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 September 27, 2021

    8 Reasons Why Goal Setting Is Important to a Fulfilling Life

    8 Reasons Why Goal Setting Is Important to a Fulfilling Life

    The importance of effective goal setting cannot be overstated on our personal journeys towards success. This is why there are countless articles out there on how to set your own SMART goals and even why it’s a skill commonly taught to a small degree in classrooms.

    Learning the importance of goal setting and the benefits of sticking to those goals can be the defining factor determining whether we truly embrace the importance of goal setting. The more willing we are to embrace this method, the more likely we become to reach our personal definitions of personal and professional success.

    Thus, this article is going to walk you through some of the benefits you’ll see from learning to set goals for yourself and answer the question — why is goal setting important?

    1. Goals Guide and Align Our Focus

    It’s hard to get to where you want to be in life if you don’t know what you’re aiming for. Some people believe avoiding goals means living a more care-free life. How many times have you heard the phrase “If I have no expectations, then I can’t be disappointed”?

    But is that really what our lives have come to? Living just to avoid disappointment? It doesn’t seem like an overly optimistic view in my opinion. And since you’re reading this article, I’m willing to bet that you agree with me.

    Without goals, we lack a degree of direction and focus. Sure you may be able to avoid disappointment, but just avoiding disappointment doesn’t mean you are necessarily happy.

    Without goals, we will pointlessly waste our time, energy, and efforts. Listen to anybody who is the top of their field and they’ll tell you something like this,

    “Yes talent is important, but often your success depends much more on what you decide to do with that talent.”

    And what you will do with your talent largely depends on your focus.

    Your goals give you direction. Your goals give you something to shoot for. This direction and target you create in your mind will help you to progress towards your main life goals rather than simply wander around aimlessly. These goals will help you align your actions and behaviors as you continue moving forward.


    So, why is goal setting important? Because it gives you direction, alignment, and purpose!

    2. Goals Help You Avoid ‘Shiny Object Syndrome’

    Basically, shiny object syndrome is always being in pursuit of the next big thing, constantly switching your goals based on what you feel is most fun and interesting at the given moment, but never actually giving yourself time to accomplish any of those goals.

    You don’t get anywhere because you continually change the direction you are heading in. This is one of the consequences that may result if you decide to live a life without goals.

    Your goals can sometimes help you to create mental barriers, or blinders, that help you to remain focused on what you think is important and avoid the things that are second priority. When you outline goals for yourself, you are better able to avoid things that distract you from achieving and accomplishing those goals.

    Setting goals helps you to step around the other shiny objects because you’ve taken the time to make some mental notes that remind you what it is that you want from your life. Your goals act as subconscious deterrents to anything less than your main priorities. This is what helps you to reach your personal definition of success.

    So, why is goal setting important? Because not only do goals tell you what you want from life, but they also help you realize what you need to give up and avoid to achieve that.

    3. Goals Turn Our Largest Goals into Manageable Steps

    A lot of us have big hopes and dreams. It’s one of the things that make our lives exciting!

    But a lot of us never take the time to figure out how we can effectively get from point A to point B. So, sadly, we never fully achieve those goals. We look at our dreams and convince ourselves that only a select few people ever achieve them, so we write ourselves off as people not meant to reach that level of success. Looking at the end product of a goal can be intimidating, daunting, and discourage us from even pursuing them.

    Thankfully, goal setting helps us break large intimidating goals into smaller ones. These small steps and more achievable goals will help us to build momentum and will encourage us to keep working towards the next phase of our goal. The form the foundation from which we can begin building the life that we truly hope to have for ourselves, our families, and may even for our communities depending on how big your goals are!

    Whenever I get talking about this aspect of goal setting, I can’t help but think about the mountain climbing analogy, and that the easiest way to climb a mountain is simply step by step.


    So, why is goal setting important? Goal setting gives you a list of manageable steps that you can take in order to take your life from where it is now to where you want it to go both effectively and efficiently.

    4. Goals Encourage You to Take Action

    This builds on the last benefit of goal setting. Not only does effective goal setting help you break down your larger goals into smaller, more manageable ones, but it also encourages you to actually begin taking action on those goals. After all, a plan is completely worthless if you aren’t willing to invest the effort required to execute it.

    Setting your goals and putting your plan in place motivates you to begin taking action towards achieving them. These goals give you something to plan and work towards. Essentially, they help propel you forward.

    What I like to do is write out and place my goals somewhere that I’ll regularly see them. This constantly serves as a reminder of my top priorities. It allows me to focus on taking small progressive actions towards achieving these goals daily.

    This ensures that I don’t fall into the trap of setting a goal, beginning to work towards it for a while, but then having my motivation fade resulting in me falling off track. This is exactly what many people see happen when it comes to their “New Year’s Resolutions.”

    If you want to learn about how to take action towards achieving your goal, here’s how: How To Take Action Towards Your Goals Right Now

    So, why is goal setting important? Because goal setting actually motivates you to stop thinking about your goals and actually get out there and achieve them!

    5. Goal Setting Helps You Continually Improve

    This is something that a lot of personal development and self-improvement writers talk about, continual improvement. For those of you who are not aware of the term, continual improvement is exactly what it sounds like — taking small steps towards improvement as frequently as you can to develop into the person you want to become.

    What’s the point in improving a little bit each day if you’re not improving in the areas that you want to improve in after all?

    The goals that you define for yourself will inevitably shape you into the person who you want to become. They’ll shape your character. Your goals can help you measure your progress as you strive for this type of development.


    Essentially, having goals helps you determine where you started, where you are now, and how much further you need to go. In this manner, your goal setting can serve as milestones and benchmarks that help you determine how well you’re progressing towards your most important goals!

    So, why is goal setting important? Goal setting helps you make improvements each day that will slowly transition you into the person you want to become.

    6. Goal Setting Keeps You Accountable

    Not only does setting goals help you measure your progress, but it also is a means through which you can keep yourself accountable. Too many goals fail because they lack this crucial aspect of outlining accountability.

    For example, if I have the goal to do 50 push-ups, that’s great. Most people would support that goal. However, this goal lacks accountability. When do I want to accomplish this goal by and what steps do I take to get there? These are important questions that the original goal leaves unanswered.

    A much more descriptive and specific goal could be to do 50 push-ups within the next 3 months by starting at 5 push-ups, and then adding 5 each week. This goal outlines the deadline as well as the steps I’m going to take to achieve it. This plan will keep me accountable because if I fail to retain my progression schedule, I will know that I’m not going to achieve the goal on time.

    Additionally, it can serve as a marker helping to signify when something is impeding my progress that I may not have initially accounted for. This tells me that I need to re-evaluate what I’m doing and figure out what adjustments I can make to facilitate my success.

    So, why is goal setting important? Setting goals is key to keeping ourselves accountable and on-track towards accomplishing our goals according to the schedules and deadlines we set for ourselves.

    7. Goals Make You Feel Good

    Trust me, the progress you feel as you set and achieve goals can become super motivating and super addicting (in a good way)! The dopamine release you get from achieving your goals is like a little reward for our brains that continually motivates us to try and hit that next goal!

    Having some clearly defined goals will help you to feel better about yourself and your life in general, especially when you stick to those goals, actively work towards achieving them, and end up accomplishing and surpassing your initial expectations. I’m not the oldest book on the shelf myself, but I can attest that there are not many feelings quite like the one you experience when you truly get on a roll!

    Additionally, our goals give us an endpoint to shoot for. Rather than progress for progress’s sake, you can actually see where you’re heading! That’s so much more rewarding. Think about a long car trip as a kid. You ask “if you’re there yet?” ever 20 minutes. It seems like the drive drags on forever.


    If you don’t know where you’re going, you risk the journey becoming tedious. It doesn’t tend to be much fun wandering around aimlessly. Goals make us feel good about where we’re directing ourselves.

    So, why is goal setting important? Because setting goals and accomplishing them plain and simply make us feel better about ourselves and our lives!

    8. Goals Help You Live Your Best Life

    I’ve talked a lot in this article about how goal setting helps us progress towards our top priorities and live the way we truly want to live. So I think it’s fit to end the article with this goal because, in the end, I feel it’s the most important one.

    Setting your goals and clearly defining what they mean to you will help you live a life that is tailored to your beliefs and values. Your life will become directed towards the things that you most want to achieve.

    Life is a tricky game and only in very rare circumstances are things handed to us on a silver platter. Often it takes a great degree of work, planning, and effortful execution of both.

    There is no point clinging on to things in your life if they don’t bring you happiness or help you accomplish something that, in some way, aligns with your goals.

    Simply put, setting goals helps us live a life that allows us to pursue the challenges and rewards that we truly want to achieve.

    So, why is goal setting important? Because our time is always limited, and setting clearly defined goals can help ensure that you make the most of your life and live to the fullest! Find out more here: How to Use SMART Goal to Become Highly Successful in Life

    Final Thoughts

    These are just a few of the benefits of goal setting that outline why it truly is so important. If you take a moment or two, I bet that you can even think of a few more benefits yourself that you could add to this list.

    If I could leave you with something, it would be this:


    Goal setting has the potential to take us to some amazing places in life because we all have talent and ambitions. To achieve your biggest dreams, you need to be willing to sit down and create a life design uniquely tailored to you that will help you achieve them!

    More Tips About Goals Setting

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