Big leaps are the result of small steps

Most people overestimate what they can do in a day, and underestimate what they can do in a month. We overestimate what we can do in a year, and underestimate what we can accomplish in a decade.

Matthew Kelly, “The Long Run”

I often think about this quote – as it pertains to health and fitness, but also life in general. I feel like it applies especially to women…actually, I know it does. It’s called the confidence gap. Women have the tendency to underestimate their abilities, while males tend to overestimate, even as performance does not differ between the two.*

But what does this have to do with health and fitness?

Lasting lifestyle change should look like a series of small steps forward. But too often, we try to make great, leaping bounds. Those that ultimately result in a stumble, falling “off the wagon”, and going back to the start.

Let’s flip the script.

There is no more wagon. We focus on the small steps and instead of searching for immediate progress, we set process goals to focus on getting better at a task, improving a skill, or making a routine a habit. Along the way each misstep and mistake is simply an opportunity to learn, grow, and do better in the future.

Sounds like a pretty great way to make some progress without getting frustrated and constantly starting over, don’t you think? Yeah, me too 😉

How to start taking small steps

Set a process goal.

Okay, everyone loves the big, outcome, pie-in-the-sky goals. Losing XX pounds, hitting a huge PR (personal record), or training for an ultramarathon sounds like an incredible accomplishment. But seeing these as goals can overlook the multiple small actions that it will take to get there.

How many meals will it take to reach that weight loss goal? How many training sessions will your have to perform during to hit a new PR? How much time will it take to train for the race you want to compete at?

Setting small, process-oriented goals can keep the needle moving forward along the way. These can be nutrition habits, specific training sessions, or lifestyle habits that will help support your training goals. For example, when I’m training for a specific event, I set process goals in many area:

  • Drinking enough water per day.
  • Completing 5-6 training sessions per week (depending on the program).
  • Eating a meal or complete snack pre-workout to fuel training and a smoothie post-training to encourage recovery.
  • Make sure I’m sleeping 7-9 hours per night to encourage recovery.

By no means is this a complete list, but the key to process goals is to keep them short and simple. Focus on small, daily or weekly tasks that you hit. This gives you a feeling of accomplishment and breaks down that big goal into manageable steps that we can accomplish.

Track your progress.

How do you know where you’re going or how close you are to getting there if you don’t measure progress? Picking 3-4 metrics to track can be helpful in seeing that needle move forward. The specific metric will focus on the goal you’re chasing. Let’s choose a fat loss goal for this example. Some metrics I might track are:

  • Body composition – via scale, circumference measurements, or other metric
  • Strength (especially if you have a performance-related progress goal)
  • Lifestyle habits – sleep, stress, water intake, etc.

Again, not a complete list, but before you go chasing goals, make sure that you know HOW you’re going to track as you get closer to them!

Find a community.

The world of health and fitness can be a CRAZY space. There are constantly changing ideas, methods of training, diets, etc. It can be an absolute mess, to be perfectly honest with you. Finding a community of people – virtual or in-person – can help provide you with others on similar journeys to you.

This community can be KEY. Placing people around you that encourage you, push you to be better, and hold you accountable can be a game-changer in your health and fitness journey.

Press pause, not stop.

Now, I would be lying if I said that by utilizing small steps you’ll never take a wrong one. During times where we may take a wrong step, or even travel down an entirely wrong path, it’s important to press pause – instead of stopping altogether.

Precision Nutrition uses the analogy of turning down your fitness/nutrition/lifestyle dial. When times are tricky, we simply turn the dial down. When it’s a better time to focus on your goals, we turn it up. By simply pausing or slowing down, we can make infinitely more progress than if we constantly stop, go back to the beginning, and begin again. You can read more about the dial approach in the article here. (Full disclosure: They use the word “pause” where I refer to that as stop in my speaking here, which may cause some confusion.)

There you have it: four ways to take smaller steps to create lasting progress in your health and fitness journey, regardless of your goals. These small steps, over time, create the big leaps; don’t underestimate them.


Did you enjoy this article? It would really mean a lot if you shared it with a friend, coworker, or family member who would also enjoy it! This helps grow the blog and spread the message of sustainable health and fitness, instead of the extremes that most of the fitness industry preaches. Thank you in advance 🙂

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