It was summertime in the early 1970s.

A laundry worker who was barely earning enough money to feed his family had an idea for a story. After letting the idea stew in his head for awhile, the man wrote three pages of the story.

Unimpressed by his own efforts, he crumpled the pages and decided not to continue writing it.

The following day, he came home from work to see his wife had unfolded the pages that he threw away the previous night. She liked the way the story was unfolding in those three pages, and urged her husband to continue writing.

He did, and shortly after he finished the story, he got a phone call. A phone call that would change his and his family’s lives forever. He’d sold his book. For $400,000 –  well over 4 times amount more than he would earn in a whole decade at his day job.

That man is Stephen King, and the novel is Carrie.

As entertaining as this story is, why am I telling you about Stephen King?

Well, because King started where he was. King started the one thing that would ultimately catapult his career as a writer to successes he never could have imagined with the most basic step:

Getting his idea on paper. That’s all he did. Three pages, single spaced. He took a small step.

Success is Just a Series of Small Steps

It’s so easy to get lost in the grandeur of chasing a new idea or dream.

Before we even take the first step we are trying to scale the entire mountain. I’ve done it before. Perhaps you have, too.

First, you have an idea. Then you’re worrying about competitors or losing interest in your idea or whether you’ll gain any traction or whether your idea will work out and whether you’ll have enough time to pursue it…

Meanwhile, your idea is like a sparkler. It’s fizzling and popping and waiting for you to feed it with something it can stick to, about to burn out. It’s not worried about the log in the woods that it will need to jump when it gets there. It just wants something to transfer some spark to now.

If you don’t feed it, the spark is going to go out. You’ll never know what sort of light show could have happened if you get caught worrying about the far-in-the-future stuff. So how can you feed the spark of your idea? By starting where you are.

What is the most basic step you can take? Right now, after you finish reading this, what is one thing you can do to start acting on that idea? Break it down to the most basic step you can take – that you have to take – to act:

  • If you want to be a photographer, edit one photo.
  • If you want to be a writer, write one paragraph.
  • If you want to lose ten pounds, put on your running shoes.

Don’t worry about what comes after until you get to that time in the future called “after”.

Don’t worry about the next photo until you’ve dealt with the first.

Don’t worry about where you’ll publish that paragraph until you’ve written it.

Don’t obsess about tomorrow’s workout until you’re finished today’s.

Success is just a series of small steps over time. It’s one blade of grass fed to the sparkler.

Start where you are. Break it down to the minimum viable step.

The one thing that you can do right this second to start living what you’ve been dreaming.

What small step can you take action on today to reach your dream?

What is one thing you can make progress on?

Don't worry about tomorrow.

Don't worry about what will happen in three years or five years or even six months.

Focus on what you're doing today.

28 thoughts on “The Power of Small Steps: How to Start When Starting Feels Impossible

  1. Bharat Jhala says:

    Sarah! you know this idea of taking small steps towards end goal, sounds so simple that sometime we just read, listen or speak about it and feel good! Period.
    One cannot have an epic life over night.However, I strongly believe that being comfortably consistent in taking small actions is the real key to success and this is something so powerful yet doable.
    One more good thing about is it that anyone can take series of small steps for their more than one goal in one day and that makes one keep progressing towards final achievement.
    Actions is the only thing which creates result, and nothing else, and one doesn’t need to take powerful actions to achieve a big goal but series of small and doable steps to add power to their actions. Just one thing at a time, one step at a time!
    Beautiful post, loved it, read first thing in the morning today! Probably would be the first one to comment too:)
    Thank you

    • Sarah says:

      Thank you, Bharat, for the kind words. Getting from here to there is just a series of small steps.

  2. Anubhav Shankar says:

    Hi Sarah,
    Once again a brilliant article owing to a very apt example and it couldn’t have come at a better time as I start working on my idea from August, which had been lurking in my head for a long time.
    This article was kind of a small validation for the step about to be taken by me.
    Thank You .

  3. Lauren says:

    Really, it makes perfect sense. When paralyzed with how to begin, just DO. I know I feel like this with everything that needs to be done for a launch I have coming up — I’m going to focus on just one thing to get done this week, cross it off, and move on.

  4. Alyssa @ Generation YRA says:

    This was a wonderful & motivating post to read! Just getting started is how I find myself reaching goals I didn’t even know I could accomplish! Each small step adds to the summation of the journey. Thank you for this post! 🙂

    • Sarah says:

      I love that last portion of your comment, Alyssa: ! Each small step adds to the summation of the journey. So true!

  5. Cathy Goodwin says:

    Good post! Once you get that small step you gain momentum, too. I find this works when dealing with something you HAVE to do. I once read about a woman who hated writing her doctoral dissertation so she spent 15 minutes a day and got the thing done in a year or so. Much better than doing nothing and crashing at the end!
    This advice is especially good advice for people with f/t jobs who want to start something on the side. It’s about consistency, so don’t wait for a big block of time! It rarely happens and some people work better in smaller pieces anyway.

    • Sarah says:

      Love this story, Cathy! That’s so inspiring to me. It’s true – once you start and even if you just tell yourself you’ll do the activity for a couple of minutes, it gains momentum.

  6. Lori says:

    Thanks for this Sarah. You definitely struck a chord once again. I had to chuckle because the three examples you gave are the three things I’ve been trying to get revved. It becomes like a dance…moving through different activities. Probably best to focus on one thing at a time though eh?

    • Sarah says:

      That’s so funny, Lori! Then it’s kismet that you read the post. Definitely best to focus on one thing at a time, but really difficult, too 🙂

  7. Shealyn says:

    This was great and very timely. It’s something that I personally have always struggled with when I get a new idea. I didn’t know that about Stephen King, that’s way cool. 🙂

    • Sarah says:

      I didn’t either, Shealyn, until recently. I read his book On Writing, and it’s full of fascinating facts about his writing career 🙂 I’d highly recommend it.

  8. Rebecca Anne says:

    Were you reading my mind? I just downloaded a habit tracking app so that I could get myself back into the habit of drawing and maybe become the great artist I hope to one day be.

  9. Theodore Nwangene says:

    Hi Sarah,
    This is really motivational. With the amount of flashy objects on the internet today, it has become very difficult to be focused.
    We always want it to be perfect and if it seems not, we fling it and go for the next big thing.
    I’ve been wanting to build an Amazon niche site for awhile now. Have started the Niche and keyword research process but for the past one month now, I’ve never done anything about it again.
    I think I have to finalize the research process today and then register a domain for it.
    I’m motivated Sarah.
    Thanks a lot for sharing.

    • Sarah says:

      I’m so glad the article motivated you, Theodore. I agree that we tend to lean toward perfectionism – or instant success – and if it’s not instantly successful, we move onto the next thing. What we really need to do is just take the next step.

  10. Liv says:

    Nice reminder Sarah, I feel it goes along with the mindfulness philosophy. Focus is one of my greatest challenges, even when I plan ahead and I know I have stuff worked out for later, I still keep on thinking about later too much (and not doing enough in the present). Btw I like that picture a lot!

    • Sarah says:

      It definitely goes along with the mindfulness philosophy – and you’re not the only one that struggles with focus. I certainly do, too! It’s a very human struggle.

  11. Ganesh says:

    Thank you Sarah…very inspiring and well written. Indeed Small is so beautiful, Small is so doable, Small steps give momentum for a big journey called life. Nature itself is quantized! Yes we all started small when we started to walk, to talk… and it applies to all things in life. Just somewhere down the line we got lost when we thought we have grown up and became self conscious and stopped learning. The key is to have the spirit of a child and be on it (any project of life), taking small steps till we reach home.
    Thank you

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