Small Victories Can Equal Big Results
Let’s face it; it has been quite the year! 2020 was like no other year in history, and while normalcy appears to be just around the corner, it’s hard sometimes to feel motivated when you feel like you have been stuck in perpetual Groundhog Day.
We may find ourselves carrying more weight now that we have perfected our quarantine homemade bread recipe. Working from home may be here to stay in some form or another, yet if we are really being honest, we may have not yet mastered the work-life balance juggling act. How does one go about making improvements in one’s life when the goal word for the past year was just “survive”? On a daily basis, how do we not let one bad day, or a couple of bad days, discourage us?
From a mental health perspective, the key is to focus on growth instead of end goals per se. Growth is a process that starts and stops, provides ups and downs and requires a mindset that focuses more on the journey rather than the destination, kind of like parenting. It’s a process, a long-haul journey, a roller coaster ride with lots of little victories, as well as many frustrations along the way. Often the goal just feels like survival, but the reward is great.
What are micro goals?
Micro goals force you to prioritize your big goals into small, bite-sized, manageable steps. A micro goal is about right now! For example, your long-term goal might be to lose 10 pounds. A short-term goal might be to go to the gym three times a week, but a micro goal is to run for one minute straight right now. Then do it again. This principle can be applied to anything, whether you are training for a marathon, wanting to write your first book, or just get motivated to clean the house. Pick your end goal, and back it up into small, micro goals you can start with now. Turn your one-minute micro goal into a laser-focused five minutes and see what you can accomplish.
The Journey of 1,000 Miles Begins with One Step
The best chance for success, according to behavioral scientists, is to start small. Like the famous commencement speech, which went viral and ultimately turned into a bestselling book by Admiral William H. McRaven, “Make Your Bed,” small wins add up over time. One success builds on the next. It is OK to start and then start again. Set a goal and then break it down into “micro goals.” Small goals are easier to achieve than bigger goals, and therefore build momentum, which can be addictive and propel you forward. Your brain releases dopamine in response to your accomplishment; thus, you experience physical and chemical pleasure based on your achievement. So using micro goals is like building a healthy addiction to self-improvement.
The 4 S’s of Micro Goal Setting
Successful micro goal setting contains four key elements. Each goal should be:
Let’s take the goal of improving one’s health. While the end goal might be to run a 5K run, back that long-term goal all the way up into tiny micro goals that are specific (wake up at 6 a.m.), simple (then lay out running gear), sustainable (run for five minutes) and significant (add extra five minutes each week). Those micro goals will build on themselves, and before you know it, you have a realistic shot at making it across that finish line!
We all want to believe there is a better version of ourselves out there just around the corner. Micro goals can help us get closer to achieving that version. Setting small goals in those areas of our lives we want to improve, from health, fitness, relationships or finances, micro goals can set us on the path to improvement.
While we may dream big and set lofty New Year’s resolutions each year, what we do on a daily basis tends to matter more. It is your daily choices or micro goals that shift and reinforce brain change. Each time you make a small but positive change, you will start to shift your perspective, and eventually, those small changes add up.
How to begin
If you are unsure how micro goals could benefit you personally, ask yourself, “What is that one thing that, if accomplished, would make my life better?” Again, review the above four specific steps and set micro goals in one specific area of your life. Perhaps it is healthy eating habits or exercising more or improving your finances.
Start breaking down that large goal into micro goals, which are small steps that take five to 10 minutes to complete. Each time you check one off, revel in the fact that you are slowly but surely moving towards your big achievement. Just like in the story of the tortoise and the hare, slow and steady wins the race.
Michelle Yetman, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist at The Children’s Center, School of Allied Health Professions at LSU Health Shreveport.