The Power of Small Steps

Growing up, I hated running. When we had to run a mile in gym class, my lungs burned, and my legs hurt. It felt nearly impossible. You’re probably familiar with this feeling.

Fast-forward to when I was about 23 — a friend of mine said, “The shape you are in when you’re in your 20s determines the shape you’re in for the rest of your life.” (Looking back on this advice, I think it’s almost true for whatever age you are — if you’re active now, you’re likely to be active for the rest of your life — it’s inertia.)

But that was a bit of a wake-up call for me. I don’t know why, but I took this advice to heart. I decided that I could probably handle any amount of pain for 10 minutes a day. So that’s what I committed to. Every day, I put on my sneakers and ran for just 10 minutes.

And low and behold, within two weeks it started to get a lot less painful, and I actually started to enjoy it (dopamine and endorphins are a beautiful thing.) A few months later, I decided I wanted to try for a half marathon. Within a year, I had become a runner. It was part of my identity. I ended up running two full marathons before my accident put me in my wheelchair.

(Thanks to our Dad for being especially encouraging of my running!)

An object at rest tends to stay at rest, but if you make the goal small enough that you can do it every day, that’s when I’ve seen major progress. (Anything seems possible if you just have to do it for 5 minutes.)

Fast forward to this past year, where my workout had taken a backseat. My schedule was quite full. Between Tiny and Snail, Ellie (who is 2 years old), and taking care of my paralyzed body, it felt like I didn’t have time to work out. 

Then in June, I decided to start doing a workout in my “outdoor” wheelchair everyday. I started waking up early, before Ellie woke up, and getting outside before it got too hot. I’ve only missed a handful of days between June and now. I’ve lost a lot of weight too, but more than that, it’s the one “self-care” thing I look forward to most in my day. I love getting outside, it’s a time that I can listen to a good podcast, have thoughts about what to write about for this Sunday Newsletter, or gather photos and ideas for cards. 

Over the past month, I’ve been thinking about what small habits I can build into my day and week to prioritize something else that I really want to do: write more cards.

You might be the type of person who loves writing lots of cards. Or, you might be like me, who often thinks about writing to people more often than it happens. 

But if I think about if I happen to die this year, it makes me sad at how few cards I’ve written to Ellie. (All the best intentions, but throughout her life I’ve probably written to her only ten times. I want to leave behind a stack of letters… about how she is growing/funny things that happened during the week, how much I love her, words to encourage her, and the wisdom I’ve gained from my own life.)

So I’m committing to writing her one card every Sunday (and collecting them in a binder). I’m never going to get these Sundays back, so if I miss it, it means that that card is probably not going to get written. That’s the power of picking a pace that you can keep up with— when we make regular investments of our time, things eventually accumulate, and regrets subside.

I am also trying to commit to writing one card a day, in general. I’ve been doing this for about a week now, and I don’t want to jinx it, but good golly, the benefits of taking a few minutes to empathize with someone in my life, to put into words the gratitude and love I have for them, are invaluable. And I know the notes will probably mean a lot to the people who receive them.

Writing one card per day seems like an achievable goal for me (partly thanks to having an Ultimate Stash sitting on my desk now.)

And writing a note a day is something that I think will honestly make my life a lot better! Instead of carrying around the guilt of unwritten cards, I make daily progress. Instead of having a pile of regrets at the end of this week, I have a pile of cards I need to send. :)

I know myself. If I start pressuring myself to do more than a card a day, it might make the whole resolution fall through. And if I miss a day, I’m not going to let that throw me off completely. But if I pace myself, and commit to writing one note (which often only takes 10 minutes or less) each day, by the end of the year, that is SO many more notes than I would have written otherwise.

I’m not saying this to put any judgment on the amount of cards you write. I’m offering up my goal rather humbly, saying, this is something I’m working on. It actually scares me a bit that I’m telling you this because A) I’m admitting that I haven’t been the best card sender and B) it’s putting it more on the line for me — and I really hate to commit to something and not follow through on it! 😅

I still need to get better at consistently SENDING these cards, but writing them is the first step. I’ll let you know when I figure out a better system for popping them in the mail. 🤪

Tell me in the comments!


What is one thing you do every day that has accumulated over time? 

Is there one thing that if you did 5 minutes of every day it would put some of your worries to rest? (Feel free to share, or just think about this, without the pressure to share!)

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I began texting Scriptures to uplift my niece, daily. And all of a sudden I expanded it to many girlfriends who also needed uplifting. I also love to send encouraging cards (purchased from you) to family and friends. Please continue making the cards!!! Blessings, Susan

Susan Fox

This is SUCH a powerful post, and I’m printing it out to save and re-read. It is a beautiful balance of heart and hear, practicality and aspiration, butt-kicking and giving yourself grace.

I especially agree with making goals that aren’t so hard that you discourage yourself. I have a daily goal of writing five things I’m thankful for in my Gratitude journal. The grace I give myself is that sometimes those “things” are as mundane as my morning cup of coffee and sometimes I miss a day. This morning was Gratitude Day #350 and I’ve only missed about eight or ten in the last year. I decided early on not to try to “catch up” but just keep going.

In spite of writing a book about writing heartspoken notes, I realized that the promotion of my book was cutting too much into the time I was actually spending writing notes. So I also have a plan to “up my note-writing game” this year. I set a daily average instead of a set daily goal, because I usually do better working in batches.

Thanks for sharing this, Leah!

Elizabeth H. Cottrell

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