Lessons from Ground Zero

“The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.”  (Chinese Proverb)

To coincide with the anniversary of 9/11 there have been lots of programmes on TV focusing on the attack on the Twin Towers. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve seen the footage somehow it remains as shocking as it was on the day it happened. As well as the human tragedy and loss, I was struck by the complete and utter devastation left by the buildings’ collapse and the monumental task of having to clear the site.

Just like the Chinese proverb above, those who were responsible for moving that mountain of rubble and masonry would have had to start by carrying away small sections piece by piece.

And so it is with any task that feels overwhelming. Even if it feels too huge to contemplate, if you start somewhere then slowly, slowly, over time, with consistent action, the job will get done.

This is a helpful reminder for procrastinators. One of the reasons we put things off is that they seem so daunting that we just don’t know where to start. So what do we do?  We keep skilfully avoiding it and will happily do anything else as a diversion.

As a lifelong procrastinator, I understand this kind of behaviour all too well.  But I also know that one of the things that can help is to strip a job down into much much smaller steps. Steps that feel realistic, manageable and doable.

For example, decluttering can feel like an overwhelming task. But if you break it down into small steps if will feel a lot more approachable.  And I mean really small steps: instead of declaring an intention to declutter the garage, start with just one shelf, then another, then one drawer and so on.  If you’re still struggling, ask yourself what’s the very first thing you need to do to get started? Then just do that. You’ll find that once you’ve got started it will feel a lot easier to carry on.

Clearing away the devastation of the aftermath of 9/11 must have been horrific and daunting beyond belief. But somehow the job was done.  Little by little. Step by step. To quote another Chinese proverb, “A journey of one thousand miles begins with a single step.”

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