“The greatest danger in most of us lies in not setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our goal too low, and achieving our mark.” – Michelagelo
We all want to do big things in life. High goals, high ambitions, it serves well to DREAM BIG BABY! We’ve all felt those moments of incredible inspiration. You just watched an inspiring film or listening to motivational music; you saw one of your favorite celebrities or rock stars and know that that is where you want to be. You start to feel charged up. You know you can do it, you can feel what you are going to become. There is no one who can stop you. You can tackle any problem. You are going to get that goal. Then one week later, you’re lying in bed eating a snickers bar and struggling to muster up the motivation to get going.
What happened? Where did all the inspiration go?
Motivation Doesn’t Work
Motivation is an excellent catalyst for getting you inspired and fired up and going; but it’s fleeting. It comes in selective moments, and you can’t count on it to stick around. Instead, you must tune your attention into the habits that dictate nearly 95% of how you conduct your day.
The problem with the “dream big” culture that we’ve been created as a society is that it glorifies end results and under values the hard work and persistence it took to get there. We teach reaching for the stars and dream big instead of work hard and be persistent. Execution is 10x more valuable than ideas. You should have ambitious goals and lofty inspiration, but that hardly paints half the picture. There’s a reason why there are a so many inspiring musicians, yet only a select few stars. There is a reason so many new businesses are created, yet 90% of all startups fail. So where are people falling short? Too much value is placed on the end results instead of the hard work and persistance. How can you start working harder and being more persistant with your goals? By building the right habits.
Dreaming Big with Baby Steps
When sizing up these big and ambitious goals, it can become quite intimidating. I echo Michelangelo’s words in that you should have high expectations and goals in life, but it’s equally important to recognize that those ambitions alone won’t get you there. Over the years, we develop customary habits and routines that direct just about 95% of our decisions throughout the day.
Targeting those habitual routines is where you will develop the results for the big dreams you’re shooting for.
As much as you want to achieve super hero status by tomorrow, it works best to start small by helping the old lady cross the street first. Think of it as a macro goal achieved by micro steps. The reason why so many New Year Resolutions fail is that we bite of more than we can chew. You create this ambitious goal of where you’re at (Point A) and where you want to be (Point B), but forget to draw in the dotted-lines on the map for how you’re going to get there. Macro goals are only achieved with micro steps.
And I mean starting off really small.
Instead of saying I will eat only healthy foods, say I will drink one extra glass of water with breakfast. Instead of saying I will exercise every day for an hour, say I will exercise twice a week for 20 minutes. Instead of saying I will create a company generating $3,000/month, say I will focus on getting one paying customer. Instead of saying I will floss after brushing my teeth, say I will start with just 1 tooth. If you exceed your goal, great! But the point is to make it so simply it’s almost impossible to fail. Building momentum and chalking up small wins counts big time. The small wins are what gets new habits in motion.
Get Visual With Your Goals
Visualization is an excellent tool for putting your brain in goal striving mode, but make sure you are visualizing the right thing. Again, we put way too much emphasis on the big aspirations, rather than the progressional steps and hard work to get there.
A psychology study at UCLA performed an experiment on visualization for those who visualized the end result (the macro goal) such as doing well on an exam, versus those who visualized the process (the micro steps) of the study and preparation for what it would take to get that end result. I’m sure you can guess which group performed better.
You’ve been training hard for a marathon. don’t visualize yourself sprinting across the finish line with arms raised in success, instead envision yourself waking up early and training hard before work.
You’re starting a new business with a friend. don’t visualize yourself sitting back counting $100 bills on a beach with your new brilliant idea, instead envision yourself talking to customers, doing market research, and putting in the extra hours to help your company grow.
You want to start a new diet and get in shape. don’t visualize yourself standing in the mirror with a fresh new six pack, instead envision yourself choosing healthy foods over junk food and making small progress in your workouts.
It’s important to keep the big picture in mind (the macro goal) of where you want to get, certainly, but we put far too much attention and energy into that instead of changing the habits (the micro steps) that will actually get you there. An intense focus on the baby steps for what it’ll take to get your goal is more effective than focusing on the goal itself.
Filling in the Visuals with Vivid Details
You be tempting to write a rigorous schedule for achieving those big aspirations. I’ll wake up at 7am every day, exercise for one hour before work, go to work until 6, come home, one hour of piano practice starting at 7:30, followed by two hours working on my side project, and finally one hour of reading before bed.
These schedules don’t work. They don’t take the natural ebbs and flow of life into consideration. Instead of trying to compartmentalize your life into little cell blocks and scheduled moments for creating new habits, it is much more effective to write out very descriptively of what it looks like when you are following the new habit you want to create.
Describe the atmosphere, what you are wearing, how you are feeling, the thoughts running through your mind, any potential factor in what the scenario may look like. All these things construct a simulation in your mind’s eye, so that when the future situation actually does occurs, you already have readied blue-print for how to respond.
“I am getting home from work, and as I open the kitchen door, I am tempted to reach for a box of cookies sitting in the pantry. I know full well that all I am looking for is a temporary sugar high, and that my mood will be better elevated in the long run and if I opt for the healthier option. I’ll not only feel better about myself, but it’ll fit in alignment with my fitness goals.”
“It’s around 8pm and I don’t have any more work to do. I know I should start on the side project I’ve been trying to create, but I am tempted to bounce around between checking Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and then repeat repeat. I will recognize that this is looking for mindless fillers to take up my time with, and that there are better ways to get value from my time. I most likely am lying in bed, and feeling lazy to get going. I will remember that simply getting started is the first step, and will promptly sit up straight, pull out my laptop, and get started on one small step. If I am still having trouble getting started, I will do 25 jumping jacks to get some blood flowing.”
Planning this way is so much more effective than writing out a schedule for a variety of reasons:
1) You won’t get down on yourself when you fall astray from your new routine (eventually you will). By saying I will only eat healthy foods or I will work out 5 times per week, you’re setting yourself up for the disappointment that arises when you have a slip up and fail to do your new routine. Habits do not become introduced overnight. This method is extremely positive focused. There is no room for the disappointment, because you’re not trying to create new habits overnight. Instead, you are creating a very descriptive blueprint for what it looks like when your habit is in motion.
2) You plan for the if->then. Once again, motivation is fleeting. You aren’t always going to be fired up 100% of the time. What this type of planning does so effectively is introduce the if->then statement. If I am feeling lazy, I will do 25 jumping jacks to get the blood flowing. If I am feeling too lazy to go exercise, I will watch a motivational video first. Progress comes from consistency, and motivation is not consistent.
Putting it All Together
I don’t mean to undervalue the importance of setting big goals. This year, I want to become tri-lingual, start 2 companies, get a defined 6-pack, have more at least 15 lucid dreams, and get insanely good at the piano. But none of that is going to come over night. Be specific with what your aspirations are. Write them out. Then more importantly, focus on building the habits that will put those goals into motion.
We typically spend 90% of our time fantasizing on what we want to become and 10% focusing on doing the nitty gritty. Those numbers should be reversed. Glorify hard work! And pat yourself on the back when you get those small incremental wins. Personal development is something we all do. The soul craves it. But to get to that highest vision of self, you have to start will the bundle of habits that define yourself.
As my dude Aristotle eloquently put it, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”