I had a professor in graduate school that often used to ask his students, “How do you make a beach?” No doubt, everyone stared at him as blankly as I did the first time, thinking, ‘You can’t make a beach.’ He always provided the answer himself: “Little drops of water, tiny grains of sand.”
I recalled this a couple of days ago while on a guided hike in Snow Canyon State Park in southwestern Utah. I’d been here a year ago, and done some guided hikes then, too. I remember one in particular; the guide pointed to quite an impressive-looking red rock peak and said we were going to climb it. I got a little panicky. It was beautiful, but it looked really high, the walk to the top looked really steep! He guided me every step of the way, showing me where and how to plant my foot, where to use my hands for extra balance. And every step of the way, my head was filled with anxious chatter: “This is dangerous! What if I fall? What if my foot slips? I’m afraid of heights! The drop is too steep on the side! Oh Lord! I could plummet to the ground and break my neck! We’re going to have to climb down the same way; that’s going to be worse! If I slip going down, I could skid and tumble all the way to the bottom! THIS IS NUTS!”
And then I was at the top. And the vista was breathtaking! I felt like I’d just climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro! I asked the guide to take my photo from the top, and took many more of the spectacular views over Snow Canyon. And then, after a welcomed break, we slowly made our way back down, me nervous about every step.
That was last year. A couple of days ago, I was with a group of about 10, hiking with a different guide. “This morning, we’re going to hike 4 of the peaks in this area,” he said. The first one he led us to was the very one that had terrified me last year. And guess what I did? I scrambled to the top like a billy goat!
On the way up, I was quite mindful of the fact that I wasn’t afraid. There was no chatter in my head about wiping out, about the steep incline, about the dreaded hike back down. Maybe it was because I had climbed this peak before and hadn’t fallen. But then the same thing happened on the other peaks, and I’d never climbed them before. Maybe it was because I was 30 pounds lighter than I was when I was here last year. No doubt, this helped too. But what I think made the biggest difference is that I narrowed my focus; I watched my feet as we climbed those peaks.
With my eyes down, focused on each step, I couldn’t see how steep the incline was ahead of me. I couldn’t tell how high we were going. I was shielded from the occasional sharp drop on the side. All I could see was the ground directly below me, and from that angle, it was easy to just take another step, and another, and another.
That’s how I climbed all four peaks Thursday morning. That's how I hiked to the top and then along Paradise Rim this morning. Little drops of water; tiny grains of sand. It’s how I changed my relationship with food and lost over 100 pounds. That’s how you, too, can develop a healthy lifestyle. Take one step, and then just keep going.
It may be tempting to look up, to look ahead, to focus on the goal itself. But that can be really overwhelming. Trust me; I know. Knowing that I needed to lose 125-130 pounds often left me feeling defeated before I’d even get started. And if the goal itself is not daunting enough, looking ahead can also open your eyes to a bunch of land mines in your way – birthday parties, Halloween, Thanksgiving, December holidays. And those can be overwhelming, too. “I’ll start after the holidays.” “I’ll get right back on it after vacation.” Yeah, we’ve all been there.
Sometimes, it’s better not to look ahead, not to look up. Focus on what you can do right now, in this very moment, and take that one step. Then take another. Start small, and just keep going. Little drops of water; tiny grains of sand.
See you at the beach!