When it comes to accomplishing personal goals, everyone has his or her own style. Some people like to tell the world what they’re determined to achieve; others quietly commit their plans to the pages of journals they’ll never show a soul.
Some people are “perfect preparers” who spend months carefully laying the groundwork for future progress; others dive right in with a “damn the torpedoes” attitude they figure will take them through whatever hurdles they might encounter.
All these approaches can work brilliantly — or backfire wickedly — depending on the personality and commitment of the individual doing the committing and the nature of the goal.
Me? I’ve been known to do a little of all of the above. But I’ve always experienced the most success in following the motto “Think big, start small, move fast.”
Here’s why it works for me:
- “Think big” invites me to develop an ambitious and expansive enough vision to get excited about what I’m choosing to accomplish. Dull goals, after all, tend to make for dull and uninspired efforts. If I have the vague idea that I want to upgrade my fitness, for example, I set my sights on a concrete outcome — say, improving my triathlon bike time by a hefty percentage. My rule of thumb is this: If I can’t see myself being totally thrilled about the success of the end accomplishment, and if the goal itself doesn’t get my blood pumping a little faster every time I think about it, I don’t set it as a goal.
- “Start small” saves me from getting overwhelmed by what I’ve taken on and lets me get started now, with modest daily actions that feel doable. Daily action equates with integrity and determination, in my view. You have to keep asking yourself: Do I really want this thing or not? Each day brings the opportunity to reconfirm your priorities and to move forward by doing something. Even if the action is just a single phone call, a few breaths on the yoga mat, or a swift left turn out of the snack aisle, it’s still a step in the right direction and it builds momentum for more positive action.
- “Move fast” gets me focused on making continual progress and keeps my energy and enthusiasm high. It prevents me from getting so bogged down in my daily actions that I lose sight of the big goal that got me excited in the first place. “Move fast” also keeps me honest about the kinds of mini-goals I’ll need to accomplish in order to make meaningful headway. Most major goals are marathons, not sprints, so it’s important to pace yourself. But part of pacing yourself is setting challenging (not impossible) interim goals — benchmarks that give you constant feedback about the progress you’re making and that help you recognize where adjustments to your plan might be necessary. Because rapidly correcting errors is an essential part of this whole approach.
Which brings me to an important twist in this whole “Think big, start small, move fast” way of thinking: Sometimes it doesn’t work — at least not the way you’ve planned.
If you’ve been working tirelessly on a good plan for a long time, if you’ve been persevering and doing everything right and still not making any headway, it may be time to slow down, step back and reflect. It may be time to stop pushing for a little while and to consider the possibility that you might just be pushing the wrong way, or at the wrong time.
Sometimes, despite our best thinking and most earnest efforts to make something happen, it just doesn’t come together. We can’t always know why. Maybe it’s the karma or divine plan of life, maybe it’s some internal wisdom telling us our energy is better spent elsewhere. Whatever it is, when we encounter immutable forces that put the kibosh on our big plans, I think it can be a sign that it’s time to regroup and, as the brilliant Byron Katie suggests, cease our ill-fated “arguing with reality.”
This doesn’t mean we should give up on our dreams. It just means we should be willing to take a moment to rest, rethink and then recommence our efforts with a different energy, a different consciousness or a different sort of plan. One that sets our heart racing all over again.