Our lives are in constant motion. It can be challenging to start or stop habits, even if you know you should. The trick is to start doing what you set out to do one small step at a time.
For 2018, my goal is to take the daily recommended 10,000 steps. As I sat down to write this, it was 6:32 p.m., and according to my Fitbit, I had taken a whopping 1,083 steps!
Did I feel guilty or upset? No! That’s because I’ve broken down my one massive goal to complete 10,000 steps each day into smaller goals that are achievable. Thus, my actionable goal today is to achieve 100 more steps than the day before.
Possible? Yes, victory is in sight. At the end of three months, I should be able to meet or exceed my long-term goal of 10,000 steps without becoming frustrated in the beginning and then failing to continue what I set out to do.
One (Tiny) Step at a Time
The likelihood of reaching your goals increases significantly when you take tiny, baby steps, according to BJ Fogg, a psychologist who studies human motivation and behavior at Stanford University. Fogg developed the Tiny Habits® program. The idea, in part, is to start with a small, and what might seem like an insignificant, step and then build on that day-by-day to reach your overall goal.
Are you thinking “I’ve heard that before, and it didn’t work then, what makes you think it will work now?” It all comes down to being prepared.
Many of us have heard what might seem like an old cliché: “If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail.” But the saying still holds much weight in today’s world. However, the planning need not be complicated.
- In elementary school, my teacher told the class to “read for 20 minutes a day, and you will finish the book in two weeks.”
- In high school, the teachers said, “If you work on your project a little each day, it will be quick and easy and will not be hanging over your head in the last few days before it is due.”
Planning to accomplish a larger goal by breaking it down into bite-size chunks does not have to be difficult. Here are a few ways to do this successfully:
- Reverse engineer the goal. Think of an important goal and the intended outcomes. Then carefully break down the goal into simple steps. When the goal is entirely split into achievable steps, map out a daily plan of action to complete one step at a time.·
- Document where you are, where you want to be, and the steps necessary to get there. Check off each level as you progress.
- Don’t reinvent the wheel. Take what someone else has already created and customize it based on your needs.
Write It Down
The most important part is to WRITE down your goals and the steps necessary to achieve them. At a recent conference, I heard a presenter say, “If it is not written, it is not real.”
There is a lot of truth to this. Consider the study conducted a few years ago by Gail Matthews at the Dominican University in California on how goal achievement is influenced by writing down one’s goals, along with committing to goal-directed actions and accountability for those actions.
For her study, Matthews recruited 267 participants. She found that more than 70 percent of the participants who sent weekly updates to a friend reported successful goal achievement (completely accomplished their goal or were more than halfway there) compared to 35 percent of those who kept their goals to themselves, without writing them down.
Writing down your expectations is critical. There is no difference whether you assign the task to someone else or yourself. By documenting what needs to get done and by segmenting it into smaller, actionable items, there is a sense of accomplishment and success when you can check off something on the list. Here is some advice on how to start:
- Think about where you want to be, personally and professionally, at the end of 2018.
- Write down your end goals.
- Determine the steps that you need to take to reach your goal? Write these down.
- How long should each step take? You guessed it, write it down. (A little tip: I write each step on a sticky note.)
- Post the step in your day planner on the date you want it completed. Alternatively, post the steps in a composition notebook in the order of expected completion, one step per page (this allows room for notes.)
How many steps did you write down? Do you have more steps than you initially anticipated?
That’s okay. Now that the steps are documented in bite-size chunks, you’re more likely to meet your goals. You have set realistic expectations.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed during the year, try breaking your goals down into even smaller steps. Your plan should be to complete one step each week. This will give you a sense of accomplishment, and make the goal feel that much more attainable.
It’s long been known that great things start small. As Lao-tzu, the father of Taoism, said in the 6th century B.C., a journey of a thousand miles must begin with a simple step.