Life’s best formula is to dream big, set achievable (medium) goals, and then break the goals down into small steps. Here’s why…
Big Dreams Give You Room To Expand
Your dreams are your guiding star. But if your guiding star is right in front of your feet, you won’t know what to do next. Make sure your guiding star way out in front of you.
What is the best life you can imagine?
My current life is far from my dream life, but I’m still having a good time. Counterbalance your dream pursuit with contentment to make progress. Most of your life will be the journey toward your dreams, so it’s important that you learn to enjoy it.
My career dream: I want to inject interactivity into entertainment (competing against movie theaters for “nights out”). My ideas are outside the scope of this post, but I dream of being in the position to make them reality and capture the imagination of people to a further extent than what Disney has done.
I’m crazy and can dream on, right? Don’t worry, I will, and here are three reasons why you should never let your dreams shrink either:
1. Small dreams don’t excite, inspire, or motivate you; they require less time and effort, which decreases your sense of urgency.
2. Average dreams are the most competitive. Look at the explosion of people with college educations – even PhD’s are numerous now. The dream to have a “regular, stable job” ironically gets tougher every day. But how many people are aiming to do something for entertainment on the level of what Disney has done? I’d guess there are nine of us. Odds say we’ll fail, but if we accomplish 2% of our massive dream, it will be great. When it comes to dreams, the point is to get as close as you can rather than worry about what’s possible or not (that’s for goals).
3. Small or average dreams result in a small or average life. Dreams are the ceiling of life – why not give yourself some room to grow? Why not give yourself a LOT of room to grow? Parkinson’s Law states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” Perhaps in this same way our lives expand to fill the size of the dreams we have? I believe this is true to some extent.
Dreams can supercharge our hope and imagination, even when appearing improbable. When I was a tiny tot, I often jumped off the roof couch in my superman cape. Deep down, I knew it wasn’t possible to fly, but I still got excited to try. That’s how dreams are too, though usually, they are possible!
I have flown in my dreams before, but that’s not what I mean. 🙂
Goals and dreams are often used interchangeably, but goals are the path you take to reach your dreams, and they should be handled differently. If you say “this year will be different” every January 1st, this next section is for you. By the way only 8% of resolutions are kept, and I’m surprised it’s that high.
Medium-Sized, Achievable Goals – The Perfect Balance Of Challenge And Possibility
Goal failures and successes tend to be repeated, because people who fail don’t know or use the right strategies and people who succeed know how to do it. I hear the phrase “go big or go home,” and it’s so vague that I’d agree with it in some cases and scream against it in others. As it pertains to goals, I disagree with it, because going with big goals is one of the typical causes for going home.
The Goal Failure Cycle
1. You set a goal, fail, and it hurts.
2. You set another goal, fail, and it hurts again.
3. You set yet another goal, fail, and it hurts even more.
4. Your brain picks up the pattern, and you stop setting goals (or worse, set them and expect to fail).
This cycle abuses your motivation and drops your confidence. This is why we need to be careful with our goals. We still don’t want to pick tiny goals, because those carry the same problems as small dreams do – they don’t excite us and they make us stagnant. But we don’t want to pick massive goals either, because those greatly increase our likelihood of failing and starting this negative cycle. Failure is a fine teacher, but it should never be the target – aim for success and accept failure as a possibility.
The sweet spot, then, is an “average goal.” This is a relative term to you, not what “seems average” – writing 1000 words a day is cake for some and nearly impossible for others. Average goals extend just beyond what you’ve been able to do in the past. If your self-discipline is poor, don’t try an Ironman yet. Instead, set a goal to run one mile in X minutes, or to run X miles per week by a certain date, or whatever is a decent challenge for you.
If it is doable and slightly uncomfortable, it’s probably a good goal.
This is just like the concept of lifting slightly heavier weights than usual to build muscle. In fact, self-discipline operates VERY similarly to a muscle to the point that people call it the self-discipline muscle. It gets fatigued after use, it is strengthened over time with frequent use, and it atrophies without use.
And like weight-lifting, trying to do too much can and will injure your confidence. This kind of failure is worse than other failures because it trains you not to set goals and push yourself.
You won’t always know how difficult a goal you can handle, so test for it. It’s better to start on the small side and work your way up. Do this until you find the goal that challenges you, but doesn’t overpower you.
To give you an idea of why this is ideal, just imagine setting 100 goals and succeeding at every single one of them. How would that make you feel? I guarantee you it’d feel exponentially better than failing one huge New Year’s Resolution every year.
Set challenging, doable goals and your confidence and satisfaction will rise as you succeed time and time again. But without the next part, you won’t get anywhere. Here’s how to achieve the goals that bring you closer to your dreams.
Micro-Steps Make You Nearly Unstoppable
Dreams are the vision, goals are the path, and steps are the method. People seem to struggle the most with this one – actually doing something!
Small tasks (or steps) are the method for making things happen. I think many people get confused about how it all works together. They focus on their dream, and even set goals, but they can’t figure out why they don’t get anywhere. They focus on where they want to be instead of where they’re stepping right now, or as Jack Dixon tells it:
“If you focus on results, you will never change. If you focus on change, you will get results.”
It’s tempting to attempt big or even average tasks because of the time fallacy that says you’re wasting time by doing small tasks. “Why just do one push-up? I need to do 50!” The truth is that small steps stack! But every time you try to leap further than your legs can take you, you waste more time, damage your confidence, and set yourself back. Tiny steps work.
Secret: No task is ever too small.
Don’t just make your tasks small, make them “stupid small,” meaning it would sound stupid if you told another person. “Yeah Bill,” you’ll say to your neighbor, “I’m working on getting rid of one pair of socks over here.”
To see how small tasks relate to goals, let’s take a 7 AM daily wakeup goal for example. Waking up early is an excellent goal and habit to breed more success. The small steps come into play by asking yourself, “how can I ease into this and practically guarantee my success?”
Which one of these do you think is easier to do?
1. Get up at 7 AM
1. Opening your eyes when the alarm clock goes off at 6:56 AM
2. Stretching for 2 minutes
3. Saying Jack Dixon’s quote three times during or after stretching
4. Placing both feet on the floor
5. Standing up
6. Turning the alarm clock off at 7:00 AM
I hope you said the second 6-step process, because it is much easier in practice. You have six clear steps to help you get up, versus the mental wrestling match of “get up at 7:00 AM” which contains several small, hidden steps.
The first option is “just one step” just like the Grand Canyon is “just one canyon.” Come on man, it’s just one chasm, go ahead and jump across. Your response to this is how your brain responds to you when you tell it to lose 20 pounds this month. Give your brain something it understands and can’t refuse, like “1. Open the fridge. 2. Grab a handful of raw spinach. 3. Stuff it into mouth. 4. Chew.”
When you get used to breaking down tasks into micro-steps, you will be nearly unstoppable. Each step will be so small that you won’t say no to it, and you’ll move forward consistently, which is how you’ll accomplish your goals, and chip away at that dream of yours.
“Stupid small” tasks are easy, and they bring progress, which is the unsung hero of every story. If you make consistent progress like this, results will come, and you’ll wonder what you were doing before.
How many people end up very satisfied with their progress at year’s end? Only 8% of New Year’s Resolutioners, and it’s because they set massive or vague goals with unclear steps that easily overwhelm them.
Life’s Unstoppable Formula Recap
1. Big dreams set your ceiling high and give you a direction to head in.
2. Medium, achievable goals form your path, and their average size combines the tension of challenge with the allure of probable success.
3. “Stupid small” tasks compel you to consistently make progress towards your goals.
Unstoppable: Your progress from tasks will become completed goals and accomplished mini-dreams as you continue to roll down dream road like a juggernaut snowball.
|Written on 8/2/2013 by Stephen Guise. Stephen Guise is CFO (Chief Focusing Officer) at the award-winning Deep Existence blog. The primary mission of Deep Existence is to help people stay focused in a distracted world. If you subscribe, you’ll get TWO gifts – his well-liked stress-beating eBook and an exclusive set of 1080p desktop wallpaper (with focus quotes + pictures). Plus you’ll get a personally written newsletter every Tuesday. To find out more about the bonuses or to get updates, Click here and sign up Also stop by Stephen’s ‘featured writer page‘ right here on Dumb Little Man to find links to more of his articles.|
Photo Credit: Marie Leslie