You’ve probably heard this one before: “The only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.”
That timeless bit of wisdom sums up the best way to achieve your most ambitious personal, retirement and professional goals, according to new research.
We fail to reach many of our objectives not because we are lazy or lack discipline, but because we set goals that are too ambitious, according to Harvard psychologist Amy Cuddy. Big Goals can be inspiring, but they can also be daunting once we start pursuing them. They can suddenly seem so distant and overwhelming that we are tempted to throw up our hands and say, ‘What was I thinking? I can never do that!”
Breaking that Big Goal into a series of incremental objectives and enjoying the process of achieving those mileposts are much more likely to get us where we want to go.
When we set a lofty goal it’s important to stay motivated, Cuddy says. If you want to lose 30 lbs. you need to maintain your discipline over a long stretch of time. It’s hard to do that when you wake up every day to roughly the same weight as yesterday. Even harder when you miss a work out (or two) or blow your diet at the homecoming tailgate party. So, instead of obsessing on that “30,” you are better off setting incremental daily and weekly goals. This week you will add 10 minutes to your daily walk, or further, reduce your carb intake, or not eat ice cream. Whatever. Focus on these incremental, achievable objectives and celebrate when you achieve them. Each small “win “will fuel your motivation to continue, until one day you wake up and realize, hey, I’ve lost 30 lbs!
This may seem at odds with the conventional wisdom of “keep your eye on the prize,” but it’s a proven technique employed by some of the most over-achieving, mentally tough people in the world. Navy SEAL trainees use this method to get through the service’s nightmarish Hell Week. They set a goal of surviving their ordeal until the next meal. Nothing more. They stay mentally focused on the next few hours, not the next several days.
So, keep dreaming the big dreams; keep striving to take control of your world and your retirement — or at least to break 100 in golf. Just remember, the most enjoyable and effective way to win that war is by winning lots of little battles.