PC #36 – The Power of the Increment

As some of you might know, I’m writing a book on my Camino experiences, and I’m nearing the end. I’m at about 70,000 words.

Soon I’ll go into the editing and revisions stage. It should be done by the end of August, latest.

In writing the book, I’m having to recall moments I’ve largely forgotten – and one was a very simple moment. Of walking one morning, heading towards Astorga, and seeing distant snow capped mountains, then an hour later, looking up and seeing those mountains closer, then sometime later still, seeing them almost upon me.

I remember at the time being quite shocked by this.

That by walking, that by taking a series of small steps, I could alter the geography around me so dramatically, and bring forward a range of high mountains! It seems so obvious, but it really did have a profound effect on me.

And I began to think of the “power of the increment.”

I’d brought forward those mountains incrementally, by taking a series of small steps. I would end up walking to Santiago in a similar way. Whilst in Australia, before leaving, I remember looking at a map and wondering how could I possibly walk that far.

I did so, incrementally.

And now I’m writing this book the same way. Instead of walking each day, I’m writing each day. When I started, on June 1st, the prospect of writing a book seemed as daunting as walking the Camino.

Now I’m almost finished the first draft.

Anything can be achieved, if it’s approached using the power of the increment. You can become wealthy, by saving a little each week. You can lose weight, by eating a little less each day. Or doing a little more exercise each day. You can get a college degree, or start a new business, or paint the inside of your house, or make a beautiful quilt – all these things can be achieved, incrementally.

Sometimes the snow capped mountains seem so far away. They seem beyond your reach. But you can bring those mountains close to you, and you can climb them. If you approach them incrementally.

distant mountains

29 thoughts on “PC #36 – The Power of the Increment

  1. A wise woman once told me: ‘The hardest part of doing something is getting started’. When I am in a procrastinating mood, these words come to me and the notion is powerful in its simplicity + it gets things done!! I think this relates to the ‘increment’ idea as each step in achieving something builds on the last step. I loved your phrase : ‘alter the geography around me so dramatically’. That captures the power and beauty behind walking. Thanks, Bill.


  2. Yes, yes. All your posts offer so much fodder for thought, and this is one of the best yet. A good one to cut out and post on my bathroom mirror to read every morning.


    • Thanks Barbara –

      Yes, the idea of “dramatically altering the geography around you,” by taking incremental steps, is an enticing one, isn’t it.



      • This is a very empowering thought, Bill We really can achieve anything humanly possible if we just take it a bit at a time-by increments!


        • Hi Sister –

          sometimes we think goals are not achievable, because they’re so damn big.

          It’s like looking at that map of Spain. You think, how could you possibly walk that far? The goal is huge.

          But you start off small, you do small stages, and you keep at it. And before you know it you’re half way across the Meseta.

          It’s the same with life.

          How could I become a surgeon? How could I buy that block of land? You figure out what needs to be done – you need to go to Med School, which means getting a certain level of grades in particular subjects – so you do that, and next thing you’re in Med School. And then you take the next step.

          And with buying the land, you know how much it’s going to cost, so you start to save, and maybe you get a second job, and you finally get enough to put down a deposit. Step by step.

          The big goals are achievable, if you look at it strategically, and break it down into bite sized pieces.



  3. How right those words are….

    I know that when I step onto the trail I am going to be judged by others cause of the way I look and mostly by myself because I am my toughest critic.

    I have developed a saying for others and myself when asked how far I plan on going.
    It is ” Im just walking up the road a bit”.

    Being a former event planner….I always have everything planned…..but this time…I know I need to take the pressure of others and my own expectations off my shoulders.
    So each day…my plan is to walk up the road for a bit…..until I stop.
    And thereby reach my destination (wherever that may be) incrementally.

    (hehehehe “increment” is my new favourite word)

    Gosh….I love the way you (Bill) and everyone else express your thoughts into words so wonderfully. It really is quite a powerful gift you all have.


    • Dear Abbey –

      that’s a lovely phrase – “to walk up the road a bit”

      doesn’t that epitomise all that it is to be a pilgrim?

      I love it!



  4. Again, Bill, you’ve managed to hit it on the nail!!! Pretty much for an odd 15 years, I couldn’t have lived, as stark as that sounds, without approaching my life incrementally. But if you decide you just have to take that one step, deal with that one problem, live through that day, incrementally, moment by moment, you find that you can and that the next step, problem, day is in the future, to be dealt with then … the future is just that, and this moment is the one that needs to be lived through. Incidentally, when we were walking towards some mountains on the Camino, I wasn’t sure at first whether we needed to cross up and over, and I had some interesting conversations with myself before asking any questions, payback for my philosophy of just wanting to be surprised when I travel, rather than know all about it before I leave home!! Crazy, I know at times, but it does make for interesting times!!


    • HI Britta – you’re absolutely right.

      Where some people fail is by looking at the huge mountain up ahead of them, and feeling daunted. They don’t even try to climb the mountain, but they don’t realise there are little tracks and footholds hidden in amongst the rocks, and they can get up and over it if they just take it a step at a time.

      And yes, sometimes perspective can be a trickster, can’t it!



  5. We started in Astorga and I remember looking up that first day – having managed to get out of town (I had wondered how hard it would be) – and seeing those same hills. It took us longer to get to them than you, but I also felt them coming closer. Another similar pivotal moment was looking down on a hamlet way in the distance and realising that at home I would not even consider walking to it. In reality, we were there by dinnertime.


    • Rachael –

      It’s incredibly empowering, isn’t it, to see a distant village or town – lights twinkling in the distance – and know that you can get there by WALKING.

      You don’t need a car or bus.

      I know what you mean, and it was one of the great revelations for me walking the Camino.



  6. Thanks you for this reminder that I can walk all that way, if I but take the first step and then the next……
    I have done just as you wrote about in regards to losing weight. Last March 2012, I decided I would lose weight so that I could move easier, feel better, be healthier and of course look better. I haven’t done anything drastic. I reduced portion sizes, chose healthier options and cut back on the sweets and high fat foods. This January I added exercise 3-5 times a week. So far I’ve lost 44lbs, been able to cut out all medications, gone from a size 22 (almost 24) to a 16 and move much more easily than I’ve done in years. I’ve got about 18 more pounds to go to my next goal but I’m not in a hurry and I’ll just keep moving one step at a time.
    I know this is off subject but, the last couple days my thinking has been centered around the difference between Trying and making a Decision. I’ve discovered in the last few years that I’m most successful when I make decision rather than when I try. Maybe the try mentality implies a measure of mistrust in my abilities or a lack of willingness to make a commitment? What is it Yoda says in Star Wars? There is no try there is only do or not do!
    For now my commitment to the Camino has me researching places to stay near Montparnasse train station in Paris on the way to SJPP.


    • Hi Karen –

      what an incredible accomplishment, to lose all that weight!

      And you’ve done it through a change in lifestyle and thinking, not in some crazy diet.


      What you say about trying and doing is so so true.

      “Trying” almost implies that you’re allowing yourself the room to give up, or fail. Deciding and doing is action. Not the possibilityof action.

      I once did a documentary interview with a very famous Australian – an iconic Australian. His name was RM Williams. Any Aussie knows him. His boots are legendary in this country, as are his bushman’s clothing. He achieved extraordinary things during his lifetime.

      Anyway, in this interview, he said that for him, “to say it so do.”

      To SAY is to DO.

      Don’t say you’re going to do something unless you are actually going to do it.

      I have tried to live by that statement ever since.



    • Karen, wow, I know how difficult this can be. In comparison, the Camino is going to be a cakewalk.. oops (leave the cake out) and then eat the flans, which I loved. The Spanish have a way with it.

      Montparnasse: Are you just going to do an overnight or staying a few days?

      Depending when you arrive in Paris, and not wanting to sightsee, you might want to consider the overnight train to Bayonne. I wish I had, but I had wanted to
      “see” something of the French countryside via “bullet-fast-train” (duh) and had booked the 5 hour ticket, straight to Bayonne and had Hotel reservations there. Then I had a reservation in Orisson and one in Espinal. Despite the warnings of my Camino friends, here in Canada and in Spain, I did not listen to their advice of NOT planning too much, because, I think you will hear this a lot “The Camino does not accept plans”.
      Well, my plane was late, missed the train, and not wanting to miss other non-refundable prepaid reservations, I took a 1-way flight from Orly to Biarritz that set me back by 400 euros. BTW, the hotel in Bayonne was a dive, the train would have been nicer, cleaner and cheaper.

      Hence my suggestion of taking the overnight, it brings you into Bayonne train station where you catch the SJPDP train. Unless you can book your flight ticket through to Biarritz. Short local bus from outside the airport to the train station in Bayonne and the cost 1 euro, the cheapest deal to be had.

      Hindsight is 20/20. In future Caminos, I will book an open jaw ticket and use whatever transportation system is available at any given day that gets me from A to B, for travelling within Europe. I also know now, no reservations for accommodation needed at any time. There is always a mattress somewhere. My trust level “in the Camino will provide mantra”, is way way up high!

      I wish you continued success on your health journey, you have my admiration.



      • Thanks Ingrid,
        You know it has not been difficult at all. I eat, I eat out, I’ve never been hungry for more than an hour or so and that’s just when I’m working and can’t go to lunch yet. Since I’ve been exercising my body actually gets cranky if I don’t exercise for a few days. I think it is all part of making the decision. It has been a bit slower than I had thought it would be but as long as the weight is coming off and I’m feeling healthier then I’m not going to sweat it. (P.S. I eat cake, 😉 just not so much of it!)
        I haven’t been in Paris since 1968 so do I want to spend at least one night. I don’t want to rush and take the train south the same day I arrive in France and I’d rather ride during the day so that I can see the countryside. I don’t think I will stop in Bayonne but head on to St Jean the same day. From what I understand there are several trains a day from Bayonne to SJPP. Of course train schedules will probably change some between now and then.
        I am hoping to fly home out of Madrid. Since this will be my first trip to Spain I’d like to see at least one of its major cities. I’m 15 months out so the details could change. I am seeking away to have the time and funds to do the entire Camino in one go rather than breaking it up between several journeys.
        Besides my hotel in Paris, St Jean and maybe Valcarlos I’m not making any advance reservations. I did this in Ireland last year but was sometimes sorry I did as I felt under pressure to move on when I would rather stay some in some places and the reverse in others. This time I will let my PGS tell me when calling ahead would be a good thing and when to just show up.


        • Hi Karen –

          A couple of questions:

          What exercise do you do?
          Where did you walk in Ireland?

          Also, consider what I did when I got to Biarritz airport – I shared a cab with three others. The taxi picked us up from outside the airport and took us right to our albergue in St. jean. Cost was €72, split four ways, it was €18. And much simpler than getting a train.

          If you go into the Camino Forum closer to your time of departure, say about 4 months out, and let them know your dates and times and ask if anyone else wants to share the cab. And you’ll find pull get others to help cover the cost.



      • Bill,

        Right now I do a lot of water aerobics, mostly because I love being in the water and it is easier on the joints, especially with my added weight. I also ride the stationary bike and walk (either treadmill or street). Recently I’ve added some resistance machines, mostly upper body and some core exercises on a Swiss or stability ball at home. I tired yoga a couple times but had a very hard time getting up and down so much. I never have figured out how to get from upward facing dog to downward facing dog without killing my toes 😉

        I will consider your suggestion about Biarritz and the taxi.

        In Ireland I mostly drove from place to place. I walked around the towns an took a few short strolls but didn’t do any hiking. Love it though, especially the driving, even if it was on the ‘wrong side of the road’!


        • Hi Karen –

          sounds like you’re doing greg prep work!

          I wished I’d done more work on the stationary bike prior to leaving, to strengthen my quadriceps.

          You don’t realise how much you use them on a hike, particularly going down hill. Perhaps if I’d done that I couldn’t have so many problems with my knees.



  7. Thank you for this post–it is a good reminder to me that the little steps count and add up to big steps.


  8. Bill, I understand your post about Increments and thankyou for reminding us of what it takes to achieve our goals. Making the decision and taking the first small step is often so hard. Sticking with it is also hard for some.
    I am in awe of your 70 000 words written so far. Makes my assignments look like a post it note! Really looking forward to reading the book.
    I often speak with my students about perseverance and study skills. We sometimes refer to it as “learning stamina” – you have to stick with what you have to do. They are taught to break tasks into small chunks and tackle them one at a time. As so many in this forum have already mentioned, it is the many small steps which are so important.
    With collective permission, I would like to use some of these examples in my classes this semester. [ anonymously of course]

    PS I just love this photo. Where was it taken?


    • Hi Anne –

      feel free to use anything I’ve posted on t his blog.

      If you want to use something that someone else has posted, let me know and I can contact them to get their permission.

      As for the 70,000 words – well, I’m surprised too. The book has kind of written itself. Although I’m now at 74,000 words and about to write the last chapter, and tying it all up is hard.

      But then the craft kicks in, next stage, with the editing and revisions. Yes though, nothing happens unless you take that first step!



    • Hi Anne –

      sorry, forgot to tell you about the photo. It was taken east of Astorga, after Santibanez. Usually I only took photos from the path. I had made it a little rule for myself not to step off the Camino to take a shot.

      On this occasion though I saw the tree, and the mountains behind, but from the track they weren’t in perfect alignment, so I trampled over a field for about 300 meters to get the right composition.



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