New Year’s Resolutions: It’s Not Just About Inspiration, It’s About Breaking Big Goals into Small Goals

new-years-resolutions

  • “My cousin lost 10 kilos in three months! I’m going to lose 20 kilos this year.”
  • “My father passed away from emphysema at the age of 63. For the sake of my family, I will quit smoking this year.”
  • “I want to go to and win a medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics!”

Big goals can inspire. And we see the new year as a chance to wipe the slate of our past efforts clean, and commit to significant resolutions with vigor and determination. But even if initially inspired by them, big goals can seem overwhelming, and thus can demotivate to the point of surrender.

Very often, the key to achieving a big goal is to break it down into smaller, more concrete, more manageable goals.

You don’t develop a killer serve by just practicing your serve 100 times a day. You break down the mechanics of the serve and practice with a conscious effort to ensure the key parts of the serve are repeated accurately. That means you need to understand what the key components of a good serve are, and ideally you need to have someone observe you so you can get immediate feedback. Over time you will likely see great results.

Bob Schul didn’t become America’s first Olympic gold medal winner in the 5,000 meters by just running every day. He followed the disciplinary approach of coach Mihaly Igloi, who taught him that the interval approach. Schul’s typical day was filled with mini-goals of – for example, ten 200-meter sprints, followed by a 400-meter easy jog, followed by eight 100-meter sprints, then twelve 160-meter runs. Schul didn’t become an Olympian overnight, but he worked on his mini goals every day, and actually, during his training, every minute.

Here’s a great article from Forbes Magazine called “Why Thinking Small is The Secret to Big Success“. It focuses on this idea of chunking, and that you don’t achieve your big goals because “you’re not thinking small enough.”

  1. Decide what you want
  2. Proclaim your dream to your friends and family
  3. Set a deadline
  4. Break down the goal into smaller steps
  5. Identify someone who’s accomplished a similar goal and model their attitude and belief system
  6. Believe it’s possible
  7. Take massive action
  8. Repeat steps 6 & 7 every day

For so many of us, when we set New Year’s Resolutions, or aspire to some great goal, we do the first three steps. But we often don’t take a project management attitude to our dreams. While we may imagine what the final, wonderful end state looks like, we don’t break it down into mini-goals, identify the key actions that other actions are dependent on, and set milestone deadlines. We don’t because that level of thinking and planning is likely a muscle not often exercised. But exercise it we must. Find a friend or a coach to help you think it through.

Just remember what Al Pacino said in the locker room, when he gave his inspirational pep talk to a demoralized American football team in the 1999 Oliver Stone film, Any Given Sunday. He told the team that coming back to win would be monumental, but that they shouldn’t focus on the big goal of trying to win. They should instead stay in the moment, focus on the inches in front of them. Football, like life, he told them, is about moving forward, inch by inch.

You find out life is just a game of inches. So is football. Because in either game, life or football, the margin for error is so small. I mean, one half step too late or too early you don’t quite make it. One half second too slow or too fast and you don’t quite catch it. The inches we need are everywhere around us. They are in ever break of the game every minute, every second.

On this team, we fight for that inch. On this team, we tear ourselves, and everyone around us to pieces for that inch. We CLAW with our finger nails for that inch. Cause we know when we add up all those inches that’s going to make the fucking difference between WINNING and LOSING between LIVING and DYING.