From time to time, it's necessary to get back on your feet... whether you've fallen off the proverbial wagon or the horse.
Of course, when you're in that place, doing so can feel overwhelming. The metaphors "getting back on your feet" or "getting back on the horse" hide that the situation is rarely quite as straightforward as that.
This is both true on the personal and on the collective level.
Let me share an example with you:
A while ago, I talked to a friend whose country was going through a severe crisis.
This friend of mine, let's call him Anthony (not this real name) was pretty desperate about the changes that were happening. Even if the political situation were to change, he wondered how his country could get back on its feet and return to a semblance of order.
Being German, I knew in my bones that it's possible to overcome collective problems that are far, far greater than anything that Anthony's country was facing.
One of the unexpected gifts of our history is that it has given me an unshakeable faith in the ability of both individuals and larger entities to get back on their feet.
I shared that sentiment with my friend.
At some point during our conversation, Anthony asked: "How do you clean up a big mess?"
It was a poignant question, one that I didn't have an answer for at that time.
When our conversation was over, I went upstairs and noticed how messy the bathroom looked.
A year before, I had gone through a minimalism challenge which had made everything look very tidy... but right now, it certainly didn't look that way anymore. I had been riding on the success of my decluttering for too long, instead of doing something to keep it up.
I sighed and sat down, determined to fix things. Automatically, I reached for one cabinet, dumped out the entire content and filed through it.
As I sat between different bottles, lotions, and containers of floss (seriously, where did all that floss come from?) the answer to my friend's question suddenly occurred to me.
The secret to getting back on your feet:
The secret I'm about to share applies to cleaning up any mess, whether it's a country's, a company's, or an individual's mess.
When people want to get back on track, they often think they have to tackle everything at once. While humans seem to be intuitively drawn to that thinking, it's an unstrategic way to approach a massive challenge.
Most often, when someone tries to handle everything at once, the result is that nothing gets improved.
Let's take a look at what some of the greatest strategists, such as Machiavelli, Julius Caesar, and Napoleon recommend.
If that list of people makes you nervous, don't worry (there's a reason I named my website "Leader for Good," not "Welcome to the Dark Side").
We're just adopting these people's strategic approach, not their politics. Also, you might be happy to know that the great philosopher Immanuel Kant was also a proponent of this strategy (perhaps I should have led with that?).
Alright, after all that build-up, here's the strategy we're going to use to help you get back on your feet: "divide and impera" (Latin for "divide and conquer").
Because here's the thing about getting back on one's feet when you've landed in the mud:
Big messes are unfixable, unless they are broken into smaller parts. Just as military leaders can weaken the powers of their enemies by dividing them, you can weaken the power of a problem by breaking it down into smaller parts.
While sitting on the bathroom floor, I found the answer to my friend's question: "How do you clean up a big mess?"
"One step at a time."
If I had tried to tidy up the entire house at once, I would have created an even bigger mess. By breaking it down into one small, doable chunk and tackling one at a time, I was quickly able to get the house back into its decluttered state.
A 4-step process that can help you get back on your feet:
1. Pick the general area where you want to get back on your feet
If there's more than one area, pick the one that would make the biggest positive difference in your life if it got fixed.
Example: "Hmm, so my creative life and hobbies have fallen apart recently so I'd like to get back on track with spending time on that. But more importantly, I've fallen behind when it comes to my job-related task. If I got caught up on them, I could finish working earlier most days which should also give me more time for my hobbies. So, I will begin to work on those."
In the personal example I shared, the general area was the home.
2. Pick a goal for that area
Now translate the desired change into your chosen area into a larger goal. (If you find it challenging to come up with a goal, start with what you don't want and then use the opposite of that as your goal, like I describe in this article.)
Example: "I want to be successful in my job."
In the personal example I shared, my goal was: "I want my house to look tidy."
3. Pick a small change you can start working on right now that will get you closer to your goal
It's important that you pick a change that is small enough to be started right now, and completed within the same day. If your change is too big, break it down until you get to a step that's doable right now.
When formulating your statement, follow this format: "I will____(insert small step), starting right now."
Example: "Hmm, so I thought about finishing the project I've been working on for so long but there's no way I can finish that today. So, let's see, what would be a smaller change? Oh yes, organizing my projects. I will create a list with all the projects I'm working on so that I have an overview, starting right now."
In the personal example I shared, the small change I went with was: "I will tidy up one cabinet, starting right now."
4. Rinse and repeat until the mess is fixed and you are back on your feet
After completing the last step, you should feel a sense of momentum. Now, all you need to do is to go back to pick another small step that gets you closer to your goal.
The possibility: don't just get back on your feet, begin rebuilding your life right now
By applying the process I shared above, you can get back on your feet and rebuild your life.
There's a reason the "divide and conquer"-strategy has been recommended by many powerful rulers: because it works.
You don't clean up a big mess, like the one Anthony was alluding to, in one go. You clean it up one step at a time, just like I tidied up my home.
Rome wasn't built in a day. Post-war Germany wasn't rebuilt into a democratic country overnight.
But it all started one day. Take heart and know that things can get better. Use the process above, and today can be the day you start getting back on your feet.
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