Last Updated on January 25, 2021

How To Start Small And Make Your Goals Happen

How To Start Small And Make Your Goals Happen

Big goals and big dreams all start with one small step. A step in the right direction doesn’t have to be big. It doesn’t have to be powerful. It doesn’t have to be impressive. It just has to be a step.

“Whoever wants to reach a distant goal must take small steps.” —Saul Bellow, Pulitzer Prize-winning Author

In reality, the smaller the step, the bigger the chance of success. How is that possible?

If you try to get yourself to do something really tough or time-consuming, what are the chances it will actually get done?

The truth is, if it’s not life or death, you’ll most likely never get to it. It will always get pushed aside for something smaller or an emergency that pops up. There’s always tomorrow.

But what if you give yourself a small step to accomplish today—a tiny task, a 1-minute goal, or even a single breath? Could you get yourself to do just that one little thing?

The answer is yes. If you can do it right now, instantly, and with minimal effort, then it will get done. It will be one step in the right direction, and that can change everything.

What’s Big About Small Steps?

A small step is what the Japanese call “Kaizen”(改善). This is the Sino-Japanese word for “improvement”. It means “taking small steps.”

The Kaizen process was developed after WWII by American management theorists to help rebuild Japanese factories. They used the Kaizen approach to rebuild their economy and grow companies like Toyota and Honda from humble competitors into global automotive giants.

Kaizen: Small Continuous Improvement

    The Psychology Behind Why Small Steps Work

    When we create and start with small steps—whether it’s focusing on a specific goal, increasing our performance in our jobs, or improving the quality of our relationships—it gives us less friction to get the job done.

    This is super important for the brain because, in this way, we bypass the fear center where the amygdala exists. The amygdala is our fight, flight, or freeze center. When we become overwhelmed, stressed out, or distracted, the amygdala becomes activated and stops us in our tracks from taking action towards what we want.

    Do you ever feel like something is holding you back from moving towards your goals? That’s the amygdala being activated.


    When we have a new goal, we want to green-light the brain to go for it without hesitation. We want our brain to think and start small and operate from a principle of small steps so the fear center never gets activated and then, we can take immediate action.

    Weight loss is a perfect example of why starting with small steps works so much better than taking big steps immediately.

    Imagine a man who wants to lose 100 pounds. When he looks at the challenge in his mind’s eye, he sees the big goal, “I’ve got to lose 100 pounds,” and he’s paralyzed. It’s too big for his mind to imagine without extreme difficulty. The amygdala fires up, fear takes over, and he freezes. To his mind, it feels like he’s trying to lose all 100 pounds at once.

    If we first asked this same person to stand up and walk to the front door and back, he could do that. Ask him to imagine how he would feel 10 pounds lighter for 30 seconds. He can do that because his fear center doesn’t shut him down. He’s not being asked to do anything that his mind doesn’t think he can accomplish now.

    The next day, we start by asking him to walk down to his car and back, then to the mailbox a hundred yards from his car, then to the store a quarter-mile away. The momentum builds each day and before you know it, he’s walking a few miles per day.

    The key here is that each step seems reasonable and completely doable at the moment and so, the brain gives it a green light. Before you know it—and with minimal resistance from the mind—he could be walking seven miles a day and the 100 extra pounds are gone.

    I’ve seen clients lose much more than 100 pounds with nothing more than the idea of small steps. It’s all about creating new habits by starting with small steps and building momentum from each simple step.

    One Percent Better

    A great way to think about small steps is the “1% Better Principle.” Focus each day on just getting 1% better or 1% closer to your goal.

    Here are some things that you can do:


    1. Go one extra minute on the treadmill.
    2. Do one extra pushup.
    3. Walk up the stairs instead of taking the elevator.
    4. Make that one extra sales call.
    5. Ask one extra question at work.
    6. Do one extra email.
    7. Write one extra sentence.
    8. Meditate an extra 30 seconds.

    “The key to success is to be present by focusing more on the process and less on the goal.” —Steven Griffith

    3 Keys to Starting Small for Big Results

    Now that you know the benefits of starting small and how it can help you achieve success, here are 3 key things to get you started.

    1. Create Micro-Steps

    Get “micro” by breaking down your goal into the smallest possible steps. Not just small steps—micro-steps. To break your steps into the smallest units possible, try to make each step an action you can perform with minimal effort and resistance right now. This will allow the momentum to start moving you towards your goal immediately.

    You will know that it’s “micro” when you can say to yourself, “I can do way more than that” or “That’s way too easy.” The easier the better for the first steps. In fact, making the goal extremely easy may even invite your mind to want to do more.

    Once you’ve established momentum with micro-steps and add it to your schedule before or after an already established habit, you will have a much great chance of success.

    For example, while your daily coffee is brewing in the morning, take 30 seconds to perform your goal activity, like meditating, writing, pushups, etc. When starting any new goal, the real task is to create momentum.

    When I educate my clients on the power of meditation, I often suggest they start with only a minute a day. They look at me like I’m crazy. They say, “Only a minute? That’s too easy, I can do more than that!”

    This bypasses their fear center and gets them on to the task at hand. It also makes them feel like they are ready for more. They actually want to meditate longer. Now, their brain is telling them to do more of the activity, instead of being afraid of it.

    As in the previous weight-loss example, if you have 100lbs to lose, don’t think about the 100 pounds. Think about the first steps. Start with 5 minutes on the treadmill or a 5-minute walk. Then, add 1 minute each day. Have one extra glass of water that day. Drink half of a soda instead of the whole thing.

    Take baby steps and start small. Make each day an easy victory, and you’ll reward yourself emotionally. It’s a combination of doing something positive and doing less of something negative for your goal.

    If your goal is to learn to meditate, try the 30-second micro-step method:

    • Day 1: Meditate for 30 seconds
    • Day 2: Meditate for 1 minute
    • Day 3: Meditate for 1:30
    • Day 4: Meditate for 2 minutes

    While reading this example you may be thinking, “this is way too easy!” That’s exactly what you should be thinking.

    Remember, this is your minimum commitment. You can do this easily, so if your brain says, “I want to do more!” then let it do more. That’s positive momentum!


    That’s the key—just a little bit every day.

    2. Set Daily Intentions Using Timefulness

    What we know about setting intentions is that they work. NYU researchers Peter Gollwitzer and Brandstatter found that people who set intentions, even when vague, can increase their success rate by 20 percent.[1] And when intentions are set with specific details, those success rates can double or even triple! That is a powerful reason to set intentions each day.

    Goals and Intentions: How They Work Together

    A goal is your desired outcome that is future-oriented. Goals set the mark to know exactly where you want to be later. For many people, goals on their own can feel distant and even unreachable at any given moment. Just thinking about a distant goal can kick the fear center of your brain into gear.

    Intention, on the other hand, is a present-oriented mindset. Intentions allow you to focus your time on how you want to be at this moment. You can only ever move toward your goal in the present moment.

    Setting intentions for the day raises your positive emotional and physical energy, allowing you to accomplish more. Intentions bring you fully into the moment each day, which I described in my book The Time Cleanse—being present, aware, and intentional with your time. Intentions are the present key to achieving your distant goals.

    I once had a client that wanted to more than triple his sales in the upcoming quarter because he was really behind for the year. He was totally stressed out because his mind was full of fear and stress trying to figure out how to force all those sales to happen.

    I coached him on how to break down the goal into the smallest steps possible and start small. He ended up doing a full year’s worth of sales in that single quarter by compressing the sales cycle into the micro-steps and accomplishing each one.

    Here’s an example:

    • Goal: I will increase my sales by 100 percent this quarter.
    • Daily intention: In each of my 4 meetings today, I will be present at the moment and be responsive, handling objections with patience and moving the sales process forward.

    Setting specific intentions is a powerful way of directing your conscious energy, attention, and time toward your future goals with minimal resistance. The more specific you can be with your daily intentions—and more focused on getting 1% better—the more progress you will see.

    When you wake up tomorrow morning, set an intention of how you are going to be 1% better.

    3. Self-Compassion: How to Be Kind to Yourself in the Process


    means being there for yourself in the face of failure, adversity, and challenges.

    Many high performing athletes, business people, salespeople, and even artists are tough on themselves, especially in the face of failure. They push themselves to higher and higher levels of achievement, often using negative self-talk, beating themselves up, being overly judgmental, and believing that this is the only way to get ahead, stay competitive, and be successful. It’s not.


    Self-compassion increases your grit, the ability to recover from a setback or an upset faster, our willingness to take positive risks, and overall well-being. One of the biggest additional benefits of self-compassion is that you also gain more compassion for others, which leads to increased connection and growth in all of your most important relationships.

    First of all, self-compassion is exactly like being compassionate with another person. In fact, the best way to know if you’re being harsh with yourself or if you’re showing yourself compassion is to compare the words and phrases you are saying to yourself to the words you would say to a friend who hit hard times.

    Imagine for a moment that your friend has a problem or intense situation that they are dealing with. Then, ask these questions to yourself:

    • How would you be there for them?
    • What are you saying to them?
    • What’s your tone, body language, and disposition towards them in the face of adversity and challenges?

    Here’s an example I use with clients when they get stuck, go off course from their goals, or start to beat themselves up emotionally: If you’re not being compassionate to yourself, try the steps below to get yourself started.

    When I find myself struggling in my day or at work, I simply do the following:

    1. Take a deep breath and become aware of any negative feelings or thoughts I am having.
    2. Acknowledge that it’s not just me. “I am not alone. Many others are going through this same experience now.”
    3. Repeat kind words to myself, such as “may I be supported,” “may I be loved,” “may I be protected,” and “may I be at ease and productive.”

    Continue the process with patience until your mind stops flooding you with negativity towards the situation. You might even be able to start feeling good about it.

    A Note About Self-Compassion

    Self-compassion is not “giving yourself a trophy for coming in the last place.”  It’s about being there for yourself as a good friend or coach would be there in the face of challenges.

    Self-compassion taking care of yourself mentally and emotionally when the chips are down. It’s bringing your best self forward when you need it most, so you can get back in the game as soon as possible and onto the next small step towards your goal.

    Once we have brought compassion to ourselves and tended to our mental and emotional needs, we can then be in a positive and receptive space to reengage and learn from the adversity, integrate new lessons, adjust our strategies and tactics, and get back out there and compete with an even higher level of confidence, resilience, power, and tools to succeed.

    The key here is the “and.” This is what being a high performer is all about—being compassionate and getting back out there to kick some butt like the badass person that you are.

    Final Thoughts

    Let’s face it—failure is part of being a high performer. It means you’re pushing the boundaries of the status quo, taking risks, and doing things that others are too scared of or don’t have the skills to do. Starting with small steps will help you get to your goal with as little fear and as little failure as possible and help you get back up when failure happens.

    Try these tips for accomplishing your goals. Create your micro-steps, set your intentions for the day, and give yourself plenty of self-compassion so you can get up and do it again tomorrow until what you want is yours.

    More Tips on Starting Small to Achieve Your Goals

    Featured photo credit: Jukan Tateisi via



    [1] Prospective Psychology: Implementation Intentions

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    Steven Griffith

    Steven is an Executive Coach. He's been helping the world’s most successful people perfrom at their peack level.

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    Last Updated on July 25, 2021

    A Complete Guide to Goal Setting for Personal Success

    A Complete Guide to Goal Setting for Personal Success

    If there was a rule book of life, there would be one particular page that was highlighted, underlined, and titled as most important. It would be the one which told you that you need to master effective goal setting and have an aim in mind before you get on with the process. While there may not be an actual rule book of life, we do have this helpful goal setting guide to offer.

    Yes, goal setting is important. In fact, it’s more important than achieving the goal itself. This is because it is the sense of direction that is needed for you to fulfill any task in life.

    You don’t have to feel overwhelmed if this sounds new to you, as all the following information has you covered.

    Today, you’ll find out all about the importance of goal setting, types of goals, and tips to define realistic goals for yourself!

    What Are Goals?

    To kick off our goal setting guide, you need to first recognize what goals are and how they are different from objectives, dreams, and expectations.

    A goal is essentially your aim for the long-term future. It is the bigger umbrella, the main focus.

    Objectives, on the other hand, fall under the umbrella of goals. They are the stepping stones that help you achieve your goals[1].

    Objects vs goals for goal setting tips

      For example, you may decide you want to learn a new language. Your goal is to be fluent in the new language. Everything you do to achieve this goal, such as the daily tasks and monthly learning aims, are the objectives.

      Similarly, your expectations, visions, and dreams are not your goals. If you wish to learn a new language someday, that is your dream. If you see yourself fluently speaking multiple foreign languages, that is your vision. If you think you’re capable of learning a new language, that is your expectation.

      However, if you aim to fulfill these visions, dreams, and expectations practically, that is your goal.

      Why Is Goal Setting Important?

      Why should you bother with goal setting at all? Wouldn’t it be more convenient to just get on with your daily objectives, follow a dream or vision, and let life take you wherever?


      While that road can feel exciting and spontaneous, if you actually want to tick off things from your list of goals to achieve, learning how to set goals is necessary.

      Being committed to a goal puts your brain to work in one specific direction. Believe it or not, by having a defined goal, your brain does its magic unconsciously, 24/7, with full efficiency, to achieve the desired results[2].

      Goal setting is important to shift your focus, boost your motivation, and give you a sense of direction. Without formally defining a particular aim that you want to reach, you won’t be able to keep your objectives in line.

      Hence, this one tiny step can end up saving you a lot of hassle and time while also encouraging your productivity.

      Types of Goals

      Before we move onto the technique of setting effective goals, we need to first take a look at all types of goals in this goal setting tips.

      These categories will not just help you brainstorm new one for yourself, but it will also guide you to list them down in the right way.


      One of the two broad categories of goals is based on time. These goals define how far in the future you want to achieve them.


      There are certain smaller goals that you can easily achieve in a day or two. In fact, some of these daily goals can be recurring, too. For example, you may want to run for an hour every morning.

      Now, these daily goals can also serve as objectives for a long-term goal. You may be running every day because, in the long-term, you want to increase your stamina.

      Daily goals are highly effective for people who want to improve their mental wellbeing, time management skills, and stress management.


      Next in line are short-term goals. As you would have already guessed, goal setting in this area is aimed at the near future.

      The great thing about these is that they are generally easier to achieve. This is because short-term goals are set for the foreseeable future. You are aware of the circumstances and have a general idea of how much the situation can change.


      Just like daily goals, short-term goals may also serve as objectives for a long-term goal. Your short-term goal may be to lose 5 pounds in one month. That could be a goal in itself, or maybe it is just one objective to fulfill your goal to adopt a healthy lifestyle in the next two years.

      Another example of a short-term goal is to fulfill the checklist for promotion within the next 6 months. Or, you may want to reduce your screen time within the coming week.


      Lastly, we have long-term goals that are meant to be completed over a stretched period.

      Whatever you want to achieve in a later stage of life is a long-term goal. An insurance plan, for example, is a long-term goal.

      Some long-term goals don’t have any time frame at all. They are goals that you want to accomplish at some point in your life. So, something like traveling the whole world is a lifelong goal with no specific time constraint at all.

      There’s one thing about long-term goals that isn’t great.

      They are the hardest to keep up with since you’re not seeing any huge achievements regularly. This may take a toll on your motivation. To tackle this problem, it is best to divide a long-term goal into various, short-term and daily objectives so that you’re always tracking the progress you’re making.


      Moving forward, you can also start goal setting based on the results you want to achieve instead of the time period.


      Like most people, you will likely want to succeed and excel in your career. Anything that has to do with this intention, regardless of the time frame, is a career goal. These are usually measurable goals, such as receiving a promotion within two years, finding a job at a certain company within the next six months, etc.

      You can learn more about how to set successful career goals here.


      The past few years have all been about emphasizing your personal health. So, when it comes to goals, how can we forget the ones that have to do with our personal gains?

      From health to finances to relationships, everything that brings you happiness and composure as a person is a personal goal. It’s important that these are realistic and attainable goals for your life.


      Whether you want to get rid of your debt, quit smoking, start a side hustle, have children, or travel the world, all of these goals are personal and very important to have on your list.

      How to Set Goals

      The best way to guarantee the fulfillment of goals is to set them the right way.

      1. Use SMART Goals

      Every goal you define has to be SMART[3].

      SMART stands for:

      • Specific
      • Measurable
      • Attainable
      • Relevant
      • Time-Bound

      In summary, your specific goals should be very well defined. They shouldn’t be generic or broad, and every detail should be clarified as you’re goal setting. 

      If you want to start running, how often do you want to do it? How long will each session be? For how long will you continue this habit?

      There has to be a connection between your goals and beliefs or you’ll never be able to achieve the results you want. Most importantly, do not be unrealistic. You cannot learn to fly, and forcing yourself to try is only going to demotivate and stress you out.

      2. Prioritize Your Goals

      As you’re looking into how to write goals for the next month or year, it’s likely you’ll come up with more than one. In this case, it’s important to prioritize which are the most important or the ones that have the tightest deadline. This is going to be subjective, as only you know which goals will have the most impact on your life.

      3. Think of Those Around You

      As you’re working on goal setting, keep your loved ones in mind. You may have a partner, children, or employees that depend on you, and you should take them into consideration with your goals. For example, if you set a goal to travel to 10 different countries in the next two years, how will this affect your children?

      If you want to lose 30 pounds this year, is there something your partner can do to support you? S/he will need to be made aware of this before you set off on your weight loss journey.

      4. Take Action

      Setting goals is the first step, but in order to be successful, you have to follow this with action. If you set goals but never act on them, they become dreams. Create an action plan laying out the steps you need to take each day or week in order to achieve your big and small goals.

      You can also check out Lifehack’s free guide: The Dreamers’ Guide for Taking Action and Making Goals Happen. This helpful guide will push you to take action on your goals, so check it out today!


      5. Don’t Forget the Bigger Picture

      Most people refer to the big picture as their vision. Whether it is the long-term result or the connection of the goal with your desire, keep it in mind to keep yourself from getting distracted.

      You can learn more about creating a vision for your life here.

      I also recommend you to watch this video to learn 7 strategies to set goals effectively:

      How to Reach Your Goals

      You can ensure your progress by following some foolproof tactics. The use of relevant helpful tools can also keep you on the right track.


      One rookie mistake that most people make is that they work on too many goals simultaneously. Create an action plan and focus on one thing at a time.

      Divide your goal into smaller, easily achievable tasks. Taking it one step at a time makes it much easier. However, do not break them down too much. For example, for long-term goals, you should go for weekly checkpoints instead of daily ones.

      Also, keep track of your progress. This will keep you motivated to work harder.


      With so many categories of goals and so many aims, it is almost impossible to remember, let alone work, on all of them.

      Luckily, numerous goal tracker apps will help you keep track of your goals, as well as your plan to achieve every single one. Have at least one installed in your smartphone so that your plan is always within reach.

      The Bottom Line

      In conclusion, using a goal setting tips guide is not rocket science. All that it takes is strong will power along with all the knowledge that you’ve learned so far.

      Try out the tactics and goals setting tips mentioned above to be able to set successful goals so that you can achieve the life that you want!

      More Tips on Achieving Success

      Featured photo credit: Danielle MacInnes via



      [1] Smart Insights: The difference between marketing objectives and marketing goals?
      [2] Confluence: Goal Setting Theory
      [3] University of California: SMART Goals: A How-To Guide

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