big steps often leave you in a worse pickle than where you started.

This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book 365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere. Images courtesy of Brittany Lynne Photography, the proprietor of which is my “photography intern” for this project.

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  1. kc says:

    “…now hurts like the Dickens.”

    Beyond taking the lazy way out by using a hackneyed (and anachronistic) saying, you’re confusing its origin by capitalizing “dickens.”

    “You can repeat this same exact phenomenon…”

    Strictly speaking, it’s not a phenomenon, it’s a tactic. Second, why are the words “same, exact” even in this sentence? They add nothing.

    Perhaps the next 364 posts ( ! ) in this series will be written with a bit more care.

  2. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    Thanks for the grammar tips, kc!

  3. Steven says:

    Maybe another lesson we could learn is to go after what we want without fear of falling flat on our face. Be fearless!

  4. Kai says:

    Heh, in light of Steven’s, another lesson we could take from a small child is that when you screw up (fall down), take a look around you. If no-one’s watching, you can skip the crying and get right back up and keep going. :D

  5. kc says:

    Good to see you commenting.

  6. valleycat1 says:

    #4 Kai – my thoughts exactly.

  7. Johanna says:

    Maybe crying a little bit helps you to work through the disappointment you’re feeling in yourself for screwing up. If that’s the case, cry all you want without worrying how it looks. Then get on with your life.

  8. Kai says:

    I don’t actually mean that you should or shouldn’t be upset when you screw up.
    I just was thinking about small children walking after Steven’s comment, and it reminded my of the amusement of a small child falling down, then looking around to see whether anyone is watching them. I have seen kids look around, see mommy watching, and start to cry, and I have seen them look around, looking a little stunned, but not catch anyone paying attention to them, and get themselves up and go on.
    I think it’s hilarious.

  9. David says:

    Since “dickens” is in this context a euphemism for “devil”, and since “hurts like the Devil” would not cause raised eyebrows even among the most pedantic, “hurts like the Dickens” is almost certainly not wrong.

  10. Esme says:

    Since when is using a polite and decent version of a common expression hackneyed and anachronistic? The words ‘hackneyed’ and ‘anachronistic’ are if anything, the undesirable words, dragged kicking and screaming out of the pages of pedantry by failed writers and arrogant media trolls.
    Give it a rest. Go read the New Yorker or something.

  11. Kate says:

    They are circling, Esme, because Trent has been commenting lately. And they wonder why he doesn’t comment. Anytime he does the wolves start circling, looking for the kill.

  12. katiebird says:

    Useful reminder, thanks. We have a psychological phenomenon that leads our brains to resist change. Small steps let us tiptoe past the big brain, without setting off its alarm system….and we can then build on each small step….until we finally reach our goals. And when we achieve our small manageable goals we gain in confidence.

    To the incessant critics of Trent’s grammar, etc….you folks are really a downer. I read the comments because there are often useful thoughts from other readers, but I really don’t gain anything from the criticical and negative comments. Perhaps the critics could take a risk and start their own blogs, and expose themselves to the kind of criticism Trent receives.

  13. Johanna says:

    @katiebird: “Perhaps the critics could take a risk and start their own blogs, and expose themselves to the kind of criticism Trent receives.”

    You mean the kind of criticism you’re delivering right now (to people who don’t have their own blogs)? Or the kind of criticism Trent talks about sometimes where people threaten to harm his children (which I wouldn’t wish on anybody)?

  14. kc says:

    I stand by what I wrote, and won’t resort to name calling while doing so.

    Trent has published a couple of books and refers to himself as a “professional writer;” I don’t think it unreasonable to expect his posts to be well written.

    “Hurt like the dickens” IS anachronistic: it dates from the 17th century. The last time I heard anyone speak this phrase it was my great grandmother, and that was decades ago.

    My real issue with it however, is that it’s lazy writing. Instead of relying upon “commonplace expressions,” why not take an extra 10 seconds and try to actually describe the hurt a child experiences from falling?

    A professional’s writing ought to be vigorous and concise, and avoid cliche. Trent sometimes misses the mark.

    If this offends you, or you have different expectations for a blog post by a professional writer, sorry. I stand by my comment, and I’m entitled to my opinion.

  15. Therese Z says:

    kc: Blah, blah, blah. A lively writer decorates his writing with anachronistic expressions, or slang, or plays on words, for our delectation and amusement. Gitcher own blog and then you can demonstrate the kind of writing you want to read.

    On the subject, I was thinking that the Lord says “My Word is a lamp unto your feet.” Note He didn’t say He’d light the whole way up. We have to trust and take a step, trust and take a step.

  16. Kai says:

    People have been posting proofreading and grammar errors all along. There isn’t any new influx since he started commenting occasionally.

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