– By Anne Ferrey
We all know that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. For many of us, however, the problem is taking that first step at all. Libraries of self-help books have been written on this single topic – but sometimes the most helpful thing is a little bit of personal experience to show you, in concrete terms, that tiny efforts can compound over time into a beautiful and complex final result.
Of course I knew this intellectually – it’s obvious that small efforts over time will eventually result in something – if not a finished product, at least a more complete one. But it doesn’t feel like it, and so the temptation is to not begin any big projects because the initial results seem so miniscule.
But over and over, I’ve started enormous crocheted projects that look like they should take years to finish. The first few rows feel like nothing is happening. I get annoyed at myself for making the starting row so long, and wish that I had picked a quicker stitch pattern.
However, when I actually stop and measure, I’m always far further along than I felt I was. There’s a sort of magic in doing a tiny amount every day, and suddenly discovering that all this useless-feeling chipping away at the project has led to a remarkable amount of progress.
This experience seems to translate to other domains as well. As a big-picture thinker, I have a tendency to come up with great project ideas, get them started and then panic at the sheer scale of what remains to be done. It’s a sort of all-or-nothing approach to life and, unchecked, it can lead to never finishing anything if you give into the panic. Or conversely, never starting anything at all because you’re convinced it’s too huge to see through.
But then I remember that I always feel this way. I remind myself of all the times I’ve started anyway, and done tiny amounts of work each day, and accomplished a huge result. And for some reason, it’s easier to remember this when thinking about physical projects I’ve accomplished – like crochet. A nice concrete mental picture of the impact small efforts can have over time can be an excellent motivator to just get started.
So here’s my advice on how to finish an unfeasibly large project:
Just start. Scope things out as best you can. Set the odd interim deadline – but think of the project in terms of smallish blocks instead of one huge, terrifying mass of tasks. And chip away every day at some little piece – however tiny and useless it seems. In the same way that I look down and suddenly discover I’ve made 90% of a blanket, I find I can look back four or six months into a work project and realise that a huge amount has been accomplished in small daily pieces.
There are other side effects of using craft projects to foster a sense of accomplishment. For one thing, finishing something – anything – feels great, and leads to a mental state that facilitates chipping away at other projects. Over time you might even get yourself into a positive mental loop of getting things done. And another benefit – have you ever had a week (month, year) where nothing seems to get done? Nothing seems to move forward no matter how hard you work. Coming home and doing a bit of work on a craft-related project that is getting done can feel fantastic when other areas of life feel stalled.
Our guest blogger Beverly used sewing stitches to manage stress. I have been known to use crochet to feel like there is something in my life that is moving forward, and that every day I’ve accomplished a little more.