Only Forwards was the title of a book I read when I was at university. My best friend recommended it to me, and I’ve read it several times since. It’s a great book – surreal, fantastic, and not at all what this blog post is about, so it’s kind of irrelevant. But I wanted to mention it anyway. You should read it.
This blog post is about our personal direction of travel. It is about being able to say that right now, in this moment, we are moving forwards. That is, we are either improving, benefitting from our actions, or we are moving backwards. When we move backwards we are getting worse, we are taking actions that are making us or our situation less good, or we are stagnating.
There is no standing still. When we are on that treadmill, that same daily routine that keeps our heads above water but provides little more than that, we may think that we’re treading water, but we’re actually stagnating. Our situation is getting worse. At the very least we are becoming increasingly institutionalised by the routine that we find ourselves trapped in. Our action muscles are atrophying. We are getting weaker through lack of challenging ourselves, taking risks, stepping out of our comfort zones, or simply trying something new.
Fortunately it’s not hard to change this. You just need to take beneficial action. You just have to challenge yourself to be better.
Émile Coué famously wrote “Every day, in every way, I am getting better and better”. It doesn’t take much to get better. Drinking an extra glass of water is a beneficial action. Eating one less portion of dinner is a beneficial action. Holding the door for the person behind you is a beneficial action. Making the effort to smile at someone is a beneficial action.
Little efforts to improve. Little efforts to get better. Tiny things that move us forward in tiny steps. But tiny steps compound. You run a marathon one step at a time. In a year you will have smiled at 365 people. That’s a lot of people.
It doesn’t take much to build something big. An extra ten minutes spent cooking a dinner with fresh food rather than microwaving a ready meal can make you healthy. A little bit of effort to resist having that last drink before heading home from the pub can make you feel better in the morning. Making the extra little bit of effort to really listen to what your colleague is saying to you, rather than waiting for your turn to speak. A little bit of effort to understand something can turn you into an expert, or a compassionate person, or at the very least, someone who has learned something new today. How often can you say you’ve learned something new.
The thing is, making that almost imperceptibly small effort that is required to make an action beneficial is the difference between living on autopilot and living life on purpose. Whether that little bit of effort is do something beneficial, or to stop doing something detrimental, it means that you own your life. That life no longer happens to you, but is yours to enjoy.
So focus on your actions, turn off your TV, and move forwards.