Finding Encouragement in the Middle Space
As the first month of the year comes to a close and we enter the month of February, it begins what I like to refer to as the "middle space." The middle space is the section of the journey that we often don't focus on; we don't give much thought or celebration. It's the moment where the excitement of starting something new begins to dwindle as we settle into our routines (some new, some old). I don't know about you, but this is the section that can be the hardest for me to push through. Once I settle into a routine, I miss the excitement of when it was new, now things begin to feel a bit monotonous, and I battle against those old habits that try to come back and disrupt the progress I am making in building my new habits to achieve my goals.
However, this part of our journey is crucial because we determine if we keep going or give up. The middle space of the journey is when we revise, edit, and remove what isn't working. Therefore, I want to provide some preparation for this part of the journey so that we may be equipped to handle the moments that will be a challenge and make decisions that are not based solely on our emotions. I also want us to find new ways to celebrate and acknowledge the importance of this space and the progress that we make here.
How can we learn to recognize the growth and work in this part of the journey?
How can we learn to find enjoyment in this phase as we do at the beginning and complete our goals?
Step one: Celebrating the Small Wins + Minimize Failures
I realize "celebrating the small wins" is not a new concept and is not a groundbreaking thought; it is something that you've heard time and time again. This phrase has become a catchy and a great one to put on our social media page or mention in a meeting to encourage your co-workers. We read it, take it in for the moment, but the question is, are we implementing it into our daily practice?
When do you begin to celebrate your accomplishments? Is it only once you've completed the whole process? Or are you actively trying to find & celebrate your wins daily? Yes, I said DAILY.
Every day you will make decisions that impact the achievement of the overall goal, and I believe that if we focus on at least one win a day, it leaves less room to focus on the disappointments. One win a day keeps discouragement away! Failure is an expected part of the journey, and the reality is that failure is so easy to acknowledge because it is so easy to see. If we are honest with ourselves, some of our greatest accomplishments saw many failures before they ever saw success. However, the danger is that if failure is all we focus on, we can lose sight of the goal altogether, which leads to discouragement and lack of motivation. Maybe for you, it's challenging to see the small wins because the goal is lofty and will take time; in those instances, I like to ask myself what is one thing that I can (or did) do today that can help my progress towards this goal?
I have been working on a few new writing projects; as writers, we all experience creativity that is exciting and propelling and then there are moments where we lack creativity and don't progress very much. Additionally, my work as a stay at home mom of two kids also creates challenges for me to find the time I would like to carve out that creative space. Therefore, it's essential for me to set realistic expectations for myself and then for me to focus on a win for the day. Yesterday, I set a goal to work on my project for 30 minutes, and I could only work on it for about 15 minutes. Rather than beating myself up for not getting the entire time I originally planned for, I reminded myself that I still made progress. It wasn't perfect; it wasn't exactly as I expected. Nonetheless, it was progress. Focusing on the win helped me to feel encouraged for the next day and adjust as needed to meet my goals.
Try this mantra this week to help you focus on your small wins:
Today, I celebrate my wins and am proud of myself for ______________________.
Step two: Stop & Acknowledge + Keep your Focus
How many of us took the time to write down our goals for 2021, or did you only create a mental note? I believe that there is so much power in writing things down, and I know this because I see a big difference in my ability to stay focused when I write things down versus when I only create the mental note. Our brains are phenomenal and have the capacity for a lot. However, I do believe that as we get working and get in so-called "go mode," we can often get distracted by things as they arise, and after some time, you look up and maybe thinking, wait a minute, how did I get here?
For me, it's like taking a drive that you do every single day. At first, you think about it constantly and maybe even have to use the GPS to help you get there, pretty soon you can do the drive without even thinking about it, almost as if the car is driving itself because it's so familiar to you. Have you ever had a moment where you got in the car arriving somewhere you did not intend to be? You were in the car driving on a familiar path, and muscle memory kicked in as your mind drifted into deep into your mind. You were lost and distracted in thoughts, just driving but not solely focused on the route you took, only to find that you took yourself to a place that was a regular part of your routine but not where you needed to be. Once you recognize where you are, you look around and pause, thinking, how did I allow myself to come here when I intended to go somewhere else entirely? Well, I believe that the same can happen in our lives. We set out on our journey, and after a while, we get comfortable, allowing our mind to get distracted. Our muscle memory kicks in to make sure we get to a destination; however, our muscle memory took us back to a place of comfort and not necessarily to our desired destination. Therefore, it's essential to have that road map, to write our goals down, and to be able to look back at it when we feel ourselves getting distracted because while this route may feel familiar, it's going to require a few new turns to get to the right place. We will need to stop and acknowledge where we are currently and where we are going to keep our focus and achieve our goals.
If you haven't done so yet, please take a moment to write down your goals for this year. It doesn't have to be beautiful, and it doesn't even have to be on a sheet of paper; you can use the notes application on your phone, as long as you find a place where you can keep this and refer back to it. Additionally, I would encourage you to start even smaller and write your goals down for the week. I have been making this more of a weekly + daily practice, and I am finding that breaking the goals down into small ones helps keep my focus, keeps me on the right route, and supports me in acknowledging the progress I am making daily to meet my overall goals.
Step three: Measure Your Progress & Continue Moving Forward
Have you ever tried to bake without the appropriate measuring tools? Well, I admit, I have! And let me tell you now, that I failed miserably. Baking isn't usually something you can guess, at least not if I want to expect exact results. It is a process that typically requires precise measurements, 1 tablespoon and 1 teaspoon is very different, and too much or too little of anything changes the entire outcome. For a moment, let's use this analogy and visualize our process of achieving our goals. Some progress comes in cups, and others come in tablespoons. If we are trying to use a cup for every measurement, our tablespoons of progress will be nearly impossible to measure and see all together. It may even feel like it's insignificant and call you to question the impact that it is having. Like in baking, some of the most essential ingredients in the recipe are very small, yet they profoundly impact the outcome. If your baking bread, a small amount of yeast is required, but if we leave it out of the recipe, the bread will not rise.
So, what is my point? My point is that in our lives, we tend to focus on the big stuff, the stuff that feels like it made a big difference, and we wait to celebrate our progress until something noteworthy happens. We compare our progress to others, and suddenly, we feel that our progress isn't as significant as what other people are doing and feel the pressure to do more. The reality is that small actions compound to make big differences. The choices you make during this middle space will add up and matter as you work your way to the finish line of your goals. Therefore, it is vital to create opportunities to measure your progress along the way.
What is the yeast in your life? What is small but making big contributions to you rising to the achievement of your goals?
When things don't feel different, find the yeast in your recipe of success -- what things are subtle yet essential to your progress? Pull out the tablespoons and put away the measuring cups, allowing you to measure your progress appropriately so that you may say: While this is not where I want to be yet, I am making progress. I am moving forward, and I am proud of my journey thus far. As long you can acknowledge your progress and recognize the small yet impactful choices you are making, you will create an environment that encourages you to continue moving forward, and your recipe will turn out as expected. Remember, progress is measured in inches, not miles.
I hope that these tools will help you as you move forward on your journey and enter this middle space. While this is the time that often doesn't make the highlight reels, we spend the most time here, and it is where real work is accomplished. These moments matter, and it is easy to forget that, but I hope that when you feel discouraged or question the progress you are making daily, you will come back to this as a guide to find the encouragement you need to carry you through.
"It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” -Mathew 13:32