The new year is now upon us and this is the time when we start setting our goals in the form of new year’s resolutions. In my last post, I discussed how most people have given up on their new year’s resolutions by late February. The reason for this is that most people do not know how to set the right goals. I talked about the secret to achieving your goals which should take into account your greatest need and your highest values and vision. Please review my prior blog post now if you have not already done so.
Now I’d like to discuss how to actually go about achieving the goals you set for yourself. The problem with trying to achieve your goals is that it can become overwhelming. When you first set a goal, there seems to be so much that you have to do including planning, preparing, investing and carving out the time to take the action steps you need to work towards your goals.
This can become overwhelming, even when you set appropriate goals based on your values and vision. This is because you are sure to have competing interests from your family, work and unforeseen circumstances which will derail your attempts to work towards your goals. There is a way, however, to increase the chances that you will achieve the goals that you set for yourself.
The traditional way to set goals and a plan to achieve them has been to divide that goal into incremental action steps based on timelines. For example, for any goal that you want to achieve, you will usually plan out what you need to do in the next 2 weeks, the next month, the next 3 months, the next 6 months and the next year. I encourage anyone who is trying to achieve anything of value to them to do this. However, in order to increase the chances of success, I like to break it down further.
The practical way to achieve any goal that you set for yourself is to determine what is the next smallest step you can take to work towards your goal. What can you do in the coming week, the next day, the next hour and the next 5 minutes. You see, it does not matter how big or ambitious your goal is, it all begins with the next smallest step. Let’s look at some examples.
Let’s say that you are trying to lose weight. Most people who are overweight or obese are in this state due to a longstanding pattern of poor eating habits. Instead of making a complete diet overhaul which could prove to be overwhelming and difficult to follow through on, you should focus on the next smallest step you can take to achieve weight loss.
For example, you may have been eating gluten containing foods everyday which are usually processed wheat products with a lot of calories. You may now decide to not eat these foods for two days a week to start off with. Once you are able to sustain this change, you may increase the number of days that you avoid these foods to four days a week and then eventually not eat them at all. The key here is that you are taking the next smallest step to achieve your goal.
Trying to make too many changes at once such as giving up gluten, dairy and refined sugar will simply serve to overwhelm you and decrease the chances of your success. Now, I’m not saying that there are not people who have made sudden dramatic changes in their diet and have followed through on them with unswerving conviction. For the vast majority of people, however, such dramatic changes are not sustainable.
Let’s look at another example. Let’s assume that you have decided that you want to write a book. This can be a daunting and overwhelming challenge since it takes an enormous amount of time to complete an entire manuscript, even before its ready for editing. I know because I’ve been down this path.
Instead of focusing on the months and, potentially, years it will take you to write your book to completion why not focus on carving our the smallest amount of time that you can devote on a regular basis to your writing. This can be as little as 15 minutes of writing a couple days per week. By just focusing on this small next step, you are more likely to take action towards writing your book and increase the chances of seeing it to completion.
As you start this next small step of devoting 15 minutes on 2 or 3 different days per week, you will start to see some progress towards your goal. As you continue to make progress you will likely be able to increase the amount of time you spend writing every week. However this is not relevant in the beginning stages of starting to work on your book. The key is to start somewhere.
The problem with goal setting is that you all have an inner critic which is that voice inside your head which will try to derail you from making any positive change. It does this because it is the voice of your ego which is content living in your comfort zone. However, in order to achieve any goal, you usually have to step outside of your comfort zone because this involves taking actions that you may not be used to. This is more successfully done when it is done incrementally, meaning in small or tiny steps.
In summary, a practical way to achieve your goals, besides planning your long-term action steps is to ask yourself what is the next smallest step you can take right now in this very moment to work towards achieving your goal. This will increase your likelihood of success, especially if your goals are set in line with your highest values and vision for your life.
Nauman Naeem MD