In Praise of Small Bites

cupcake

I’m a fan of the small-bites approach, to many things, but I suffer doubt whether it’s all that effective.  Our culture generally screams for the whole hog.  Go big or go home and that kind of thing.  Taking small, regular bites seems somehow weak, boring, un-American.  But now I’m convinced.

I used to go big most of the time.  Riding my bike up a steep section, I did it as fast as possible, both to conquer the challenge and to get the difficulty over with so I could rest on the downhill.  I cleaned the whole house in a flurry, and then did almost nothing for much too long.  I lived on an intensity-collapse cycle.  I got a lot of stuff done.

Then I started riding a young horse.  He freaked me out a couple of times with his power and independence.  When he was in a tough spot, going big was no longer an option.  Not for me.  If I bore down and pushed him through these things, he would likely have escalated further before we got through, and I was already past my limits.

On great advice, and with no other plan, I started on the small bite approach.  I worked with or rode him to the degree I could without going too far beyond my comfort zone.  That wasn’t very much at times.  Because it was emotionally so challenging, I couldn’t ride him for very long or do very much before I needed to regroup.  I noticed no change, my entire focus was getting out there and getting to that edge.

I was skeptical.  Small bites move slowly.  They are tedious.  Change is almost imperceptible.  Day after day, I still felt nervous, I still did small things.  The top of the hill stayed just out of sight.

The gradations of challenge with Bridger the colt go kind of like this: groundwork (unmounted) –> riding in the small round corral –> riding in the larger corral –> riding out on our 25-acre property –> riding out around the neighborhood.  At the start, I did 100% groundwork, and slowly started adding portions of the next steps.

Yesterday, I hardly did any groundwork, skipped the round pen, spent a few minutes riding in the corral and then spent most of the time on the road around the neighborhood.  I felt almost no nerves the entire time.  Suddenly, after all those tedious, tiny bites, change erupted.

I like small bites.  I clean my house a little bit every day (well, that’s the plan).  I tackle parts of chores and leave other parts for the next day.  I push quickly up the hill if I want my heart to beat faster, otherwise I stop and look around.  It really works.

 

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