Losing weight. Writing a novel. Starting a business. Every year we set big goals for ourselves when our motivation is high but never seem to be able to follow through. Somewhere along the way we lose sight of things or experience a setback that makes us give up entirely. Before long, we fall back into our same old habits, same old routine, and our desires fall by the wayside in favor of the familiar, comfortable lives we led before, and achieving goals is the last thing on our mind.
Why are we like this? Why do we seem to sabotage ourselves when we want to change for the better? Are we really as lazy or unable to change as we think? Or is there something more complicated at work here?
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The truth is that big goals, no matter how well-intentioned or how good they are for us, almost never work. We overwhelm ourselves with too much work and not enough reward, which makes it easy to give up when something goes wrong. Furthermore, long-term goals are easy to forget or sidestep when we aren’t constantly working toward them.
So, what’s the secret to achieving long-term goals? It’s actually quite simple: Think SMALL.
Small Steps Are the Key to Achieving Goals
When we break our goals into small, manageable steps that we can complete every day, we accomplish three things: First, it keeps our goals at the forefront of our minds. Big, vague goals can be easy to ignore, especially if we give ourselves a year or more to accomplish them. If you’re not thinking about your goals every day, you’re likely not working toward them, and that’s setting yourself up for failure. Setting milestones for ourselves every week or month, however, holds us accountable and makes us more likely to stick with what we’re doing.
The second thing breaking goals into bite-sized chunks accomplishes is that it helps eliminate the intimidation factor that so often keeps us from pursuing our dreams. If you’re trying to write a novel, for example, it can be difficult and daunting to imagine yourself writing 70,000 words, no matter how much time you give yourself. But what about 200 words every day (for reference, this blog post is about 800 words)? A few paragraphs a day sounds much easier than a whole book!
Finally, small goals give us success momentum. Motivation is not spontaneously generated; we create it ourselves, though our motivation levels are influenced by dozens of different factors. Our mood and energy level, our belief in ourselves, and our belief that the work we put in will be worth the rewards we receive are just a few things that shape how motivated we are to do something. One giant goal—like writing a novel—seems completely insurmountable, which gives us little reason to try.
However, if our goal is instead to write 200 words every day, when we do manage to complete those first 200 words, we’ll feel a sense of accomplishment. That satisfaction will embolden you to do it again tomorrow. Each little victory you have under your belt influences your belief that you can manage those 70,000 words. Furthermore, once you’ve accomplished your goal several days in a row, you won’t want to break the chain!
Breaking It Down
What is the big goal you want to achieve? Get a notebook and write it down. Now see if you can break it down into monthly goals, then weekly, then daily. Try to get your goal down to the smallest possible steps. See where you can work in some milestone rewards; for example, after writing 10,000 words, you could treat yourself to an at-home spa day to help you refresh yourself for the next 10,000!
Once you have your tasks outlined, put them in your calendar or planner. If you use a digital calendar, set reminders for yourself to stay on top of things.
Our mind loves quick wins and fast progress. If we don’t feel like we’re getting anywhere or can’t see the fruits of our labor, we’re quick to give up. That’s what makes chunking our goals so effective. It’s hard to motivate yourself to keep going when you can’t even see the finish line.
However, bite-sized goals help us keep the end in mind. Think of them as mile markers in a marathon; they aren’t the finish line, but they remind us the finish line exists, and passing one makes us want to pass the next one, and the next, and so on. It’s the exact same system we use in our Fabulous journeys. We start you small, with something as simple as drinking water in the morning, to give you the confidence to do the more difficult things later.
It’s like the famous saying goes: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.