How to Reach Your Goals: Use Interim Wins and Focus on Tiny Changes

We make goals all the time, even if we’re not aware of it. But the ones we are aware of often seem out of reach. Read on to find out why it’s so hard to reach your goals.

“But it’s possible that those goals [your life goals] are designed to distract you from the thing that’s really frightening you–the shift in daily habits that would mean a re-invention of how you see yourself.” — Seth Godin

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Joe Simpson used tiny goals to literally save his life after a climbing accident in the Peruvian Andes.

Having fallen into a crevasse and presumed dead, he focused on small goals such as “Can I make it to that glacier in 20 minutes?”

Sure, his ultimate goal was staying alive, but thinking in 20-minute increments allowed him to just keep going.

You see, Joe had horribly broken his leg and was in immense pain.

He turned his ordeal into a game of reaching some sort of marker every 20 minutes until he finally landed at the base camp and was saved.

If he had only focused on staying alive, it may have been too much for his brain to process and he may have given up. Thinking about only the next 20-minute goal is what kept him going.

Barking up the wrong tree by Eric Barker

I’ve read this amazing story three different times in three different books. Most recently was in Eric Barker’s wonderful book, Barking Up the Wrong Tree

Use Interim Wins To Reach Your Big Goals

If you set goals for yourself often, but never seem to reach them, welcome to my world. Over the years, I have set hundreds if not thousands of goals for myself.

The outcomes of these self-imposed and well-meaning goals have one thing in common for sure–they are seldom met.

What If You Only Almost Reach Your Goal?

Note that not fully meeting your goals isn’t necessarily a failure. If you set a goal to save $5000 by Christmas, and you only manage to save $4500, only a stickler perfectionist would consider that a failure.

Ditto with a goal to lose 30 pounds by summer (assuming you started the plan several months earlier). If you lose 27 pounds, have you really failed? Not in my book.

The above notwithstanding, what about those lofty goals that get made, maybe even written down, but are just sort of forgotten?

Maybe you make the same one every year, or month. You want the outcome, but nothing much ever happens.

That’s the kind of goals I’m talking about.

You Need A Plan

You make a goal. Maybe to get in shape. Or have flat abs. You want to stop smoking.

Whatever lofty-esque goal you may dream up. You want to do it. Good for you!

But what’s the plan? There has to be a plan. Of course I always had a plan. In my head.

Sort of all grand and awesome, but just in my head. I’ll eat better, maybe drink less wine. I’ll even ditch the fast food.

I may know vaguely (or even thoroughly!) the sorts of things I need to do–or not do–but I have to do them to be successful. If I want to “eat right,” what does that even mean?

Maybe eating more fruits and veggies? Drinking more water?

And so on. This is NOT the way to reach or even approach a goal. At least not for someone like me, and maybe not for someone like you.

A Better Way To Reach Your Goals

What if you did something completely different? Something easier that might even make you happier in the process.

What if, instead of making some audacious goal (again) like LOSING 20 POUNDS, you made one tiny little change in your daily processes.

So small that you almost cannot fail at it, but if practiced over and over again for long enough, not only does it become part of your life, it leads to the result(s) you want.

So, instead of focusing on the end goal (clean closets, run a 10K, lose 20 pounds), you focus on the processes you can put in place to BE the kind of person who has clean closets, can run a 10K or whose weight is under control.

Just like Joe the climber focused only on the next 20 minutes to a set marker, you can focus on only one tiny process difference that then becomes a habit!


Trust The Process

Focus on the process instead of the result. If you only focus on the result (the goal), when (if) you get there, you may slip back into your old ways and end up right back where you started.

Because you reached your goal! You didn’t make the result part of your identity. I am a runner. Not just, I ran a 10K.

Focus on the process and the goal will naturally come, and you’ll likely be happier overall as well. If you focus on the process, you won’t go through the feast or famine syndrome. “If I can just do this or that thing, then I’ll be happy! My life will be wonderful!”

How about instead you make the process the the goal, and keep improving it as you see what works and what may work even better?

What does this look life in real life? I gave a small example of this in another post about changing the way you drink your coffee each day.

Let’s say you have the big goal of running a 10K. Where you are on your fitness journey will determine the steps you need to take to get there. But how about you change this goal to something like run 3 times a week.

If you’ve never run before, or not for a long time, you may need to start with walking for 15 minutes either on a set route outside or on a treadmill.

But even those goals are pretty big to be sustainable in the long term. Instead, you can break it down even further to something like, I will walk for one minute on the treadmill at 7AM on Monday, Wednesday, & Friday each week.

Make It Super Simple If You Need To

If this proves too difficult to keep going, or even get started, then do something like this: I will put on my walking shoes and clothes at 7AM on Monday, Wednesday, & Friday each week as soon as I wake up, before I brush my teeth.

Even if you just do this for a few weeks–you don’t even walk yet, you will be on your way. After this becomes a habit, then add in walking for one minute. And so on.

Once you get the habit going and your brain associates getting up with putting on your walking outfit, you no longer have to think about it or use willpower energy.

What Small Thing Will You Do To Start Reaching Those Goals?

Joe Simpson could have despaired and just given up when faced with the dire circumstances he found himself in. Having fallen into a deep crevasse, severely broken his leg, with seemingly no way to get out, he might have just shut down.

But instead, he made a game and focused only on the next few minutes. Only on the next little thing he needed to do to succeed.

When you do that consistently, even if you have a setback, odds are you will eventually reach your goal.

Remember to think progress, not perfection, and you’ll always get there.

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