How to Achieve Big Goals with Small Steps
Do you run away from goals because they seem too hard, will take too long, or you just aren’t sure you can do it? Or there are things you want to do with your life but can’t seem to get going on them? Our life, in the deepest sense, depends on being able to set and achieve goals. Here’s how to achieve big goals with small steps.
So many times, women think that they can’t do something because it seems too big, too out of their experience, or simply because they’ve never seen anyone else do it. How many times have you started something with enthusiasm and energy, only to quit or give up well before you’ve achieved anything but a yet what feels like another failure?
If you’ve had trouble achieving goals you’ve set and are continually frustrated with your ability to keep going until it’s done, it might be helpful to try doing it in smaller steps. In a culture where BIG ACTION gets all the attention this might seem counter intuitive or even boring!
Yet, reaching goals you’ve set is NEVER boring. It feels great.
I work in a college setting, where goals can take YEARS to achieve. Yet, year after year, I see people achieving them. Small, consistent action towards something you want to achieve can bring the big results you want.
Here’s something to remember: the action towards the goal is just as important as the goal itself. In fact, it’s usually the most important part.
Think about a college degree. The piece of paper it is printed on doesn’t really do anything. What is valuable is what the person did to get it. It’s what they learned, experienced, and did while earning it that is valuable.
Being a certain weight isn’t valuable in itself, it’s the healthy habits you have learned and made a part of your life that matters. Your heart doesn’t care if you weight 120 pounds or 160 pounds. It does care that you exercise and eat real food.
Yet, the goal is important in that it gives you a place to aim and there is a certain satisfaction that is essential to feeling good that reaching a goal gives you that you can’t get in any other way. Reaching goals releases dopamine and that feels good!
Goals don’t even have to be huge to get that dopamine release. So, even small goals reached daily can make you feel good. Setting and reaching small goals rewards your brain every day with good feelings.
Why Setting and Achieving Goals Feels Good
Your brain likes things that make it feel good and setting goals and reaching them is a healthy way to feel better. Using small rewards every day just doesn’t make you feel good—it is a great way to reach even bigger goals.
Your body is wired to find things that feel good. A lot of times we take the easy way out: browsing online, watching TV, or whatever your go-to is. While none of these things are necessarily bad—the key to remember is that they don’t move you towards anything worthwhile.
So, this post is going to help you not only get your feel-good on every day; it’s going to help you achieve those BIG goals you’ve got!
Reach Goals by Ignoring Motivation
I’m going to start with motivation because I want you to just take it out of the game completely. Forget about waiting to be motivated. Too many things affect motivation: sleep, an argument you’ve had with someone, moods, feelings, you name it.
Attaining your goals cannot be left up to something so fickle as motivation.
Depending on motivation can only get you so far. Most of us know the feeling of starting something with tons of motivation to find ourselves stuck when we don’t feel motivated to work on a project.
The trick is to never depend on motivation. Schedule time each day to work on something important. I use a combination of setting aside time AND using a timer. I commit to working on something each day for a certain amount of time, whether I feel like it or not.
This works for exercise too. When I absolutely don’t feel motivated, I allow myself to commit to only 15 minutes of working out. Usually, that 15 minutes gets me warmed up and I do more. But if 15 is all I can do—that’s what I do.
Previously, I wrote about a time in my life that I accomplished a big goal, at a time when I felt my absolute worst by working on it 15-minutes a day. It felt like swimming through mud. No matter how bad I felt, I did something towards my goal each and every day.
Eventually, I got the whole thing done. More importantly, I learned that I didn’t need to feel good or motivated to succeed. That was a game changer!
Motivation can be a great place to start but don’t worry when it starts to wane as it usually does. Keep to your plan and do your actions anyway.
Keep Moving Towards the Goal
Even when the goal seems far away or too hard—just keep moving towards it. Have a “Don’t give up on it until it’s done.” mindset. One of the most important things I’ve learned about reaching goals is to have a “never quit” mindset about them.
Think of it this way. Even if it’s taking a while, it’s still happening. If you are resolved to not give up, you are going to get there. That in itself will assure you, that you are going to triumph. You aren’t accepting anything else.
As you continue to stay in motion towards your goal, you will begin to gain momentum and see evidence towards its completion. Just don’t quit until its done. Eventually, you will just want to get it done and do it.
Change Your Mindset
Our mindset is one of our most valuable assets in reaching goals. We have to believe that it is possible. One of the best things I’ve learned over the past two years is the power of our mindset. Even if a goal seems almost impossible, the belief that it can be achieved does a lot towards achieving it.
One of my favorite books of 2018, is Mindset by Carol Dweck.
This is must-reading for anyone but if you are raising children, definitely check it out.
How we think about things—influences our ability to achieve things. As a college counselor, I’ve seen hundreds of students say they can’t do math. And for a while they can’t. Yet, for anyone graduating from college in Texas; you have to pass college math!
Eventually, every student that graduates has to decide that they can pass math. It’s a decision folks. Once a student decides, really decides to pass their math class, their behavior changes. They begin to do their daily homework. They go to the math help center. They sit their butts in class every day. They may not like the entire experience but every day they commit to getting that darn math class out of the way.
And that change in their mindset, allows them to do something they once thought was impossible. I’ve seen it over and over.
You can change your mindset about almost anything. Struggling and feeling somethings are difficult is NORMAL. Too often though, we see this as a sign that we can’t EVER do something. It’s absolutely not true in most cases.
The fact that something is difficult, uncomfortable, and challenging is NOT a sign that we can’t do it. This is simply a normal part of the process of doing something new.
A mindset that knows and accepts this normal part of the process will allow you to approach goals with confidence. Not confidence that you are going to feel great at first, but with the confidence that if you apply yourself, you are going to learn what you need to, get the help when you need it, and be able to show up and do the work each day.
Break Down Goals into Smaller Action Items
Each day, part of my to-do list includes smaller chunks of bigger goals as well as small stand-alone goals. For example, in writing a blog post, one day will include, “Write the first draft.” The next day will have “Complete the blog post.”
I use this to complete almost all projects. If I’m preparing for a move, I’ll write down specific things I want to make progress on each day. Or if I’m spring cleaning, I’ll list out how I’m going to do it.
Here in the US it’s Tax Time. So, one day’s item will simply be gathering up my documents. The next day, might be getting logged into to everything. And so on, until it’s done.
My daily list might have several concurrent goals being worked on at the same time.
Most big projects can be broken down into smaller action items. I keep a notebook and each day, I simply write down the things I want to do in sizes that I think I can do them in. If I really don’t want to do something, I break it down into the easiest action item possible!
Sometimes they are ridiculously small steps. But I’m a huge believer that getting started and getting some traction going are way more important than the size of the step. At times, for some things, baby steps are all I can manage.
Don’t Let the Idea of Time Derail you from Reaching a Goal
Sometimes we don’t even start on a goal because we believe it will take too much time. Or we feel discouraged before we even start because of the time we think will be involved. Or worse, we think we’re too old before we can achieve it.
Don’t let the idea of time keep you from any goal!
Here’s the thing. Time is moving along anyway. You might as well be moving with it.
Back to my college example. College degrees take time. It can feel really discouraging to look ahead and see something will take several years to complete. It’s easy to give up before you even get started.
Yet, four years will pass, eight years will pass and if you’ve given up before you started, you still won’t have a degree. My mom took eight years to get her college degree in her 30’s, while raising four children. That seems like a long time. Yet, with her degree, she was able to have a meaningful teaching career throughout her life. In fact, at 86, she still enjoys tutoring after school.
As a blogger, I see many people not start because the reality is that it takes a while to build a blog and all the social media that is part of the process. Everyone wants to do it overnight!
It doesn’t happen overnight.
Most things worth having don’t come easily or too quickly. That’s really for the best.
Can you imagine if we could have everything we want, instantly? Think about it.
Time is your friend and the time it takes to do something, is just as important as the it you want to accomplish.
Don’t let the time something takes, keep you from getting started. In truth, as we put more time into something, we gain momentum and traction. Not only that, but the journey can become as enjoyable as the thing at the end we are trying to reach.
How to Achieve Big Goals with Small Steps
You can achieve big goals by harnessing the power of small steps, mindset, and commitment. Believe it or not, accomplishing goals feels great, not because it’s easy but because it requires so much effort, brain activity, and even the time you put in to do something.
Undertaking a goal and actually seeing it through is good for you—it IS life giving. If you feel like you are just living and going through the motions, setting and reaching goals will pump some new life into you.
If you lack belief in your ability to do certain things, be sure and check out the book Mindset. It will help you reframe your thoughts and what is really going on when something feels difficult. Developing a different mindset can really help get you on your way!
For further help in reaching your goals…
You can read my story of getting Unstuck here.
Learn the easy way to Beat Procrastination.
Find what’s keeping you still stuck.
Here’s to living well my friends!
Hi, I'm Sara and I'm so happy you're here! My Think Big Life began shortly after I turned 50. Big changes can happen with a small start, an adjustment of thought, or a simple process. Over time, you transform your life into the one you always dreamed of having. As a coach, I can help you create a life you love. Click here to schedule a free 30-minute coaching session.