There’s no shortage of advice for getting through difficult times. Unfortunately, most of that advice is either painfully unrealistic or reeks of toxic positivity. Solid advice that is both helpful and comforting is hard to come by, which is why this advice is going viral for all the right reasons.
The advice comes from Elena Mikhalkova—or rather her Mikhalkova’s grandmother—and it goes like this:
My grandmother once gave me a tip:
In difficult times, you move forward in small steps.
Do what you have to do, but little by little.
Don't think about the future, or what may happen tomorrow.
Wash the dishes.
Remove the dust.
Write a letter.
Make a soup.
You are advancing step by step.
Take a step and stop.
Rest a little.
Take another step.
You won't notice, but your steps will grow more and more.
And the time will come when you can think about the future without crying.
Can we all just pause for a minute to take a deep breath and maybe wipe the tears from our eyes? Because I don’t know about you, but this advice is just what I’ve needed to read almost every day lately.
I suspect I’m not alone in this either because Mikhalkova’s advice is being shared all over the internet.
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With COVID-19 raging again and many of us (dare I say, all of us?) struggling with one thing or another, this quote hits. Unlike the clichéd “one foot in front of another” advice that can seem both demeaning and overwhelming, this advice offers concrete steps to take.
Wash the dishes. Make soup. Rest, and praise yourself.
These are things I can do. Well, maybe not soup, per se. But cookies. I can make cookies. And maybe you can make soup. Or knit a scarf. Or sweep the kitchen floor. This is enough.
What this advice taps into that other tidbits lose sight of is that when we’re in the midst of a calamity, even the most simple and everyday tasks are more difficult. Making lunch can seem monumental and the mere thought of doing virtual school for another few weeks can make us take to our beds, sobbing in the fetal position. Advice to “look on the bright side” can be patronizing and counterproductive. This advice does none of those things but, instead, acknowledges that even a small step matters. It doesn’t dismiss the pain, but recognizes that even thinking about the future can be painful and that progress sometimes looks like making it through the day without crying
This advice also goes beyond the “sun will come out tomorrow” reminders and acknowledges that things might not be better tomorrow or the day after that. It will take time for wounds to heal and difficult times to pass, but we need not passively wait for this time to come. We can make soup, rest and be kind to ourselves.
In the early days of the pandemic, I remember feeling like there was so much more I should be doing with all this extra “at home” time. Yet I found even the most basic tasks to be more difficult. In turn, I felt guilty for not being more productive. But what I’ve learned—or rather amlearning—is that allostatic load and decision fatigue are very real. Productivity looks different on different days, and sometimes being patient with ourselves is the most productive thing we can do.
Mikhalkova’s advice taps into a mantra that I often recite when I’m struggling: Just do one good thing. Unload the dishwasher. Return an email. Fold the laundry. Hug my kids. Then do the next good thing. Eventually these things add up. Time passes and small steps turn into something bigger.
What I love most about Mikhalkova’s advice—and what is easy to forget in difficult times—is the reminder to praise ourselves along the way. Because sometimes that pat on the back we need the most is our own.
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