Turtle-Step Up! (And Up, And Up…)


This is one of those days when I know exactly what I have to do, and I know that it will take about 179 hours, and I truly believe I have to do it all today.

I bet you have a lot of those days yourself. These days, we all do.

Tomorrow I head off once more for Africa—a continent where everywhere you look you can see a thousand things that need to be done, and you know how to do many of them, and they will take about 568,234,662 hours, and you desperately want to do them all today.

“We cannot do great things,” said Mother Teresa, “only small things with great love.”

On days like these, I take heart from the little video below. It was filmed at the ranch where my friend Koelle and I sometimes run horse-whispering/coaching workshops. The family of angelic people who run the ranch set up a little obstacle course, including a climbing rope. Walter, the patriarch of the clan, told me no woman had ever climbed it. Koelle promptly zipped up it like a monkey on espresso, but when I tried, I got nowhere. I mean No. Where. I just dangled from the end of the rope like a big lumpy meat-tassel.

Walter’s wife Karen, a gifted massage therapist, she told me my upper back muscles were weak. Well, that explained my utter lack of rope-climbing ability and the fibromyalgia pain I still felt in my neck and shoulders. I came back to near-normlcy after 12 years as a veritable invalid, so I set out to climb that rope, turtle step by turtle step. Some days I’d work out to strengthen my back, and many other days I had to let the muscles rest and recover. After six months, when I went back to the ranch…well, see below.

We can all break up any goal into many teensy-weensy turtle steps. No matter what you’re facing today, whether it’s churning through a ridiculous “to-do” list or trying to fix Africa, take one little step up. Tomorrow, take another one. Inch by inch, you’ll lift yourself all the way up.

20 replies
  1. Deb
    Deb says:

    Martha, you taught me to do turtle steps with my fibromyalgia and other chronic illnesses. Some days it’s getting dressed, doing my morning pages and meditation. Others it’s making dinner in stages. or getting out to meet a friend for coffee. Have a great time in Africa. You are an inspiration to us all!

  2. Linda
    Linda says:

    You rock! Spot on about taking things by turtle steps, particularly with Fibro. Having Fibro has made me have to continuously evaluate my life on a daily basis, causing me to relax more and realize that I do not have to do it all today, neither do I have to do everything on my own. Well, I like to think it is me who has learned to slow down and remain calm…my mother and children say it’s the Cymbalta that my rheumatologist prescribed.

    At any rate, thank you for sharing and inspiring the rest of us.

  3. Julie Stass
    Julie Stass says:

    i remember that morning, watching you climb up that rope. Someone at the ranch had said that “no woman had ever climbed to the top and rang the bell.” I’ll never forget your wild enthusiasm as you pulled yourself up that rope. As I was watching you climb up I thought “so, that’s how you approach a challenge”.

  4. Anna K
    Anna K says:

    Up, up, up, baby. Ding ding ding! I love your fist-pump of triumph when you reach the top. But I also love that you let us see the stuff that came first.

  5. MBcoachcadetMel
    MBcoachcadetMel says:

    Martha you owned that rope, way to go!! Inspires me to turtle along toward being one of the best MB coaches ever!!

  6. Laurie W. D.
    Laurie W. D. says:


    Thanks for the inspiration. When I work in my turtle steps mode, I notice progress and feel hope. When I jump to thinking how can I fix the “big problem,” I experience frustration and feel anxiety. Time to remind myself to get back to turtle steps and working small with great love to lead my best life and help others in a loving, caring manner. Turtle steps can be slow, but the race can still be won. (Take that my rabbit side.)

  7. Layla
    Layla says:

    Martha, this is so inspiring! Thank you so much for posting it!

    And just FYI, sometimes when I feel totally overwhelmed I like to think about combining baby steps and turtle steps to ‘BABY TURTLE steps’. IMHO, the only thing cuter than a turtle is a baby turtle!

  8. melissa coffey
    melissa coffey says:

    “No woman had ever climbed that rope” HA! they need some different women customers. I could stay on that rope for 20 minutes doing all kinds of stuff without breaking a sweat. I can climb upside down, look like i’m bicycling, i can even climb without using my legs at all, up and down with a pretty smile and grace. but I do rememeber a day when I couldn’t climb a rope, I was a fat unflexible child that loved tv and art and until I was in my mid 20’s didn’t use my body for much physical activity at all except dancing wildly in nightclubs and sex. So I got inspired and obsessed and became an aerialist. tackling my fears, starting to cross my midline without falling over and building muscle that now stacks over itself and makes people think i’m incredible when they lay their hand casually on my shoulder. I will soon leave the world of dayjobs and perform and teach full time because i attempted something like climbing a rope. there’s magic in each step, a thousand choices in each step and effort or effortlessness.
    In my own story, my daughter who has developmental delays has finally started the process of aerial training in her own way. watching her is very inspiring. I have to go watch her perform today on my lunch hour. then tonight I perform with the crystal method djing.
    btw, there are more efficient ways to climb…

  9. Florence Moyer
    Florence Moyer says:

    Very cool! Thanks for being TAO about it taking you six months to rock the rope – puts my frustration at not going from brand new coach cadet to world-class coaching goddess in the same time frame. Time for another turtle step.

  10. rebecca @ altared spaces
    rebecca @ altared spaces says:

    You go!

    I read about your turtle steps and they have meant so much to me. If the project feels overwhelming…I haven’t broken it down far enough. When I read about you working on your thesis 20 minutes a day I laughed.

    OK. 20 minutes a day. Even I can do that.

    I’m devoted to your joy and happiness and your zeal for chasing it down.

  11. Blooming Rock
    Blooming Rock says:

    Hi Martha, thanks so much for this post and the whole idea behind turtle steps. And extraordinary woman I know is having a frustrating day accomplishing everything she wants to do today and I sent her this post from you for inspiration.

  12. Robin Green Tilly
    Robin Green Tilly says:

    We are all dealing with some kind of pain, and you have perfectly demonstrated how courage, planning, step-by-step work and spirit turned ‘no’ into ‘ring the bell!’ Thank you for the message, you rock!


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] verrez qu’en avançant doucement, telle une tortue (réf: marthabeck.com), et en prenant du temps pour vous poser – même quelques minutes – les choses […]

  2. […] most in coaching, the wonderful Martha Beck says, make it even smaller then a baby step and do a “turtle step” in that direction.) You don’t have to be able to see how it will all work out. You […]

  3. […] Work out what the tiniest step you can take is towards your goal and just do that tiniest step. Martha Beck calls these ‘turtle steps’ as they are steps so small that even a tiny turtle could take […]

  4. […] think Martha describes turtle steps best on her blog: “We can all break up any goal into many teensy-weensy turtle steps. No matter what you’re […]

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