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This past January 19th would have been the 87th birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., an occasion that we officially celebrate in the U.S. with a Federal holiday and opportunities to provide a day of service.

In the brief 39 years that he was alive, Dr. King changed the world as one of the leaders of the American civil rights movement, not only through his actions, but through his words. One of his quotes is a very powerful reminder of what we need to do, whether we’re setting out to change the world or just change ourselves.

He said: “Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”

What Dr. King meant by this was, when you have a goal, don’t wait to start working toward it just because you don’t know whether you’ll succeed or not. If you never take the first step, you’ll never get anywhere.

And yet, I see people waiting all the time because they don’t see the staircase. Actually, they do see a staircase, but it’s the one they’ve created in their minds — tall, dark, scary, and impossibly steep. So they never take the first step, and nothing changes.

When it comes to rehabilitating your dogs, that dark staircase is the belief that you cannot do it, but it’s a completely irrational fear. Here’s what Dr. King had to say about that: “Normal fear motivates us to improve our individual and collective welfare; abnormal fear constantly poisons and distorts our inner lives. Our problem is not to be rid of fear but, rather to harness and master it.”

The normal fear is that the first step is scary. The abnormal fear is that terrible things will happen if you take it. The “step in faith” that Dr. King mentions is the way to harness and master that normal fear and overcome the abnormal fear.

In order to accomplish anything you have to first have faith in yourself. When I teach people how to be calm and assertive, this is the first step. You can’t be either if you don’t believe in yourself, and if you don’t believe in yourself, your dog won’t follow you.

There’s something else that helps in the journey up that staircase though, and it’s this. Don’t even think of it as a staircase. Think of it as one step. When you’ve taken that step, focus on the next. Live in the moment and don’t fear the future. Then take the next step. And the next.

Each next step can be scary, but a single step is not as scary as the entire journey. And step by step we master our normal fear and overcome abnormal fear. Pretty soon, we find ourselves a long way up that staircase, and now we can finally see it — and it’s not so frightening at all.

We commemorate and remember Dr. King to this day because he took a step of faith without being able to see that staircase, but the place he wound up at because of it changed the world. If he had paused for even an instant because the staircase he saw in his mind told him that he would be assassinated while still very young, he may have never taken that journey at all. But he took the journey and became a great leader and accomplished great things.

You don’t have to see the whole staircase, but you can’t see any of the staircase until you take that leap of faith and start climbing.

Stay calm, and take the first step!

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