Paths are Made by Walking, Not Waiting: One Lesson We Forget in Hard Times

We waste our time waiting for a path to appear. But it never does. Because we forget that paths are made by walking, not waiting. And we forget that there’s absolutely nothing about our present circumstances that prevents us from making progress again, one tiny step at a time.


So, lets cut to the chase today: What we truly need to do is often what we most feel like avoiding. This is a harsh reality, even in our present times.

Because, if we dont go after what we want, we will never get it. If we dont ask the right questions, we will always get the wrong answers. If we dont take a step forward, we are always going to be standing in the same exact place.

Life is a journey comprised of small steps. The key is to take these steps, every single day, even during harder times that require us to be extra resourceful.

To an extent, we know this already, right?

Yet how often are we stuck in a cycle of worry, fear, and other forms of over-thinking? How often are we aimlessly distracted? And how often do we hide from our problems, or procrastinate?

After consistently working on my mindfulness and time management habits, Ive become reasonably proficient at getting things done with minimal distraction and procrastination, even while working from home.

Today, for example, I proof-read and cleaned up a chapter in a new book Marc and I are co-writing, coached five of ourGetting Back to Happy Coursestudents, responded to comments and emails from dozens of students and readers, worked on business planning and strategizing for a few active projects, spent quality time with my family, and of course now Im writing the words youre presently reading.

It might seem like a lot, but it happens one small step at a time, with presence and focus.

With that said, however, Ill be the first to admit that Marc and I still struggle with some detrimental habits that sneak up on us sometimes and get in the way of our effectiveness (because were human). And there is one particular habit we struggle with thats super common among our friends, family, acquaintances, and students alikethis is something we all do that ends up wasting our lives, one precious moment at a time. The word waste may sound overly dramatic, but its really not. After spending over a decade coaching hundreds of people, and working through my own personal issues, theres little doubt that this is one of the most popular ways we all collectively waste our lives:

We waste our lives with a lack of self-discipline.

Self-discipline is a skill. Its the ability to focus and overcome distractions. It involves acting according to what you know is right instead of how you feel in the moment (perhaps tired or lazy or uneasy). It typically requires sacrificing immediate pleasure and excitement for what matters most in life.

A lack of self-discipline for most of us is often the result of a lack of focus. In other words, we tell ourselves we are going to work on something, but then we dont. When this happens to me, first and foremost, I forgive myself for messing up, and then I strive to be mindful about whats really going on. Am I procrastinating for some reason? Am I distracted? Am I taking the easy way out? Instead of telling myself that Im bad or undisciplined, I try to productively uncover a more specific, solvable problem, and then address it.

For example, I was feeling kind of down yesterday at lunchtime, so I wrote down a quick list of what was contributing to the funk I was in:

  • Didnt get enough sleep the night before
  • Overwhelmed by a combination of family and business obligations
  • Hadnt exercised in a couple days
  • Got in a small argument with Marc
  • Feeling uncertainty and pain about COVID-19 and other current events

So, there were five factors contributing to my funk. And thats actually quite a few distinct things to be dealing with at once. Initially it felt depressing to think about all the things I needed to focus on in order to feel better and move forward.

Of course, I knew I couldnt focus on everything at once, so I just started with one tiny step. I meditated for a five minutes.

Then I took another step: I made a list of what I needed to doI organized my obligations and prioritized them.

Another step: I went for a walk and got my body moving.

Then another step: I sat down with Marc, and I apologized first.

Suddenly, with these tiny steps, I started to feel better.

So, I moved on to the next tiny step and the next.

Then I took a break and spent a some time with my son, to play with him, and read to him.

I ate a healthy meal.

I reflected on my uncertainty and pain in a positive way, and stayed with my feelings as long as I could, with compassion and openness.

I went to bed early and got a good nights sleep.

All just one step at a time.

And like I mentioned, I woke up this morning and really hit the ground running, because all of those tiny steps I took yesterday afternoon changed my mood and my trajectory.

The same can be true for you