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Are you one of the 91% of people struggling to achieve your goals? According to research done by the Statistic Brain Research Institute, 91% of people who make New Year’s Resolutions never finish them, and only 9% of people who make New Years Resolutions feel that they’ve actually achieved their goals.
What’s the biggest mistake you’re going to make this year when it comes to your goals? Are you thinking, what mistakes could I possibly make when setting goals? Isn’t that kind of straightforward?
You’ve heard the story every year during New Year’s Resolutions. Come January, the gym is full of people determined to better themselves, to get in shape, to lose weight.
But less than a month later…
The gym is empty again, or just back to the usual crowd.
So, what happened?
All those New Year’s Resolutioners lost their motivation.
They lost their motivation because of how they DEFINED their goals.
- “I’ve got to lose 100 pounds.”
- “I want to bench press my body weight.”
- “I want to run five miles every morning.”
These are good goals. They’re lofty. Big. Great to think about when you’re envisioning how you’ll look and feel when you get there.
But most of the time people walk through the front doors of the gym with those goals in their heads…but no actionable plan to actually GET THERE.
They want to lose 100 pounds, not just 1. But if you lose 1 pound 100 times, you’ve lost 100 pounds.
Small, challenging but manageable, and easy to repeat.
They want to bench press their body weight, not just the initial weight of the bar. But if you bench the bar first, eventually you can add on small weights, and build your muscles up, and keep doing that until you’re able to bench your body weight.
Small, challenging but manageable, and easy to repeat.
They want to run five miles every morning, not just the 100 feet down their driveways. But if you just run to the end of your driveway, eventually you’ll build the endurance to run to the end of the street, then around the block, then to the end of the neighborhood, until you’re able to run five miles.
Small, challenging but manageable, and easy to repeat.
So how do you do it?
Set Goals You’ll Never Reach
Wait, what? Set goals you’ll never reach? What kind of hogwash is that?
Actually, in a weird way it kind of makes sense.
Setting huge, amazing, lofty goals that you’ll never reach makes you a better person.
Why does Bill Gates spend so much money developing third-world countries, improving access to water, food, medicine, and things that meet the needs of basic human survival?
Because his BIG GOAL is to improve the quality of life around the world. Their mission statement reads:
Guided by the belief that every life has equal value, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives. In developing countries, it focuses on improving people’s health and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty. In the United States, it seeks to ensure that all people—especially those with the fewest resources—have access to the opportunities they need to succeed in school and life.
Bill and Melinda will never finish this goal. They will always work towards it, and when they die there will still be work to do.
And that’s okay.
That’s the point.You want your biggest goals to be SO BIG that you'll never actually finish them. Click To Tweet
One of my big goals is to educate others that people do not choose to have mental illnesses OR type 1 diabetes.
Those two things are not mutually exclusive and don’t really make sense together when you first look at it, but those are my big things.I have anxiety, and I have type 1 diabetes. I want people to know I didn't choose either. Click To Tweet
There’s a stigma around mental illness, and there’s a stigma around diabetes.
Both of them are wrong and need to be addressed.
And that’s my goal.
I will never be able to tell every person on Earth this thing, so I will never reach this goal. Some might think this is a reason to not try. After all, if you’re never going to accomplish a goal why even bother putting in the effort?
Because happiness and fulfillment come from solving problems, even if the problems you solve are the small ones that lead you towards completing your unfinishable goals.
Break it Up
So, how does one work towards a goal you’ll never accomplish?
You break it up.
You can’t get ANYTHING done without breaking it up into smaller chunks.
I like bite-sized chunks. Once you finish one, you move on to the next, and the next, and eventually you’ve got so much momentum finishing the bite-sized chunks that you’re well on your way to meeting your goal.
Your big, unattainable goal needs to be broken into smaller, actually attainable goals. And then THOSE need to be broken down into projects or operations, and then THOSE need to be broken down into plans. From those plans, you get your steps, and from those steps, you get your bite-sized chunks.
Go small to go big.
Make Them Small
Isn’t this the same as breaking it up? Well, kinda. But it expands on the idea that smaller is better for getting stuff done.
Breaking it up has to do with the idea that your small goals move you towards your big, unreachable goal. But how small is small enough?
As small as you need it to be.
Caitlin Pyle calls this “shrinking your thought process.”
If starting a blog is too big of a “small step,” then you need to make it even smaller. If losing 100 pounds is too big, you need to make it smaller. Focusing on one pound at a time is a great way to do it.
Treat every little goal as if it were that big goal, and break it up into the smallest pieces you can.
There’s a lot of thought that goes into starting a blog, and a lot of time and effort that goes into losing 100 pounds. So it’s understandable that those goals are too big to start with.
Make it small.
Make Them Manageable
It might be obvious that the smaller your steps are, the more manageable they become. In some cases, this might not be true.
For example, let’s say your goal (a reachable one, not that big mythical unattainable goal) is to run a marathon.
This is a pretty impressive goal, and while I am not a runner, I know that people have to TRAIN for these things. You can’t just decide one day to run a marathon and go do it. There’s a reason Couch-to-5K programs exist and why people have running clubs.
Making your small pieces more manageable will help get you to the finish line (or close to it).
Make Them Easy to Repeat
There’s another word for this: habit.
Making your goal progress into a habit is the easiest way to get somewhere. If you don’t have to think about doing it, you’ve already succeeded!
Historically, we’ve been told that it takes 21 days to create or establish a habit. According to recent research, that number is way off!
It actually takes upwards of 66 days to build a habit! That’s three times longer than we used to think, which might actually explain a lot about why we fail at a lot of things.
How many times have we dedicated three weeks to build a habit and at the end of it wonder why it doesn’t feel natural?
Because it’s not a habit yet.
By making your small, bite-sized chunks easy to repeat, you make it easier to build a habit, and coincidentally easier to achieve your goals.
The habit I’m building right now is to write 300 words every morning in a program called Cold Turkey Writer, which blocks literally everything on my computer until the word count is met. For someone like me, who gets easily distracted by Facebook or Fanfiction, I need the tools to help me build that habit – the tools to make it EASY TO REPEAT.
So far, I’ve been doing this morning writing thing for about a month, and it STILL doesn’t feel natural. It’s on my morning to-do list because I haven’t gotten so comfortable with it that it comes naturally.
But, I’m making it easy to repeat.
It’s also small.
300 words is peanuts.
I know a blogger who commits herself to writing 1000 words every day! That’s amazing! But I also know that I’d struggle if I tried to force myself into writing 1000 words every morning. Eventually, I’ll build up to more than 300 words, and oftentimes once I start writing I get into a flow and fly past my goal.
But I didn’t start at 300 words, I started with writing just 100.
I had to build myself up to 300, and so far 300 is a good number because I have time constraints in the morning. Other things in my morning routine include reading 1 chapter out of my “book-of-the-week,” meditating for 10 minutes, and completing 2 modules of Duolingo Spanish. All that before I write!
It’s better to just do SOMETHING instead of doing nothing.
Back in college, I used to put one 3000-word chapter of a Fanfiction story up every week! Looking back I have no idea how I managed that other than finding time to write EVERY DAY.
That’s the power of a habit.
Discipline, Not Motivation
So, all this advice boils down to one really important point. You’ll get none of the above done or even moving unless you start, and you should never rely on motivation to get you started.
If you wait until you’re motivated to do something, you’ll never get anything done!
Motivation is fleeting. It shows up for 10 minutes, makes you think you’re going to go to the gym every morning for an hour, and then flees before you even have the chance to pull on your workout clothes. Now what? You felt motivated and pumped to do the thing, and now, you just…don’t.
So what do you do?
Don’t rely on motivation.
Rely on discipline.Discipline is doing the things you need to do even when you don't necessarily want to do them. Discipline is what makes habits work. Click To Tweet
Neil Pasricha calls this “effectuating,” or just doing it. The time is going to pass anyway, so why should you think about why you don’t want to do the thing? Just do the thing.
This works for me when it comes to my evening routine. I don’t necessarily WANT to wash my face, but if I spend too much time thinking about it I’ll talk myself out of doing it and just go to bed. I’ll tell myself I’m too tired to wash my face, and that missing just one night won’t hurt.
Well, if I keep doing that, all those repeated “one night” add up. To a lot.
So, by effectuating, just DOING IT, I’m instilling discipline and a habit to not even think about doing it. I just do it.
Discipline builds habits.
Habits are easy to repeat.
Things that are easy to repeat make it easy to get your small, manageable, bite-sized chunks done. Paired with time, this combination gets you to your goal faster than you thought possible.
Applied to losing weight, writing a book, starting a blog, improving your relationships, training for a marathon, WHATEVER IT IS that you want to do – especially your big, huge, unreachable goals, this formula will put you on the right track and take you right to it.
What’s your goal? Write it down. Now, what small, actionable, bite-sized goal can you do right now that will take you closer to your never-finishing goal?
Share it in the comments! I’d love to know what steps you’re taking to help you achieve your goals.