I get stuck when I look too far ahead. My mind comes up with wonderful ideas, dreams, plans, and goals of lovely things that I hope to achieve. I make lists, collect resources, and even tell others about my magnificent ideas. The problem is when I try to get started. I know where I want to end up, but the gap between that place and where I stand today feels like a marathon that I don’t have the time or energy to race. I stand at the starting line, gazing ahead into the distance, wishing I had superpowers to zoom ahead to the finish. Whoosh! Pow! “And she wins the gold!! Unbelievable!!” Then I remember life’s not a comic book, and I’m not Wonder Woman, and unfortunately I’m just going to have to run the race or get out. And so oftentimes, I do get out, grabbing a sad consolation prize as I leave my goals in the dust.
For many, achieving health goals can feel a lot like that marathon. We picture where we want to be, but the distance between now and the finish line seems insurmountable. Health becomes a fantasy that only the most disciplined can achieve. So many of us don’t even try. Or, we look for “superpowers” in the form of fad diets and restrictive regimes. These “powers” might work for a while, only to be sabotaged by Grandma Betty’s decadent chocolate pie that leaves us on the couch moaning, “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing.” Our bodies can’t function with long-term restriction. We decide we’ve failed and leave the race, all the while muttering “my new diet starts tomorrow,” or worse, “I knew this was too hard. It’s not even worth trying.” The finish line still seems so far. There has got to be a better way.
This year, I’ve had a certain phrase ringing in my ears that I can’t get out of my mind. The reason is because it’s a phrase that’s finally helping me move forward. It’s nothing new, only five simple words. It’s been quoted by some of our nation’s greats, including Dr. Martin Luther King Junior, Theodore Roosevelt, and Mother Teresa. It serves as a mantra in Alcoholics Anonymous and countless recovery programs and sports teams. It’s the title of my favorite author’s latest book, and it just so happens to be a feature song in Disney’s newest animated musical, Frozen 2.
Do the Next Right Thing.
What exactly does this mean?
To me, doing the next right thing means making the best choice I can make to move forward in this moment. I may not have it all figured out, but I can make the best choice possible for myself right now. It’s a moment by moment approach to achieving long term outcomes, focusing on the present, not the future. What can I do right now, to get where I want to be? Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t have to be glamorous! Sometimes the next right thing is to make a sandwich because it’s time for lunch! Other times the next right thing takes more courage, like submitting a job application, or initiating a hard conversation.
Doing the next right thing means focusing on things we can control, not the things we can’t. These choices are often small and simple, but ultimately determine the direction of our lives. With a clear or unclear goal in mind, doing the next right thing gives purpose to the here and now, and puts the control back in our hands. We have the power to choose what’s best, right now. And then, we’ll make another choice. And then another. One step at a time.
I believe the next right thing mindset can be a powerful tool in achieving health goals. Instead of becoming discouraged by the journey ahead, we can take a moment to pause, look around at the present point on the path, and ask a simple question- what is my next right thing, in this moment? My next right thing is to:
Get outside for a walk in the fresh air
Get in bed an hour earlier than usual
Put down my fork because I know I’m full
Say yes to dessert and enjoy it slowly and mindfully
As I practice this “next right thing” mentality in my own life, I have found it to be especially helpful in the times where I believe that I have failed. Maybe I’ve hit a setback, made a mistake, or gotten discouraged by how far I have to go. Doing the next right thing slows me down and returns my focus to the present. I can always choose to get back on track and keep moving forward. No, I don’t have control over the future, but I can make a good choice right now. As Disney Princess Anna puts it,
“I won’t look too far ahead
It’s too much for me to take
But break it down to this next breath, this next step
This next choice is one that I can make!”
Oh, how I wish I could sing it for you!
And for those non-Disney princess fans out there, take it from Winston Churchill, who says, “Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.” I especially love this quote because it reassures us we WILL face failure at times, but true success lies in choosing to move forward anyway.
One next right thing at a time.