Think Small to Boost Confidence Even When Tackling Tasks You Dread

think small
Note: This is not an actual to-do list. I created it after the fact to make a point. I’m not that organized!

As a big fan of thinking small, I have written about baby steps in the past. In recent months, I have realized that breaking projects we dread down into smaller tasks can not only help you get things done, it can also help you feel good about your competence and thus boost your confidence.

An illustration: weary and hungry from a long journey after a holiday visit with my parents, my husband, daughters, and I were happy to be home. But we were confronted with an empty fridge and a wilting Christmas tree. We also had four large suitcases, containing mostly dirty laundry, to unpack.

In an instant, the relief of being home dissipated, and I began to feel overwhelmed and exhausted.

I have a hunch that you’ve been in this spot, too. Vacations are, of course, wonderful for the family. But it is often the mom who takes care of many behind-the-scenes, take-for-granted details, like getting the next meal on the table, ensuring that there is clean underwear, and tidying up so that essential items can easily be found.

Women are often told to dream big and be bold. But not everything they do is aligned with those big dreams. We sometimes have to take on tasks that we dread, whether it’s doing their taxes, tackling a work project that someone higher up at work didn’t want to do, renewing a driver’s license, or getting the clicking noise in the heater to stop so that they can sleep. Life can throw roadblocks at you while you are trying to achieve loftier goals.

And roadblocks can chip away at your confidence. People have a finite amount of willpower. The things that they dread can easily eat up their daily allotment of it, leaving them feeling discouraged and defeated.

Happily, thanks to working with my clients, I’ve learned a key lesson that I can share: when you are faced with a project that you dread, shrink it into smaller pieces.

Here are two key ways to think small and boost your confidence:

  • Baby steps. Think of the first tiny action step you need to take to move in the right direction, then continue taking one tiny step at a time. Using my post-vacation haze as an example, I first focused on the easiest way to fill our stomachs. I figured out that by ordering in dinner and sending one of my daughters out to the corner store to buy milk for breakfast, I could postpone going to the grocery store to the following afternoon. So we ordered pizza. While waiting for it to be delivered, my family decided that we were too tired to deal with laundry, taking down the Christmas ornaments, or disposing of the tree. We agreed that those tasks could wait. We, instead, opened one suitcase and sorted the contents into four piles of each family member’s belongings. Each person then put away his or her things or dumped dirty clothes in the hamper. By the time our pizza arrived, we had emptied three suitcases.
  • Tiny wins. After each baby step, researchers suggest that you celebrate the small win, even if it seems silly to pat yourself on the back or exclaim, “Victory is mine!” after doing something as mundane as ordering pizza, or putting clothes in the hamper. The small gesture is important, though, because it reinforces the notion that you are someone who gets things done. There are many ways to celebrate your small wins. I heard parent coach and temperament specialist Rona Renner, RN, say that she kisses the back of her hand to reward and nurture herself. I like keeping a got-done list alongside my to-do list as a way of keeping track of my small accomplishments.

The next time you are faced with a project that you dread, shrink it into baby steps, then celebrate each tiny win. Remember, thinking small can help you reframe a situation in which you feel stuck or overwhelmed as an opportunity to see yourself as a successful person.



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