Trouble Achieving Your Goals? Take it one tiny step at a time.

Ervin SinclairCreativity, Productivity

You’ve been told your whole life to set ambitious goals, goals that really push you. That’s great advice. You’ve probably also been told to break those larger goals down into smaller goals. Also great advice.

So why doesn’t it work?

How come no matter how hard you work, the farther away from your goals you seem to get?

Why Small Goals Sometimes Fail

Pretend that you’ve set the goal of writing a book. You do some math and realize that if you want to finish your book in a timely manner, you need to write 1000 words a day. Sounds doable, right?

The first couple days come and go and you’re trucking right along. Pretty soon you’ve got 4000, 5000, or even 6000 words written.

But then something gets in the way. Something called life: the kids are sick,you’re sick, the car breaks down, you’re extra busy at work. Before you know it, you’ve missed three days of writing and now you’re playing catch-up.

A goal that seemed so simple now seems next to impossible.

Pretty soon you start to doubt yourself. Maybe my goal was never achievable to begin with. Maybe I set my sights too high. Maybe I really can’t write a book.

Sound familiar?

Introducing Micro-Goals

The problem is not that the small goals you set weren’t good. The problem is that they were designed for the ideal scenario. They were what you could accomplish when everything else went smoothly. But life isn’t smooth.

That’s where micro-goals come in.

If your small goals answer the question, “what do I need to do every day so I can accomplish my goal?” then your micro-goals answer the question, “what small steps can I make every day, regardless of the circumstances?”

Take the example of writing a book. Here’s what your goals might look like:

Big Goal: Write a book
Small Goal: Write 1000 words every day
Micro-goal: Write at least one paragraph per day.

Micro-goals also work with fitness:

Big Goal: Run a 5k
Small Goal: Run 2 miles per day
Micro-goal: Run/Walk a half mile

With micro-goals, those large, daunting tasks start to sound more achievable. And you can accomplish them before breakfast, during a lunch break, or in the quiet moments before bedtime.

What Micro-Goals Are Not

Let’s get one thing straight: Micro-goals are not an excuse for slacking off.

Yes, you could eventually write a book if you only wrote one paragraph a day, but it would take forever.

Micro-goals are not an excuse to say, “what’s the least I can accomplish?” They’re a call to action. So even on your worst day, you can say, “I will still accomplish something.”

Micro-goals are meant to get you through a tough day so you can accomplish your small goal the next day. They’re a way to keep up momentum.

The One Question You Must Ask Every Night

Imagine lying in bed at night, after a day when you haven’t accomplished anything towards your goal. Now imagine asking yourself this question:

Can I honestly say that I didn’t have any time or anyopportunity to work on my goal?

If you are truly honest with yourself, 99.9% of the time, your answer will be NO! The problem was that you didn’t make the time.

Micro-goals solve this problem by giving you something so simple to accomplish that you can’t not do it.

Three Criteria for Setting Your Micro-Goals

If your micro-goals are going to be successful, they’ve got to be really reallyeasy to accomplish. Ask yourself, “what is something that is so simple that I can’t make an excuse for not doing it?”

After you set your micro-goal, make sure you can answer “yes” to these three questions:

  1. Does your micro-goal take less than 30 minutes to complete?
  2. Can your micro-goal be done almost anywhere (like if you got stuck at work, or if you didn’t have your computer with you)?
  3. Does your micro-goal get you closer to achieving your larger goal?
  4. Bonus Question: Can you state your micro-goal in less than 10 words?

If you answered “no” to any of these three questions, go back and refine your micro-goal until it meets the criteria.

Here are a few examples of great micro-goals:

“Write for ten minutes every day”
“Draw one sketch each morning”
“Do 100 jumping jacks before bed”

Each one of those goals can be done in a small amount of time almost anywhere. And each micro-goal helps you take a micro-step toward your big goal.

Two Major Benefits of Micro-Goals

1) Micro-Goals Keep Up Momentum
Taking a day or two off from your goal might not seem like a lot…until you try to get back to work. Suddenly, you’ve lost your train of thought. You’re confused about the direction you wanted your project to take. And now you’ve got to spend valuable time just getting back up to speed.

Achieving your micro-goal every day keeps your brain primed. It keeps your project in the back of your mind, which lets your subconscious work on it even when you’re busy with something else. This makes it a lot easier to get started again the next time you sit down to work.

2) Micro-Goals Help You Find Time
When you force yourself to find a very small amount of time each day to accomplish your micro-goals, you’ll actually find larger blocks of time opening up. You’ll sit down to write one paragraph (if that’s your micro-goal) and you’ll suddenly find that you want to do more. Suddenly you’ll see ways to adjust your schedule, or to eliminate less-important things so you can continue working.

One Last Promise

You’ll never finish your creative project if you only achieve the absolute minimum every day. Creativity takes work, and lots of it. So now that you’ve set your micro-goal, you have to make one last promise. Here it is:

I promise to do everything in my power to achieve my small goals each and every day, but on days where that truly isn’t possible, I will stop at nothing to achieve my micro-goals.

Now It’s Your Turn

What micro-goals have you set? Share them in the comments or tell me on Twitter.

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