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10 Reasons to Focus on Steps, Not Goals

10 Reasons to Focus on Steps, Not Goals

When you want to improve an aspect of your life, it’s important to set goals. This is how you know where you want to end up. However, once you’ve set a goal for yourself, you should focus on the small steps you’ll be taking in order to reach this goal. You should always keep your final destination in sight, but know that it’s the small steps that will guide you there. Here’s what you can expect by keeping the small steps in mind.

1. You won’t feel intimidated

Maybe your goal is to become a master guitarist, but you don’t even know how to play a chord. It can be incredibly intimidating to watch a Grateful Dead concert as Jerry Garcia moves up and down the fret board for hours without breaking a sweat. You’ll most likely get the feeling that you’ll “never be able to do that,” and run the risk of quitting before you even get started. By taking small steps toward your goal, you’ll feel less intimidated when you see others who are above your level.

2. You’ll see progress constantly

If you’re constantly looking at your endgame as your only goal, you won’t think you’re getting anywhere when you make a small improvement in your skills. When you focus on the small steps, you’ll see progress almost instantaneously. Yesterday, you might have set out to memorize the order of the guitar strings. It can be highly motivating to see this goal accomplished. It might not seem like a huge accomplishment, but you’ll know you’re one step closer to achieving your overall goal.

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3. You’ll appreciate the process

When you focus on the small steps, you’ll realize that even the experts have been in your shoes at one point in their lives. It’s hard to imagine a time in which Garcia didn’t know the difference between an E and an A string, but he had to have started somewhere, right? The small steps might be boring at times — do you think Michael Jordan really loved taking foul shots all day? — , but going through them is an absolute necessity if you want to reach your goal.

4. You’ll learn the basics

It might be tempting to skip steps at times in order to reach your goal faster. However, this will only lead to confusion and frustration in the long run. Imagine a child trying to learn multiplication before he or she learns how to add. So much instruction would be lost in this method that the child wouldn’t possibly be able to succeed.

The old saying is true: “You have to learn to crawl before you can walk.” Take baby steps to ensure you can handle the small stuff before moving on to the big time.

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5. You’ll learn more

While you’re learning the basics, you should slow down and try different methods to accomplish your short-term goals. There’s always more than one way to get something done. Going about a task in a variety of ways will lead you to the most efficient way for you to complete the task at hand. You might learn something about the whole process that you would have missed had you rushed through the small steps.

6. You’ll understand the fundamentals

It’s not enough just to complete the small tasks — you have to understand why you completed them. Tuning a guitar might seem pretty straight-forward, as you can just memorize each string’s open note and tune it. However, it’s important to take the time to understand the relationship between the strings, and how each is utilized when forming chords and scales. Go beyond rote memorization and truly comprehend each step as you progress toward your goal.

7. You’ll anticipate success

If you schedule the small goals to be accomplished, you’ll know on Wednesday what you’ll be able to do on Friday. This not only gives you an idea about how you’re moving forward, but it also motivates you to keep up the hard work. If you schedule out your week of practice and growth, skipping a day will set everything back. When you’ve put it all in writing, you’ll be even more motivated not to let yourself down.

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8. You’ll adapt your goals

Then again, some days you might not do as well as you’d hoped you would. That’s certainly alright. By setting mini-goals along the way, you’ll be able to modify them depending on your progress the previous day. While you would most likely feel disappointed in yourself for skipping a day of work, there’s no shame in getting stuck on a previous step as long as you’re making strides to overcome it.

9. You’ll celebrate small victories

When you set smaller goals, you’ll be able to celebrate more. Like I said, making a schedule and anticipating success will allow you set your sights on a short-term goal, possibly a week-long one. Once you reach that smaller goal, you’ll definitely feel much more accomplished than you would if you’d reached that point without considering it a “goal.” Every small accomplishment is reason to celebrate, so don’t downplay your improvements.

10. You’ll keep pushing yourself

If you set one major goal for yourself at the beginning of your journey, you run the risk of becoming complacent once you reach that goal. For example, if your goal was to run a six-minute mile, and it took you months to get to that point, you might just breathe a sigh of relief and consider yourself a success. While that would undoubtedly be a great accomplishment, there’s still room for improvement. If you had spent months improving your time and acknowledging each incremental improvement, you’re more apt to celebrate your milestone and then get back up the next day and work to shatter your own record.

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Featured photo credit: Flickrr via farm3.staticflickr.com

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Last Updated on March 21, 2019

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

Most gurus talk about habits in a way that doesn’t help you:

You need to push yourself more. You can’t be lazy. You need to wake up at 5 am. You need more motivation. You can never fail…blah blah “insert more gibberish here.”

But let me share with you the unconventional truths I found out:

To build and change habits, you don’t need motivation or wake up at 5 am. Heck, you can fail multiple times, be lazy, have no motivation and still pull it off with ease.

It’s quite simple and easy to do, especially with the following list I’m going to show to you. But remember, Jim Rohn used to say,

“What is simple and easy to do is also simple and easy not to do.”

The important things to remember when changing your habits are both simple and easy, just don’t think that they don’t make any difference because they do.

In fact, they are the only things that make a difference.

Let’s see what those small things are, shall we?

1. Start Small

The biggest mistake I see people doing with habits is by going big. You don’t go big…ever. You start small with your habits.

Want to grow a book reading habit? Don’t start reading a book a day. Start with 10 pages a day.

Want to become a writer? Don’t start writing 10,000 words a day. Start with 300 words.

Want to lose weight? Don’t stop eating ice cream. Eat one less ball of it.

Whatever it is, you need to start small. Starting big always leads to failure. It has to, because it’s not sustainable.

Start small. How small? The amount needs to be in your comfort zone. So if you think that reading 20 pages of a book is a bit too much, start with 10 or 5.

It needs to appear easy and be easy to do.

Do less today to do more in a year.

2. Stay Small

There is a notion of Kaizen which means continuous improvement. They use this notion in habits where they tell you to start with reading 1 page of a book a day and then gradually increase the amount you do over time.

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But the problem with this approach is the end line — where the “improvement” stops.

If I go from reading 1 page of a book a day and gradually reach 75 and 100, when do I stop? When I reach 1 book a day? That is just absurd.

When you start a habit, stay at it in the intensity you have decided. Don’t push yourself for more.

I started reading 20 pages of a book a day. It’s been more than 2 years now and I’ve read 101 books in that period. There is no way I will increase the number in the future.

Why?

Because reading 40 to 50 books a year is enough.

The same thing applies to every other habit out there.

Pick a (small) number and stay at it.

3. Bad Days Are 100 Percent Occurrence

No matter how great you are, you will have bad days where you won’t do your habit. Period.

There is no way of going around this. So it’s better to prepare yourself for when that happens instead of thinking that it won’t ever happen.

What I do when I miss a day of my habit(s) is that I try to bounce back the next day while trying to do habits for both of those days.

Example for that is if I read 20 pages of a book a day and I miss a day, the next day I will have to read 40 pages of a book. If I miss writing 500 words, the next day I need to write 1000.

This is a really important point we will discuss later on rewards and punishments.

This is how I prepare for the bad days when I skip my habit(s) and it’s a model you should take as well.

4. Those Who Track It, Hack It

When you track an activity, you can objectively tell what you did in the past days, weeks, months, and years. If you don’t track, you will for sure forget everything you did.

There are many different ways you can track your activities today, from Habitica to a simple Excel sheet that I use, to even a Whatsapp Tracker.

Peter Drucker said,

“What you track is what you do.”

So track it to do it — it really helps.

But tracking is accompanied by one more easy activity — measuring.

5. Measure Once, Do Twice

Peter Drucker also said,

“What you measure is what you improve.”

So alongside my tracker, I have numbers with which I measure doses of daily activities:

For reading, it’s 20 pages.
For writing, it’s 500 words.
For the gym, it’s 1 (I went) or 0 (didn’t go).
For budgeting, it’s writing down the incomes and expenses.

Tracking and measuring go hand in hand, they take less than 20 seconds a day but they create so much momentum that it’s unbelievable.

6. All Days Make a Difference

Will one day in the gym make you fit? It won’t.

Will two? They won’t.

Will three? They won’t.

Which means that a single gym session won’t make you fit. But after 100 gym sessions, you will look and feel fit.

What happened? Which one made you fit?

The answer to this (Sorites paradox)[1] is that no single gym session made you fit, they all did.

No single day makes a difference, but when combined, they all do. So trust the process and keep on going (small).

7. They Are Never Fully Automated

Gurus tell you that habits become automatic. And yes, some of them do, like showering a certain way of brushing your teeth.

But some habits don’t become automatic, they become a lifestyle.

What I mean by that is that you won’t automatically “wake up” in the gym and wonder how you got there.

It will just become a part of your lifestyle.

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The difference is that you do the first one automatically, without conscious thought, while the other is a part of how you live your life.

It’s not automatic, but it’s a decision you don’t ponder on or think about — you simply do it.

It will become easy at a certain point, but they will never become fully automated.

8. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

Marshall Goldsmith has a great book with the same title to it. The phrase means that sometimes, you will need to ditch certain habits to make room for other ones which will bring you to the next step.

Don’t be afraid to evolve your habits when you sense that they don’t bring you where you want to go.

When I started reading, it was about reading business and tactic books. But two years into it, I switched to philosophy books which don’t teach me anything “applicable,” but instead teach me how to think.

The most important ability of the 21st century is the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn. The strongest tree is the willow tree – not because it has the strongest root or biggest trunk, but because it is flexible enough to endure and sustain anything.

Be like a willow, adapting to the new ways of doing things.

9. Set a Goal and Then Forget It

The most successful of us know what they want to achieve, but they don’t focus on it.

Sounds paradoxical? You’re right, it does. But here is the logic behind it.

You need to have a goal of doing something – “I want to become a healthy individual” – and then, you need to reverse engineer how to get there with your habits- “I will go to the gym four times a week.”

But once you have your goal, you need to “forget” about it and only focus on the process. Because you are working on the process of becoming healthy and it’s always in the making. You will only be as healthy as you take care of your body.

So you have a goal which isn’t static but keeps on moving.

If you went to the gym 150 times year and you hit your goal, what would you do then? You would stop going to the gym.

This is why goal-oriented people experience yo-yo effect[2] and why process-oriented people don’t.

The difference between process-oriented and goal-oriented people is that the first focus on daily actions while others only focus on the reward at the finish line.

Set a goal but then forget about it and reap massive awards.

10. Punish Yourself

Last two sections are pure Pavlovian – you need to punish bad behavior and reward good behavior. You are the only person who decides what is good and what is bad for you, but when you do, you need to rigorously follow that.

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I’ve told you in point #3 about bad days and how after one occurs, I do double the work on the next day. That is one of my forms of punishments.

It’s the need to tell your brain that certain behaviors are unacceptable and that they lead to bad outcomes. That’s what punishments are for.

You want to tell your brain that there are real consequences to missing your daily habits.[3]

No favorite food to eat or favorite show to watch or going to the cinema for a new Marvel movie- none, zero, zilch.

The brain will remember these bad feelings and will try to avoid the behaviors that led to them as much as possible.

But don’t forget the other side of the same coin.

11. Reward Yourself

When you follow and execute on your plan, reward yourself. It’s how the brain knows that you did something good.

Whenever I finish one of my habits for the day, I open my tracker (who am I kidding, I always keep it open on my desktop) and fill it with a number. As soon as I finish reading 20 pages of a book a day (or a bit more), I open the tracker and write the number down.

The cell becomes green and gives me an instant boost of endorphin – a great success for the day. Then, it becomes all about not breaking the chain and having as many green fields as possible.

After 100 days, I crunch some numbers and see how I did.

If I have less than 10 cheat days, I reward myself with a great meal in a restaurant. You can create your own rewards and they can be daily, weekly, monthly or any arbitrary time table that you create.

Primoz Bozic, a productivity coach, has gold, silver, and bronze medals as his reward system.[4]

If you’re having problems creating a system which works for you, contact me via email and we can discuss specifics.

In the End, It Matters

What you do matters not only to you but to the people around you.

When you increase the quality of your life, you indirectly increase the quality of life of people around you. And sometimes, that is all the “motivation” we need to start.

And that’s the best quote for the end of this article:

“Motivation gets you started, but habits keep you going.”

Keep going.

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More Resources to Help You Build Habits

Featured photo credit: Anete Lūsiņa via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Sorites paradox
[2] Muscle Zone: What causes yo-yo effect and how to avoid it?
[3] Growth Habits: 5 Missteps That Cause You To Quit Building A Habit
[4] Primoz Bozic: The Lean Review: How to Plan Your 2019 in 20 Minutes

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