Size matters in many things, including goals.
It’s the new year and everyone is chatting up goals. And I’ve noticed a range of opinions about size.
Should goals be manageable, doable, “realistic” (i.e., smArt) on the one hand or big, hairy, and audacious (BHAG) on the other?
Should you go micro or macro?
Should you think big or stay small?
Should you even create goals for the year or instead set your sights on 30 or 90 days?
Should you go big or go home?
Or should you bypass the whole thing and go goal-free. You know, see what happens.
Here’s how I like to think about these size matters: Go big on goals and go small on actions.
Research by Edwin Locke and Gary Latham on goal setting reveals that goals that are challenging have a greater likelihood of being accomplished over those considered “realistic” or doable – called “Low Goals.” In addition, Jessica Tracy found that these “low goals” do not build self-esteem or confidence the way challenging goals do. Big goals tap into meaning, and meaning triggers the biochemistry of motivation. It’s a win-win situation.
So when it comes to your goals – go big. Go for the stretch. Go for the thing that you’re not 100% positive you can accomplish, that challenges your current reality, and dares you out of the comfort zone. But make sure that in addition to being “big” that it’s specific – not big and vague. Vague has no inspired staying power. It will allow you wriggle out of it – and you won’t be able to cash in on the big-goal confidence boost.
This idea of big goals is why setting goals for the year works. 12 months is far enough away that you can suspend your current, immediate conditions and allow your imagination and aspiration to have at it. You aren’t constrained by the gravity of today’s reality. Who knows, maybe in 12 months you can create that product, or triple your income, or run that marathon, or write that book, or change your career, or switch up your health. And a year is still close enough to take seriously.
Now when it comes to taking actions toward your goals: go small. This is where the rubber meets the road. This is where you want doable – because you have to, well, do it. There’s significant evidence that micro-habits work: Identifying the smallest possible action so that you defeat any resistance… and doing it consistently so that it eventually becomes patterned in the brain and, therefore, much easier (and automatic) over time.
This idea of small action is why planning action in smaller time periods works. Yes, you have your annual goal – that you want to accomplish by December 31 – but you plan in smaller timeframes. I like to organize my efforts to achieve my goals in 90-day periods – seasons. You stay focused on the season you’re in and the milestone goals or efforts you’re making to progress toward your goals. And then break it down more into a 2-week sprint. Each of these timeframes have mini-goals that you are taking action toward.
So that’s the size of it. Big goals, small actions. Big, challenging goals; small, doable actions.
Holding these two perspectives – the inspired destination and the real-life next step will take you far. It will build your competence and confidence. It will stir up motivation. It will bring the boldness of your vision into the beauty of your day.
Big goal, small action. Always wins.
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