7 “Easy” Steps

There are so many books and programs out there that are based on “steps to success” for whatever you want to achieve: being a good parent, being happy, having a great relationship, being loved and admired. Just give me the steps to follow so that I can [fill in the blank].

What is it in our nature that drives us to look for a list that we can tick off in order to find contentment or success in an area of our lives that we think is out of control or unacceptable?

As I pondered this idea, it occurred to me that when there are steps, no matter how many, we get a sense of a beginning and an end. Once we have followed these steps we can dust our hands off and say we have arrived, we found the answer, and now things will be as we want them to be. I can recount so many times I have met someone who has done something I admire and have asked “how did you do it?” secretly hoping it involved some simple set of steps that I too could follow and achieve that goal.

In any popular step plan, the steps seem mostly doable. Often times, however, even though the steps look as if they can be achieved, we get stuck and are unable to complete or stick with the process. It gets difficult; we have to face a stumbling block and just can’t hurdle over it. Change is hard, even in circumstances when we know our lives may depend on it.

Finding happiness or contentment isn’t packed neatly into 7 easy steps, at least not for me. The steps, even if followed to the letter, often reveal more, and the more is what needs the attention. For example, a step to happiness may be to begin a daily gratitude journal. Makes sense and seems easy to do, right? Then you come to a day that, for whatever reason, you do not feel grateful. Now what? This is the more that is being revealed, and unless we have ways to respond to ourselves when we encounter these moments, our 7 steps get dropped and we are unable to sustain the practice.

I am not saying we shouldn’t follow a plan, make a list, and make some changes to how we do things to achieve more desirable outcomes in our lives. What I am pointing to is that which we most often don’t want to face—that which holds us back—is actually what demands our attention.

Our work is not on the surface but at the core. So when you find yourself face-to-face with the moment you find difficult to be with, try this step.

Take one more breath. See if you can tease apart your feelings, your felt sense of the difficulty, and the quality of presence needed to make it through. See if you can be with this moment, with this part of you that is having a difficult time, and give yourself the space to have this experience. Take one more breath. Repeat as needed.

Barbara Pressman graduated from the Professional Coaching Course in 2012. You can read more of her writing on her blog