Welcome to the New Year! Surely by now you’ve heard chatter about New Year’s resolutions. Maybe you made one for yourself. Will you lose 75 pounds in 2018? Will you sell a record number of folding cartons? If you’re envisioning a mountain of a goal, you may want to scale it down to, say, a molehill. It’s the small, manageable goals that actually bring us success.
In a recent article published in Psychology Today, UCLA professor Robert Maurer revealed that average Americans make the same resolution ten years in a row, abandoning their big, life-changing goal in an average of six weeks. The few that succeed usually take six years to do so.
Why? Two reasons, according to Maurer. First, huge goals require equally huge amounts of will-power and self-control. Unfortunately, humans tire, and when we tire, our resolve decays. It’s hard to sustain the kind of energy needed to achieve a big goal. Second, daunting goals tend to amplify self-criticism and fears of failure, making success seem even more remote in the weeks after the initial excitement and commitment start to wane.
The remedy is to think small. People succeed when they set several manageable and measurable goals each day, week, or month. That’s why, for example, companies are switching from the (dreaded) yearly performance review to frequent, informal check-ins around goal progress. Or think about the popular kaizen manufacturing philosophy that emphasizes continuous, small improvements to business operations. In terms of weight-loss goals, Maurer suggests to start by running or doing pushups for just one minute each day. This task is not only manageable, it also allows you to train for more impressive physical feats. Soon you’ll be running a marathon with ease—an achievement that would have seemed impossible if it was the explicit goal.
So, if you or your manager won’t give up the BHAGs—the famed “Big Hairy Audacious Goals” coined by business theorists Jim Collins and Jerry Porras—setting small goals will still work. If you must achieve a big goal in 2018, break it down into manageable chunks and then forget about the big goal entirely. That’s the largely unsaid, and perhaps frustrating, paradox of our lives: big success might only come as an accumulation of innumerable, small successes. Each step adds up, so take the first one today.