The tiniest step is all you need
Achieving a goal we set ourselves is always an enjoyable experience.
Those familiar with my brand of coaching know that I focus a lot of time and energy on the goal-setting process. This is because I believe most of the goals people set themselves are not truly going to make them happy. And I have no interest in helping you achieve anything that doesn’t lead to happiness.
But once you’ve chosen a goal, the drive and energy that arrives can be wonderful. It propels us forward to take action on a new task.
Approaching goals like the hare
In the rush of joy and excitement following committing to a goal, there’s a huge tendency to dive so fast and deep into behaviour change. Like the proverb of the hare and the tortoise, we run hard and fast out of the gate, to catch our goal.
Using the common example of setting a weight loss goal, you may feel very energised when you set your plans to change your eating habits or exercise daily.
But if the truth is you’ve not managed to do anything constituting exercise for a decade, you’re not going to be successful suddenly setting yourself the goal of being in the gym for an hour a day, every single day.
If you’re sprinting out of the gate, you’ll quickly run out of steam, like any athlete who tries to run with no training.
The plan was destined to fail because you’re ignoring the foundations of real change.
Change is a slow build and requires good foundations first.
First, the foundations must be set
When you wish to change the external circumstances of your life, you must, must, must start with the internal landscape first. If it doesn’t change, your external plans are destined to fail. Because so often, our external landscapes are the product of our internal landscape.[clickToTweet tweet=”Internal landscapes create external realities. ” quote=”Internal landscapes create external realities.” theme=”style2″]
Now, a quick note on this – don’t mis-interpret what I’m saying. When an external tragedy strikes someone, assuming it’s been created by a tragic internal landscape may be completely inaccurate and in that moment, usually unhelpful – that discussion is a blog post in itself. But how someone handles that trauma, how they recover emotionally and what they rebuild from the rubble, is all about internal landscapes.
So, if you’ve set yourself a goal to change something in your life, but haven’t first started with a change in the thinking and beliefs that created the your current situation, then you’re setting yourself up for failure.
In our weight loss example, you need to explore the attitudes and beliefs you hold about your body that lead to choices like eating junk food, not exercising or eating too much?
What is driving your current behaviour in the area of your goal?
This million dollar question isn’t one with an easy answer. It might be simple lack of knowledge, it might be learned behaviour that’s never been questions and it probably involves fear, on some level, in some way. This is where coaches and therapists can be very, very helpful.
But it circles back, more often than not, to faulty thinking and believing lies. I can’t recommend highly enough, the Byron Katie process to uncover and question thoughts. I write a lot about this – read some here. I also teach a lot on this in my Making Peace With Pain course.
The tortoise takes the tiniest of steps
Unlike the hare, running full steam toward the goal, the tortoise inches slowly and steadily onward. And we all know who wins the race.
Martha Beck uses the concept of turtle steps when helping clients make changes in their lives. She gives them a small, almost insignificant task to do.
And we’re talking humorously small. To use a classic Beck example, instead of saying you’ll go to the gym for an hour a day, starting Monday, just get into the car, in your gym gear, sit there a minute and then go back inside.
And here’s what she almost universally finds: they refuse to do it.
Why? It’s not big enough – the change it will create seems like nothing.
Something in the human psyche wants the big push, but resists the small, incremental changes that actually work.
But what this micro-change does is slowly “massage” your thinking, lulling it gently into change so it hardly registers. This allows your mind time to make the micro adjustments it needs to move the old thinking that has created your current reality and build new thinking patterns.
It will allow you to see the tough underlying beliefs and thoughts you hold, as you experience resistance, and to challenge and change them.
So, next time you are contemplating a big change in life, job, home, career, city etc, make sure you break down the steps of change so much that each step almost feels like no step at all.
An at home exercise for eager goal setters
Here’s the methodology that Martha Beck uses for achieving a goal.
- Get a pad of post-it notes and free span of wall.
- Write your ultimate goal on a post-it and put it on the right hand end of the wall.
- Write where you are now on a post-it and put it on the left hand end of the wall.
- Write down the steps you’re thinking of taking, that get you from where you are to your goal. In our weight loss example, above, we might write “an hour at the gym, three times a week” and “dessert only on special occasions” each on their own post-it notes. Place them up closer to the goal end of the wall.
- For each of these actions, write the logical things that need to be in place to get there on post-its, such as “buy some gym clothes”, “find a gym and get a membership”, “adjust schedule to fit in gym time”. Place these in order, on the wall.
- For each of these things, write all the steps that they will need, such as “schedule gym clothes shopping trip”, “locate gym clothing stores I want to visit”, “determine budget and items I require”. Again, stick them in order, on the wall.
- Break down the to-do’s even further, SPECIALLY when the step is a tough one. For instance, you may find the clothing shopping really fun, and needing no motivation to schedule a 5 hour shopping spree that will get you set up perfectly. But perhaps the online searching to find a gym you like, that has the classes you want at a price that works – well that might be more of a challenge. So where there’s a motivational challenge, write post-its breaking that down to minute details, such as “write list of what the right gym needs”, “google search gyms in my area”, “click through to gyms found on google search”, “review classes and timetables”, “review prices on gym websites”, “write comparison lists”.
- Put these post-its in order on the wall and continue this process until you’ve broken it all down into the smallest steps. Then set yourself only enough of the tasks in one hit that it feels easy. So easy, you almost laugh at the prospect of doing it.
- Stick to this plan. Maybe today you write one thing on the “what the right gym needs” list, and you continue writing just one thing per day till it feels complete. Then the next day you open a google search page. The following day you do the search. The day after that you click one of the gym links from the google search. The day after that, you look at the website.
I know this sounds almost tedious. Do ONLY as much, each day, as feels easy and fun. Joyful even. Maybe you can get through a few steps in one day, but as soon as it feels burdensome, STOP.
This slow, turtle step process will win you the goal, in the end.
Need help setting a goal that will really make you happy?