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  • Writer's pictureBecci

The next step, the next breath.

“You see, Momo,' he told her one day, 'it's like this. Sometimes, when you've a very long street ahead of you, you think how terribly long it is and feel sure you'll never get it swept.' He gazed silently into space before continuing. 'And then you start to hurry,' he went on. 'You work faster and faster, and every time you look up there seems to be just as much left to sweep as before, and you try even harder, and you panic, and in the end you're out of breath and have to stop - and still the street stretches away in front of you.

That's not the way to do it.' He pondered a while. Then he said, 'You must never think of the whole street at once, understand? You must only concentrate on the next step, the next breath, the next stroke of the broom, and the next, and the next. Nothing else.' Again he paused for thought before adding, 'That way you enjoy your work, which is important, because then you make a good job of it. And that's how it ought to be.' There was another long silence. At last he went on, 'And all at once, before you know it, you find you've swept the whole street clean, bit by bit. What's more, you aren't out of breath.' He nodded to himself. 'That's important, too,' he concluded.”

- Momo, Michael Ende


Natural History Museum, London

For the longest time of my childhood and teenage years I used to be into athletics, particularly sprint disciplines (loved hurdle runs!). I loved the technique and how your time depended on how fast your foot could touch the ground again after jumping over the hurdle. It was an 'all-or-nothing' kind of mentality, and you only had a few seconds to prove yourself before the run was over.

I stopped with that sport when I moved and had no access to a good athletics club anymore, but the general mentality stuck with me for the longest time. I had no long-term commitments to myself, I was still an all-or-nothing type of person. If something could be achieved fast and with the goal in sight, I was there for it. If anything took longer than expected, I lost focus, I easily just gave up. I was extremely motivated for a couple of days and then dropped whatever idea I had completely. For example, I would start eating healthy with the start of a new semester, only to have a cheat day make me quit altogether. I worked out twice a day for a while only to lose focus when I skipped one workout, so I dropped the plan altogether. I tried to learn a language on an app every day only to lose my progress for a week whilst I was traveling, so I stopped. I had no stamina, no long-term motivation, and little willpower.

But as I got a little older, I gained a little experience in goal-setting, my relationship to myself changed, and I started to understand a few little things that changed so much for me. These aren't any groundbreaking revelations, but I think these help if we feel stuck or frustrated with ourselves:

1. Slow and Steady Wins the Race

As much fun as sprint disciplines are, in everyday life you are in it for the long haul. Reaching your goals is almost always more of a marathon and less of a 100m sprint. And as every long-distance runner will tell you, for a long race you need to ration your strength. I learned this the hard way with my workout routines, where I always wanted to see fast results, putting maximum effort into programs that would tire me out instead of slowly building up my stamina. I have only now learned that aiming too high does not prove anything to yourself or others. So I am now setting extremely reasonable workout goals, that I only (slowly!) increase if I manage them well over a significant amount of time.

2. Ripple Effects

I also realized that changing one thing in your life you want to work on has a ripple effect on other aspects of your life. For me, the big breaking point was yoga. When I first started yoga, I saw it purely as physical activity, a challenge, how bendy could I get, how many poses could I achieve, you get the drill. But with time (on and off the yoga mat), yoga became so much more. My workout routine started to slowly affect other aspects of my life. My energy levels rose, which led to me not constantly napping and dropping dead into bed, which led to the motivation to actually do proper groceries and cook something healthy every once in a while or to have a good breakfast in the morning instead of just stressing to work. I realized that taking care of my body and mental health was the top priority for me, which led to a variety of behavior changes, such as going home early where I usually might have partied all night and reading a good book instead of drinking alcohol until my speech got blurry. Most importantly, I was introduced to an entirely new philosophy that brought me two things for myself: patience, and forgiveness.

3. Adjustment is not Failure

I think it is a strength and not a weakness to accept that not everything is going to plan and to adjust accordingly. If you noticed that your goals are stressing you out instead of inspiring you, you should not consider yourself, your work ethic or your motivation as the cause of the problem. Instead, think about if you maybe just set the wrong parameters for your goals? It is one thing to try to set yourself up for accomplishment, to begin with, but it is another thing to admit when you have put too much on your plate after all. Your workout plan, your dietary changes, your healthy habits are from you and for you, and nobody but your ego is standing in the way between you saying "But I have to get through this" and you saying "Maybe it is time to slow down". Related to that, go easy on yourself if you don't keep up with your own goals. I just spent a week traveling and did not step on my yoga mat once. I also ate loads of things I should not eat (lactose, etc.). But I had fun and gave myself the space for this. When I came back, I knew I could just begin again with stepping on my mat when I felt like it.

The excerpt at the beginning of this blog is from the popular German children's book 'Momo', a critical comment on the concept on time and how modern societies use it. The role of the street sweeper, who is talking to the little girl Momo here, gave one of the most iconic quotes of the book, which applies so well to what I am trying to say: that in order to finish a project, in this case sweeping a long street, you shouldn't hurry to the finish line, but instead, focus on every single little sweep ahead of you.



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