Do the difficult things while they are easy and do the great things while they are small. A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.
I am a gamer. I used to play tabletop role-playing games. I know, I’m a weirdo.
What I love is interacting with people and characters in an imaginary world. The endless possibilities are dragging me in. The alternative reality is mind-boggling.
Another fascinating aspect of role-playing and video games is how, like in real life, small steps can build up to big results. To take a concrete example for the non-initiated, in a role-playing video game like Skyrim, repeating the same action, like mixing herbs to make potions, will slowly increases your skill in potion mixing. So effectively, by repeating the same steps successfully, over time you become a better alchemist.
Whether in real life or in a game, hour after hour and day after day, you or your character will progress. Practice builds skills, slowly but surely. Your built expertise then allows you to take on bigger challenges or to defeat your enemy. This lesson from games on how to tackle big quests is very valuable.
In life, having big goals and dreams in life is a great quality. So we dream big and get out there, pumped up with motivation. Unfortunately, sooner or later, we hit hurdles and our motivation quickly dwindles. We stop hitting our targeted goals. We look at our distant goals and we loose heart. So we revert back to our “normal” life. Until we start dreaming again and restart the whole cycle.
Why is it so difficult to stick to our resolutions and achieve our goals? Why do most of us fail at staying consistent in our endeavors?
Three factors are the main culprits:
- Committing to long term goals without short term milestones is almost a guarantee to fail
- We don’t have good enough reasons to achieve our goals. We haven’t really sold ourselves on the task. So our motivation quickly goes down
- We actively resist change. A lot of energy is required to steer away from the life we’re used to. Over time, our brain will try hard to stop us from spending that energy
So if you haven’t achieved your goals consistently so far, it might be time to stop what you’re doing and reflect. If what you have done so far hasn’t work, this is a sign of a needed change.
Inspired by role-playing games (who knew?), I suggest following an approach that I have had great success with. With this method, I stay consistent and on track towards achieving my goals.
Yes, this is the revenge of the weirdos!
The key, which might seem like an obvious one, is to take action. Through consistent action, you build momentum and with momentum, you reach your goals. Yes, you might not achieve some of your goals by the date you have set yourself, nevertheless you will get there with time. Momentum is what makes you unstoppable.
Action is what defines the 5 following steps geared towards achieving your goals consistently.
1. Take small steps
To make sure you get into action, set some easy goals first. Goals that you can hardly fail to achieve. For example, if you want to start exercising, set a goal of exercising for 5 minutes a day.
Your long term goal might be to exercise for one hour, 5 days a week. But to get there, you need to start with small steps. Aiming for 1h a day straight away is a good way to set you up for failure.
Instead, repeatedly achieve your small goals. Keep exercising every day. Like in Skyrim, do the same again and again. Do it for a week or two.
Take the perspective of a 2-year old (my daughter is 2 so I’m right in the middle of it). 2-year olds start with small steps. They repeat them again and again, ad nauseam. Then and only then do they progressively tackle more complicated tasks.
Repetition is what brings us naturally to step 2.
2. Build habits
How do you counter resistance and reduce energy spending so that you can bring lasting change in your life? The answer is habits.
Through the power of habits, you can get things done without much effort and thinking, almost in automatic mode. Which is key to bring lasting change.
So, basically, by taking small steps and repeatedly taking action, over time, you will build habits.
Building a habit takes about a month (the exact amount of time needed varies from one study to another). Practically, the first 10 days are the hardest, the following 10 are a bit easier and the last 10 are when you start reaping the benefits of habit building and really cement your new habit.
But after 30 days, it won’t take much of your energy to go through your newly formed habit. To illustrate this, think about brushing your teeth. You do it everyday pretty much automatically and it doesn’t feel much effort to you. But as I child, you resisted building this habit. So you encountered resistance first, but then it became easier and easier, until it became a no-effort activity to you. Resistance progressively transforms into second nature.
In short, start small and select only 2-3 habits that you need to build, based on the first small steps you have taken in step one. If you exercise for 5 minutes a day for a month, at the end of the month, the exercise will be part of your day to day routine and your brain will be programmed to do it.
It doesn’t mean that you won’t miss a single day of exercising any more. But it means that you will naturally revert to exercising afterwards.
And through achieving goals and constructing habits you will build confidence.
3. Gain confidence
Confidence is gained through achievements. Once you can see that you consistently achieve your goals and you do it almost naturally and automatically, you will feel more confident about being an achiever. You will believe that you can definitely turn your life around.
You will get a new perspective, even if only on one part of your life. You will feel empowered to go and get what you want. You will start to understand that you can slowly but surely get to where you need to be.
So keep taking action to build up your confidence. Importantly, confidence is gained through awareness of your achievements, which leads us to step 4.
4. Track your progress
Make sure you write down your achievements. Keep track of your progress.
Whether you do it in a journal, in a word or excel document is up to you. The crucial part is to compare your planed tasks with your actual achievements.
Going back to the example of exercising, if you planned 5 days a week of exercise and you exercised for 4 days, write down your 4 days achievement. Do it for each one of your tasks.
Avoid feeling down for not achieving everything you set out to do. Instead, focus on appreciating what you have achieved (if you hadn’t exercised at all the week before, this is a big jump already). Then make adjustments to your plans in order to increase your likeliness of achieving your goals in the future.
For example, if you realize you systematically achieve only 70% of your goals, either lower your target or put habits or processes in place to raise your achievement percentage.
Once again, focus on making small adjustments. Avoid big changes straight away as doing so would be setting yourself for disappointment.
Finally, you might think that small easy tasks are not going to be enough to achieve your big long term goals. And you would be right (even though small consistent action can still lead to big things through the compounding effect). This is why step 5 is here.
5. Raise the bar
Over time, a task that you might have found challenging at the beginning will become easier to execute. As you are getting more skilled, doing the same thing again and again won’t bring you much growth anymore. This means it’s time to switch gear.
Going back to the video game Skyrim, as you get more skilled, carrying on doing the same task won’t bring you much improvement and sometimes, none at all. So to keep a steady progress, you need to seek more challenging tasks.
The same goes for running in real life: you need to progressively raise the bar to get better.
Therefore, once you have built your habits and confidence and you can see that it is very easy to do a specific task, you need to raise the bar. Move from 5 minutes exercising a day to 10 minutes. Alternatively, make your workout more intense in those 5 minutes.
You need to move at your own rhythm, so the frequency of your reviews is up to you, but as a rule of thumb, I would recommend that you review your targets (your bars) once a month.
Do a monthly review of your plan and adjust values where it makes sense. Consistently raise the bar so that you can keep growing to finally achieve your big goals.
Focus on what you can influence
Following the 5 steps above will allow you to consistently achieve your goals and start claiming your life back. You will be able to build the future that you desire.
One important point to close this post is that you should always focus on what you can influence. Focus on your actions, your thoughts, your reactions, your plan. And ignore the rest. Ignore external events over which you don’t have control.
Stay focused, stay on task. You will be amazed on what you can achieve through taking small steps consistently.
That said, I’m going back to wandering into imaginary worlds now.