The power of small goals

When you’re designing your life, or thinking about what you want to change, do you feel overwhelmed?

Do you feel lost, don’t know what to do first?

Don’t know what to prioritize?

Sometimes there are obvious answers, and sometimes, only the questions are obvious. Or the “don’ts.”

As in, you can say what you don’t like, don’t want, don’t know, but you can’t say what you do want. What you do know. What you do want.

I’m like that a lot. I wish I understood why it’s easier to express the negatives than the positives.

Is it just me? Or does that ring a bell with you too?

Sometimes I play a game with myself. When all I can think about is what I don’t like, I ask: if I could have anything I want, live where I want, do what I want, with no barriers, nothing to stop me or get in my way, what would life look like?

You know, sometimes there are just too many options…too many choices, and I end up feeling paralyzed. I can’t choose, and I feel stuck. Stuck in a rut I want to change, but uncertain what to change first, and in what direction.

If this sounds all too familiar, let me share another thing I’ve tried. This really works, and has helped me break the stuck / paralysis cycle I fall into.

When thinking large overwhelms me, seems too unsettling or unrealistic, I think small.

That’s right. If a big decision, a big goal, is too much to bite off, maybe I can take a small step?

Just a small, first step toward next.

What does that look like? I think of small tasks that will move me in the direction I think I want to go.

That could mean:

  • make a phone call
  • research online
  • talk to someone I know who’s done what I want to do
  • write out every step I can see that will lead me to a larger goal…just get the baby steps on paper
  • look at finances…will the big possibility I’m considering mean a financial leap?
  • look at possible time lines…will a larger goal fit with commitments I have that can’t be changed?
  • make a list of what I can do today, this week, this month…schedule each item so I actually do it
  • make a list of pros and cons…does my big idea fit with my values, my relationships, the things I can’t change?
  • make a list of what I will have to change to meet my big goal…what am I able and willing to do?

By dividing big goals into small bites, I know where to begin, and I carve out whatever is doable today.

Then I have my plan for tomorrow, and next week.

Soon, I have some momentum, and I can also get a sense of how I feel about my big goal…am I feeling energized and excited to take the first baby steps? Or am I finding new obstacles, feeling uncertain?

Small goals are easy to manage, and you don’t have to invest a lot of time or energy or money to make headway. You can begin to assess…are you on a path you want to pursue? Or is this something that isn’t working like you expected, even at an early stage of the game?

Setting small goals is a great way to break the cycle of stuck, to test the waters, and feel the empowerment of action.

If you can’t dream big, start small.

Feel your way, check off one task a day, or a week…you’ll see, it will pay off. And if you’re headed in the right direction for you, soon, your small goals will take shape, begin to take you in the direction you really want, but weren’t brave enough or sure enough to pursue all at once.

That’s ok…this is your life, and sometimes small, incremental steps are better than big, bold, brave choices that may land you in trouble.

There are a lot of wise sayings about taking the leap, burning bridges, taking action and not looking back. There’s a place for that mindset.

But there’s also a time for the wisdom of small goals, small actions, that leave you room to navigate, to dip a toe in, to test the waters before you go all in.

I challenge you to be small, before you try to take on big. Be thoughtful, and careful, if you aren’t ready to be bold.

There’s wisdom and honor in both approaches. Chose what’s right for you!

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