It's not 'Two steps forward and Three steps back'

It’s not ‘Two steps forward and Three steps back’

Progress and change can seem like ‘two steps forward and three steps back’ but maybe the steps need to be millimetres and with gradual gentle side ways movements we can see movement.

It was disappointing when then they said it. In fact, it was surprising.

They said it with good intentions, but it displayed a kind of stereotyping or categorising of a group of people that deserve much more.

The words were these.

‘With your people, it’s two steps forward and three steps back.’

I lost confidence in his ability to understand what I was called to do in the ministry.

Then there was the person who described the people I was supporting as having ‘special needs’. I think she was confusing mental illness with people having an intellectual disability.

I took little guidance from her, either.

There’s some people you don’t want or need in your room.

Have you ever been categorised or labeled?

Maybe you’ve been pressured to change, ‘get better’, be different.

All you ever wanted was someone to walk millimetres beside you and to be a friend.

Don’t walk in front of me… I may not follow
Don’t walk behind me… I may not lead
Walk beside me… just be my friend. Albert Camus

‘Two steps forward and three steps back.’

Typically, it is said as a voicing of frustration.

‘I try so hard, but it’s like taking two steps forward and three steps back.’

I might be voiced about your own frustration at your lack of progress or at the lack of progress of others.

Life can feel like that. That there is no progress, or there may even be regress. It’s so easy to slip into despair.

Despair is a spiritual condition.
Despair is when you fall under the belief and conviction that tomorrow will simply be a repeat of today. Rob Bell

I remember talking to someone who was getting very frustrated that they were not seeing the progress in the person they were supporting.


They were wanting steps. Do this and do that and then this will happen.

I started talking millimetres. A millimetre per month.

I adopted a phrase – Millimetre ministry.

Expectations that are realistic to the challenges being faced into.

Instead of ‘Two steps forward and three steps back’, it might be three millimetres forward and one millimetre back.

It’s all about the small and highly achievable.

Sheep walk around hills

My parents were sheep farmers and so much of my childhood I spent roaming the hills of our farm.

There was one particular hill that was quite steep.

My father pointed out to me that whenever sheep would want to get to the other side of the hill, they would always go around the hill.

They did this so often that deep ruts had formed over the years. Pathways trodden into the soil to show the route for the next generation.

They still climbed the hill, but the gradient or angle by which climbed they was manageable for them.

A good shepherd, which my father was, would not rush the sheep and try to push them up a hill they didn’t want to go up.

Instead, he would gently allow the sheep to take the easiest and lowest gradient for them to handle.

The Drivers

What’s driving you to change?

I know sheep will go up a hill if behind them is a barking dog and an impatient farmer. But leave them to their own devices and they will go on the path of least resistance.

What are the drivers?

Other people’s expectations? Your expectations? The disease of comparisionitis?

If it’s an unrealistic expectation for the now, then be prepared for two steps forward, three steps back, and burnout.

Instead, think about millimetres.

Any progress is good progress. Even if you go back, you can learn something from it and you can use this learning to go forward with confidence.

Think of the slight gradient rise that the sheep on my family farm used to take to get over a hill.


Quotes to consider

  • Praise and encouragement is much more effective in changing others’ behaviour than is criticism, but which do you use on yourself? David Riddell
  • All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy, for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter into another. Anatole France 
  • Metanoeite, or change of consciousness, can only come with time. Patience is the very shape of love. Without it, religion is merely about enforcing laws and requirements. Richard Rohr
  • A good journey begins with knowing where we are and being willing to go somewhere else. Richard Rohr
  • Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is a quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’ Mary Anne Radmacher
  • Nothing digs ditches like shovel fulls of dirt. Rick Hanson 
  • Changing behaviour by use of will-power alone will soon result in playing the same tune, but in a different key. The problems just move sideways. D. Riddell 
  • Changing one’s own behavior is a much more promising strategy than insisting on change from the other. Terrence Real

Questions to answer

  1. Where does the pressure to change come from for you?
  2. What would a millimetre, or even a nanometre of change, look like for you?
  3. What role does having supportive relationships have in seeing change happen?

Formation Exercise

  • It’s not up and down. It’s a more slight and gradual upward movement to a newness. Journal about the most significant changes in your life and how many of them were achieved in small gradual movements.

Further reading

Six People To Put Out Of Your Mental Health Room

How To Create A ‘Pool Room’ For Your Encouragements

Comparisonitis – The Compulsion to Compare Yourself

Everyone needs a Batman

Barry Pearman


Photo by Yoonbae Cho on Unsplash

Photo by Jukan Tateisi on Unsplash


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