One of the only things that has felt incongruous with the non-coercive self-discipline regime I’ve fallen in love with over the past year (because it has worked incredibly well) is my past experience “pushing through” total overwhelm—taking the next step.

This type of advice, “When you’re going through hell, keep going” is fundamentally great, sound advice, but it feels out of line with non-coercion. It feels like “Make yourself do it even though you’re feeling discouraged.”

I’m happy to report I have not found this to be the case, but it’s all about being aware of the framing.

When I’m bound up, discouraged, paralyzed with fear and anxiety, taking one more easy step is the most non-coercive measure I can take.

When I’m in that stormy cage of peril and the bears are coming to eat me, that storm itself is full of coercive, self-loathing messages: “You fucked up again, you’re no good, you really need to get your shit together, you BETTER DO THE RIGHT THING NEXT.”

In those moments, none of those messages are helpful at all, and they represent the death spiral that I need to escape from. Adding another pushypushpush message on top of that roaring fire doesn’t help me.

“Take one small, easy (easy) step forward.”

“Call a friend. Have a cry. Journal about it. Take a small walk. Hug your kid. Do one, small, easy (very easy) step.” I believe this is the same non-coercive technique. It isn’t misaligned at all with rejecting notions of Work Harder™ and Try Harder™.

I also believe that this scales up and down to all kinds of human suffering.

I’m not saying that it’s always possible. Sometimes the suffering is just too much. I’m also not saying that it always works even when it is possible…

But one actually small, actually easy step is the most humane, non-forcing advice that applies to extreme periods of overwhelm.

Just watch out for “C’mon, you can’t even take one, small, easy step?!” That’s the wrong guy.