Do you have any big goals that you’re struggling to make a start on? Or goals which you’ve had a go at several times – but where you keep failing? Perhaps you think there are some areas of life where you can’t succeed: you might be great at hitting targets at work, but you just can’t ever stick to an exercise routine for more than a week. Or maybe you’re on track to start your own business this year, but all your attempts to tackle your long-standing weight problem have failed.
The problem might be that you’re trying to change too much, too fast. It might seem odd to ask you on The Change Blog to cut back on how change you’re trying to work into your life … but I want to focus on getting you to think about making lasting changes that stick, rather than trying to completely change your habits overnight.
Think again about those goals you think you’ll never meet. Perhaps some of them are failed New Years’ resolutions –like exercising more, eating healthily, losing weight, quitting smoking. If you’re like most people, you probably tried to make sweeping changes overnight, and it didn’t work.
Where Do You Want To Get To?
Perhaps you’ve got a challenging target in mind. You might want to:
- Lose 50 lbs
- Cut out caffeine
- Slash your sugar intake
- Meditate daily
- Go for a five mile run every morning
- Get up at five am
- Quit your day job
- Save up $500/month
These are all great targets – but they’re also enormous steps to take overnight. Instead of trying to take an unmanageable leap straight away, look for ways you can reach those targets by making manageable, incremental changes.
Where Are You At Now?
Spend a week tracking the area which you’re trying to improve: you need to find out what level you’re at before you know the first steps you need to take in order to improve. You can track your spending, your exercise, your food intake, your usual waking-up time, your daily cups of coffee…
Sometimes, taking a good honest look at where you’re currently at can be discouraging at first: there might be a big gulf between where you are and where you want to be. You might even feel that you don’t have the strength, courage or self-discipline to get to your goal. Perhaps that is the case at the moment – but all you need is the ability to take the next step. You’ll gain the mental strength you need along the way.
Taking Small Steps
Work out incremental steps which you can take to reach your goal, based on where you are now. For example, if you want to lose 50lbs, break this down into a target of 1lb per week. Yes, it’ll take you a year to get to your goal, but that time will pass anyway.
Don’t underestimate how much you can achieve by taking small steps. You waste a lot more time by throwing yourself at an unrealistic target, getting rapidly overwhelmed and giving up after the first week. It’s also really disheartening to approach your goals in this way: you’ll start telling yourself that you’ll never succeed or that you lack self-discipline.
So What Does This Mean For You?
All of the above is quite theoretical – and you might be struggling to apply it to your own life and goals. So here are some practical examples of how taking small steps really can help you to reach big goals.
- Goal: Cutting out caffeine
- Current state: Drinking eight cups of coffee a day
- Target: Reduce your intake by one cup per day, per week (so seven cups/day for the first week, six cups/day for the second week, and so on.)
- Time taken to reach goal: eight weeks.
* * *
- Goal: Going for a five mile jog every day
- Current state: Coach potato
- Target: Start with a one mile brisk walk each day for the first week. Build up to two miles in the second week, and so on. Then alternate walking and jogging a mile in the sixth week (walk three, jog two), then jog three and walk two miles in the seventh week, and go for jogging the full five miles in the eighth week.
- Time taken to reach goal: eight weeks
* * *
- Goal: Waking up at six am
- Current state: Waking up at eight am
- Target: Set your alarm fifteen minutes earlier each week – don’t go for the full two hours straight away!
- Time taken to reach goal: eight weeks
* * *
- Goal: Writing a 200 page ebook to sell on your website
- Current state: 0 pages
- Target: Aim for 25 pages a week; that’s 3 pages a day on weekdays, 5 a day at weekends.
- Time taken to reach goal: eight weeks
As you can see – a lot of big goals are perfectly achievable in under two months, so long as you don’t demand instant success from yourself. You can achieve those hard goals which you’ve failed at in the past: just take small, incremental steps.
What are your challenging goals – big or small – that you’ve failed to reach in the past? Where are you currently, and what steps can you take, week by week, to reach your eventual targets?
Photo by James Jordan
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23 thoughts on “The Magic of Starting Small”
When you are going for unrealistic targets, it looks like you have to climb an enormous hill from which you can’t even see the top. It’s good and often more successful to cut those targets in smaller ones, like milestones.
Thanks for sharing this great post!
Thanks, that is a great simple solution.
Now the challenge is to implement and follow those steps consistently :)
Hi Ali! This is such a timely post! I was just telling myself 10 min ago that I need to size down my targets instead of making a quantum leap so that I won’t feel too stressed out.
I think adjusting to a pace which you’re more comfortable with to press forward is much better than stressing yourself out and demoralise yourself into giving up with a monumental target.
It may take me longer to reach my destination with this change of strategy, but at least I know I will eventually get there. It’s definitely much better than throwing in the towel half way through the journey.
Thanks Mark! It’s a bit hare-and-tortoise, I think; lots of slow, steady, plodding steps will get you there more reliably than a great big burst of energy which just tires you out!
I agree start small. I began lifting weights twice a week in January. I usually quit at the end of February. It’s the middle of March and I’m hanging on by the skin of my teeth. I thought I’d be up to three times a week by now. Ha!
I’ve been running regularly for over twenty five years. As I’m commenting I realize one difference is I don’t do it at the same time. So with that insight I’m committing to doing this at the same time on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
I have to share that I read “Get up at five am” as “Give up at five am” :-)
This strategy definitely works. I’ve exercised 5 minutes a day and now I’m up to 10 minutes per day. Just as long as I don’t give up at 5 am…
Haha! Five am sounds like exactly the time that I’d be most tempted to give up. ;-)
I like this a lot! After experiencing a huge breakup, I found that reaching my goals (at that point it was just to be happy or content again) took small baby steps, which don’t sound enticing at first. Small steps add up, though, and you’ll be surprised that you’ve reached your goal so quickly considering you took no easy way out!
Like Steve Miller always said, “You gotta go through hell before you get to heaven.”
Yes I too need to bring in some change .. and due to circumstances I can’t be totally in control of my daily life .. fortunately the warmer weather is coming & during the next few months .. it will be easier to bring in those extra hours.
It is one small step at at time .. catching up on one job .. and moving forward .. and as they say it is 21 days to a habit ..
Thanks for the post .. it’s your change incremental blog post!
Good luck everyone .. Hilary: Be Positive Be Happy
Very nice post.
I have to start waking up early… but it will take me muuuch longer because now I sleep until 11:oo
Hi Ali – I think for me I usually want change to happen very fast. When I see something that I want, I want to have it quickly. But, I think the most important thing in creating change is simply to keep moving forward and small steps make it easier to keep putting one foot in front of the other. This is an important idea – thanks.
What you’re talking about is the act of “Kaizen”. A Japanese approach that Toyota uses with the intention that small incremental steps will lead to large change.
One thing I will add is to never lower your goal just to make it easier to obtain. If we do that, we lower out vibrations.
Any goal is achievable, no matter how big. And yes, even quantum leaps are possible. Sometime people have a hard time wrapping their head around the fact massive positive change is possible sooner than later.
We have been conditioned to believe change takes time. When in fact, all change is derived from the quantum field where time is not linear. So in turn, spontaneous remission is very possible.
Great post! Thanks for sharing!
I’d never come across the word “Kaizen” before – thanks for letting me know it!
I think you’re right that big, sudden change IS possible – but for *most* people, steady incremental change is a bit more certain.
I love it! I always find myself trying to put the buggy in front of the horse. It just doesn’t work like that. This article was so straight-forward that my brain just went: oh, you’re absolutely right. :)
Now it’s time to take one step at a time. :)
Hi Ali, I like your idea that we should start with small things first. I believe that big success comes from small successes.
Great post, Ali and thanks for sharing.
Excellent writing and a very useful concept indeed. I liked your practical examples showing the numbers on how to get where we want to go in 8 weeks. This is something I can certainly do for myself.
Thanks, Daphne! Yes, I find breaking things down into numbers helps me to envisage them more easily. Good luck breaking down your own goals into weekly targets!
One step at a time is always better than taking a leap of faith. Small steps are easier to achieve and it also helps to build up momentum to help us reach our goals. No matter how daunting a goal can be, taking small steps will ensure that we will reach our desired destination much more easier.
Personal Development Blogger
Interesting. I only wonder: why should be a goal to wake up at six am?
I strongly agree, there is common false belief that if you started small you will remain small (in business) but its false. Millions of people started small and made great achievements
I implemented the small steps approach when tackling the task of running a marathon. I feel there are some other changes I’d like to make and have some how gotten away from making small incremental changes.
Taking steps to achieve your goals is the ultimate way for reaching success. When we have our minds clear, life balance, and structure we can accomplish reaching our goals one- step- at- a -time. Determination to make the lifestyle changes needed to complete our goals and a good outlook on life.
I’ve always found that huge goals lead to procrastination. So I chop it up into smaller milestones. And, most importantly, figure out the single next step, and take that asap!
As the ultra-distance marathon runner (can’t remember his name) said: “What, run a thousand miles? I could never do that! I ran a single mile, thousand times!”