There are those days we’d all like to forget, on which it takes all the energy we have, and then some, to lift the bed sheets and turn to place our feet on the floor. Despite being a sunny day, the sky seems grey and nothing seems to bring happiness: not the chirping birds, not a joke from a friend or loved one. We’re existing, going through the motions, but we don’t know why. In that state, success and happiness seem far away, just specks of light in the night sky, as unreachable as any of the millions of stars in a universe that’s billions of light years across.
I get it. I’ve been there. As someone with schizoaffective disorder of the bipolar type, a mental illness that has combined symptoms of bipolar I and schizophrenia, I’ve had more of those days than I can remember. I’ve also had days, weeks, and months on the opposite end of the spectrum, where manic episodes have landed me in hospitals three times. But that was then, over nine years ago; this is now. Today, I’m happy, healthy, successful, and soon to be married to an amazing woman. All things that, on those grey days, were just specks of light in that bleak sky. But don’t despair. I can tell you from experience that your dreams of success are within walking distance, no matter your starting point.
How do you get there? It’s not a matter of sprinting as fast as you can, or of taking long strides; both of these things will burn you out quickly. It’s about taking small steps to get where you’re going. Each step is an active objective of its on, and with enough of them, you can achieve success and happiness. It is, in the end, about happiness–not expensive cars and things, but a life with loved ones and people you care about.
Going back to a day when I was locked in a cell in the hospital wing of a prison, experiencing mad, racing thoughts, among which was the thought that I was invisible when naked (yes, I got naked and tried to sneak out when an officer opened the cell door) and that a red dragon was after me, success was merely a stable state of mind. After hospitalization, I was able to work one day, one hour, one step at a time towards achieving that stability. It has been over ten years since that cell, and I’ve turned that success into further successes, including owning several businesses and being the author of several books.
Some of us experience depression, and the success of happiness is, chemically, not always an option. The best solution, then, is to simply face a distant goal, look down at your feet, and take an active step. That’s it! Just a step towards something. Focus on the present step, not past ones, not future ones, just the step you’re taking right now, in this moment. After taking a step, which, on bleak days, can simply be taking the garbage out or getting out of bed, you can say to yourself, “That wasn’t so bad, I think I’ll take another step.” One after another, after another, after another. Your success is measured not in your ability to reach that long-term goal, but in your ability to take the next step towards that goal. Each step is its own success. Ultimately, it’s the sustained determination to take a single step that gets you where you’re going. The journey of ten thousand miles begins with a single step, after all.
Working towards improving yourself every day—whether by self-learning Spanish, or improving meditation skills, or practicing a musical instrument, or exercising, etc.—is a step-by-step way to achieve success, not just in those areas, but in life in general. Once you have the mindset to improve yourself in some way each day, you’re working towards a successful happiness. Maybe you have a bad temper, so you work on breathing techniques, or you have difficulty speaking with people at parties, so you read books about communication skills; whatever it is, always keep in mind what Hemingway said about writing (which translates to life in general): “Never confuse motion with action.” Motion is going whichever way the wind blows, doing things with no purpose other than to do them; action is something done with purpose, such as taking a step towards a goal of self-improvement.
Will there be setbacks? Absolutely. Will there be times when you seem to be taking two steps forward and one step back? There’s no doubt about it. But if you keep facing in the right direction and focus on the ground in front of you, one day you’ll look up and be successful and happy, and you’ll think to yourself, “That wasn’t so difficult. All it took was a single step!”