Today while I was writing a scene in The Cursed Earl, I wrote this:
He thought over what she said. Maybe if he made one small decision to act in hope, then some of his fear would lessen. And if it lessened, then he might be able to make another small decision that would take him another step in the direction he wanted to be. Over time, he might be able to overcome his fears completely.
As I wrote that, I thought back to my college days in my Psychology courses. Any time someone has a behavior or feeling they want to change, the key is to go in small steps. The reason for this is that behaviors and feelings are deeply embedded in us. A lot of times, we do, think, and feel things on a gut level. The longer we’ve held onto these things, the harder it is to overcome them. This is why you can’t expect permanent change overnight.
For example, if a person is afraid of snakes, they have to start out in a safe environment where they simply think of snakes. This way, they still have some control over their environment while confronting something that scares them. Once the person can comfortably think of snake, then the person is ready for the next step. This can be seeing pictures of snakes. Once the person is comfortable with that, they might watch videos of snakes. The eventual goal is for the person to hold a snake without being afraid of it. The reason this is a successful way of conquering the person’s fear is that the person isn’t forced to hold a snake right away. There were a series of intentional, small steps that built up to the final point.
This approach to changing feelings and behavior was often discussed in my classes, and it works great. Any time I’ve needed to make a significant change in my life, I’ve applied this strategy with success.
An example from my real life is health. I knew I had to cut out a lot of unhealthy habits from my life, but there were so many that I couldn’t do them all at once. (I tried, and that only lasted for a couple of weeks. The overhaul was just too abrupt. I needed to allow time to adapt new habits.) So, recalling the snake example I’d heard about in college, I went with the small-step approach. I started with cutting those coffee shop sweet drinks from my diet. Once I stopped craving those drinks, I moved to candy. (Chocolate, by the way, took forever to get over.) Then, when I conquered those cravings, I moved to processed foods. This was a big list, so I went with individual foods instead of removing all of the processed stuff from my diet at once. I’m still working on this one. It’s been about a year since I started this journey, and I’m almost where I want to be.
The more you need to change, the longer it’s going to take.
This technique also goes for learning something new.
Take writing, for instance. When I started writing historicals, I knew very little about the historical time period I was writing about, which plenty of people were quick to point out. It wasn’t that I didn’t know I was lacking in this area. It’s just that the information was so overwhelming that I had trouble knowing where to begin. People told me to stick with contemporaries, but my heart was in the historicals. I made the decision that I would focus on one or two main aspects of historical US western life when I got started. So when I wrote Eye of the Beholder, I researched sod homes and how horses give birth. After I finished that book, I felt a lot more comfortable in that “world”. Then I wrote Meant To Be, and in that one, I worked on “feeling” like I was in the Old West because up to then, it wasn’t easy to transport myself there in my mind, no matter how many movies and TV shows I watched. For every book I’ve written since then, this is what I keep doing. I take one main area I need to fine tune and make that my goal for the book I write. This is a continual process. I don’t think I’ll ever stop learning on this one.
Sometimes it’s the journey itself that’s the reward. I think sometimes we’re apt to give up on something we really want because we don’t get the results we’re looking for right away. This is a huge mistake.
Focus on the small steps. As long as you’re heading in the direction you want to go, that’s all that matters. For every book I write, I know I improved. Also, when I look back on my eating and exercise habits over the year, I can see improvement there, too. Sometimes we don’t get to the final result right away. Sometimes it takes months. Sometimes it takes years. Sometimes it’s a lifelong process. As long as you’re going in the direction of your goal, that’s what counts.
And since there is always a critic out there, I feel the need to address this while I’m writing this post. There will always be someone who criticizes what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, or how you’re doing it. I don’t know why these people do this. Maybe they’re meant to test our resolve. I still have people to this day telling me I should quit writing for one reason or another, and I’ve been publishing ebooks since 2009. The critic never truly goes away. They’re different people with different things to say, but sure as the sun comes up every morning, they are always there. You just have to keep in mind that you’re living your life. They are not allowed to live your life for you. If they don’t like what you’re doing, that’s their problem. You can’t change how they think or feel. At the end of your life, you want to look back and be glad you made the choices you did. I’ve been around people who had regrets, and it is painful to watch them as they go through a list of things they wished they had done but didn’t.
On a final note:
This approach of taking small steps to reaching your goal only works for things you can control. You can’t make anyone else do the things you want to accomplish. For example, authors often ask, “How do I sell more books?” No one can truly help you in this regard. You can write more books, you can write better books, you can package your books so they’re more attractive, you can get on social media, you can run ads, and you can create a blog/website, but you can NOT make someone buy your book. You also can’t make them read the book, like it, and tell others about it. I mean, you can ask them to, but you can’t force it. Another person’s desire to buy your book and whether or not they enjoy it are all out of your control because you are not this other person. You can only control you. So when you come up with goals that you want to take small steps to achieve, be sure you’re picking the right ones.
I used to work for Weight Watchers, and we knew in order to meet goals, we had to start with small ones. Otherwise, habit changes can be overwhelming.
You’re right about not being able to make people buy your book. I had my first return on Tristan’s Redemption. Years ago, this would have devastated me. Now it’s like, “Oh well, you can’t please everyone.” (Several of my books were apparently bought at the same time. I’m interested to see if the others are returned.)
For our own mental health, we have to make small changes AND not get stressed over things we can’t control.
If the others are returned, I would suspect this person likes your books but doesn’t want to pay for them. That happens quite a bit. Like you, this stuff doesn’t bother me anymore. Early on, someone told me that the answer is to get thick skin, and she was right. We can’t make someone value our work enough to pay for it. We also can’t make them like our books. We can choose to not let this stuff bother us.
The thing about not getting stressed over things you can’t control is spot on. I think that is key component in being able to make effective small changes.