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Take one small step at a time... to learn new ways to handle old situations

Anyone who has ever learned how to master any skill would have realised that there is always a place where one has to start. And in a lot of situations, that unfortunately means starting on the bottom run! It's not necessarily a pleasant place to be... it might have some excitement associated with it - the excitement of learning something new; but there is always some associated fear and trepidation at the thought of being a novice, struggling with the newness and perhaps even running the risk of failing.

All of us have had this experience of learning a new skill - what about the toddler for example, who has spent many days and weeks lying on her back, rolling over, crawling, trying to pull herself up and walking around holding onto furniture. Then she finally experiences the exhilaration and pride that comes with being able to walk independently!! Oh what joy but one that also requires great determination and persistence!!

And when it comes to learning a new way of being or doing, we can definitely take a page out of the toddler's how-to handbook. A toddler learning to walk, for example, doesn't just throw himself in at the deep end but rather paces himself gradually over time - a skill in itself that's very important to understand in order to avoid failure. So steps 1 and 2 of learning a new skill are...

  • Start easy, then

  • Pace oneself in easy small steps gradually over time

The toddler also has to make sure that she has mastered one level before moving on to the next - it would be a sure ticket to failure if after learning to roll over, that the toddler then tries in vain to pull herself up to standing, having not made sure that those little legs were exercised and strengthened by crawling first. So the important step number 3 is...

  • Make sure you practice each small step and develop mastery and thus confidence before moving on to the next one.

It all sounds easy but many people, especially those who experience anxiety symptoms, often avoid situations because they think it is all too hard. A primary school child or teenager, for example, might really want to learn to speak up in front of the class, instead of always trying to avoid doing, so when the teacher asks a question. If that young person realised that they could develop a very graded step-by-step plan in order to master this skill, they might see that learning to do so is much more manageable and achievable.

The other good thing about developing a carefully graded plan in order to learn a new skill is that there is much less risk of failure. The toddler keeps persevering and doesn't give up as he receives many intrinsic rewards and encouragement along the way; such as the freedom of being able to roll all the way from one end of the room to the other; or the joy of getting a smile from mum or a hug from another sibling when he crawls towards them. These rewards keep him going. So it will be with you also, if you plan your steps carefully and small enough so that you can keep moving towards ever greater success.​

The final important point is that no-one else but you can decide what, when or where to take any new steps forward - you are totally in charge of this process, and it all needs to happen at your unique pace. Just think of that brave toddler again - no-one can make her learn to walk; she has to summon the enthusiasm to do it all by herself , at her pace - but with tremendous rewards when she succeeds!

  • Don't forget you are in charge of your unique step-by-step plan for change!

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