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.