Micro-Goals: The Most Important Aspect of Setting Goals?

Let's cut to the chase: you suck at sticking to your goals.

So do I, so no worries.

Well, I should say, I do reach goals, but I feel like I suck at getting them at the same time.

Maybe this is me falling for the illusion that I need to map out exactly how and how long it's going to take to reach my goals.

Maybe it's ok to reach our goals in a roundabout way or to adjust what they are based on new data. That sounds about right.

After all, we can't predict the future. I doubt anyone is ever going to reach goals the way they thought.

If you're like me, you set big goals when you're motivated. Then Monday rolls around, and you're not so excited anymore, or you're distracted, or you straight up forget.

All common reasons why goals fall through the cracks.

And it happens to the best of us.

This is where I'm supposed to come in and tell you about the importance of keeping your goals simple and your focus and vision laser-focused.

And yes, do this, absolutely, but stay flexible at the same time.

It's often the roundabout way that gets us to the places we want to go rather than the straight line.

Why write about goals at all? Does the world need a new self-help article about goals?

I think so.

For me, I can't stand seeing people filling up their goal graveyard—that place that is overflowing with discarded or forgotten goals and dreams.

That bothers me; wasted potential is a travesty.

And I've been watching people do it one way or another my entire life.

The Goal Graveyard

The goal graveyard contains your hopes and dreams.

You keep filling it up because you're human.

It's perfectly healthy to kill goals from time to time. The problem arises when we have a constant stream of murdered goals filling up our pit of potential.

If you become accustomed to letting goals die the second the going gets tough, well, you're never going to reach your potential.

The reasons anyone fills up their goal graveyard are as many as there are humans, though there are some constants.

Let's talk about some of these constants.

First, as I said, you're human.

Your biology is designed for the wild. You and I don't live in the wild anymore, so we both struggle adapting to this mismatch.

In short, your biology has not designed you to think longterm and make longterm plans. Nature built you to thrive in an immediate reward environment, which is why you struggle in our modern world.

The few born with specific skills that benefit them in the current environment are outliers that came with particular "quirks" that make them different from the rest of humanity. As a result of their uniqueness, they can do things most people don't do.

Think of Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Warren Buffet.

You don't do what these men have done without long term thinking and a kind of rebelliousness to the way most people do things.

Let's look at some examples of this:

Jeff Bezos: Amazon lost money for YEARS because Bezos had a grander vision. Perhaps his greatest achievement was getting investors to join in for the ride.

Elon Musk: All of his companies are designed to get Earth to a sustainable energy system. This goal is adjacent to his life mission of getting humans to Mars, so we can be less at risk as a single-plant species. Talk about long term thinking.

Warren Buffett: Buffett made most of his wealth after he as 65. Meaning he was a millionaire for most of his life and has been billionaire—and one of the richest men on the planet—in his later years.

Returning to the mismatch concept

Spending time daydreaming in the wild could have gotten you killed.

Today, it's the opposite. You can lock yourself in a room and provide for your every need. The same is the case for many humans around the world. This is why those that win today do things that are at odds with their human biology. They think longterm, they daydream and plan and set huge goals. They then take actions on a daily basis to to achieve their vision.

What wins today is long-term thinking and commitment.

The longer view you take, and the more clarity you have about what you want to do, the more likely you are to achieve that vision.

You and I are stuck with the biological machinery that did well in the wild but is maladapted to the modern world.

Does this mean that we have no hope and that only the Jeff Bezos or Elon Musks of the world can do great things?

Absolutely not.

We can model the behaviours and actions that get results today while accepting our shortcomings of biology and creating a plan to work on these shortcomings. We may not become the next Elon or Bezos, but that's ok.

Most of us just want the freedom to work and live where we want—two goals completely attainable by anyone today.

So let's accept our biological limitations and stop being hard on ourselves so we can figure out how to work on our strengths while formulating a plan for our weaknesses.

Why Goals Die

Your goals usually die because you don't plan correctly.

Hell, if you're like most, you don't plan anything at all other than visualizing how awesome it would be to be rich and famous.

Goals are not nice to have pie in the sky dreams—they are concrete and attainable and based in reality and where you are at now... or they should be.

This is the most prevalent Goal mistake #1 is not planning the step-by-step method for reaching your goal(s).

Here's the simple solution for this in a step by step:

  1. Set your goal as specific as possible - list out exactly what it will look like when you reach it. All the variables, specific numbers, how you will feel each day, etc.
  2. Create a reasonable step by step for reaching this goal. Let's aim for 5 or 10 steps. The more granular you can get, the better. If you get to 5 steps, but they seem "bigger," consider breaking those down further into 10 steps.
  3. Finally, create a by when - a deadline—for reaching this goal.

Put it on your calendar and set recurring reminders to get pinged once a month, or week, or day, to make sure you are keeping your goal trajectory on a reasonable path. This is integral to reaching your goals. The more often you can keep your goals at the front of your mind, the better.

Next up are micro-goals.

Micro-goals can be their an end themselves, like in the case habits you want to do daily such as doing 20 pushups or taking a daily walk. Taken a step further, micro-goals should be daily actions you can take that move you towards your larger goals.

Micro goals are steps so small that you can't fail. You can also call these tiny habits.

The theory here—backed by plenty of research—is you create positive momentum by making your goals easy to accomplish, which then leads to consistency and developing the habit. You then build on top of this consistency to do more and more.

This is the intelligent way to reach goals.

Most people don't do this, which is why most people never reach their goals.

Instead of setting goals so outlandish that your brain has no reasonable expectation of reaching them (a problem itself), use daily microhabitats to create a plan with a reasonable timeline for achieving your goal.

Most of us fall into the trap of setting big goals without breaking them down. There is nothing wrong with big goals. Yes, you should have them. The key is to plan them correctly.

The less clarity you have on what it takes to reach that goal, the more esoteric it becomes in your mind. Since your mind does not do well with vague ideas, you MUST be as specific as possible and visualize the steps needed to reach your goals.


Don't Break The Chain

Seinfeld had a process for writing jokes each day he called "Don't break the chain."

He created a large calendar on his wall and marked off each day he wrote a joke. His goal was not to break the chain.

What's ingenious about this simple system is how hard it becomes to break the chain—to miss a day—with each additional day you complete. Each extra day you maintain adds pressure to maintain the habit. You create skin in the game in which it becomes harder to quit. This is a brilliant strategy to use your psychology to your advantage.

Why do so many people not hit their goals?

You may intuitively know you will reach your goals if you keep going. Why, then, is it so hard to stick to when the rubber meets the road and life sets in.

This is why:

  1. You don't connect your larger goals to smaller, micro goals. The fix here is figuring out the smallest thing you can do every day and never skip.
  2. You don't figure out a routine and commit to number 1. You can't do this if you don't think about it in the first place, but now that you realize why you've made this mistake in the past, you can avoid it.

Bonus tip: figure out a way to track your daily progress. There are many methods for this, using whiteboards or calendars to mark off each day, apps, reminders, timers. Etc.

What is the most important step in the process of setting goals?

My answer is: setting small goals that lead to larger goals.

Every goal can and should be reverse-engineered into smaller micro-goals.

The key to reaching goals is figuring out the smallest "too small to fail" micro-goals that you can build into your life right now.

What's great is, the very act of completing micro-goals daily is a skill itself that will make reaching other goals that much easier for you.

So if you are new to all this, I recommend with one goal, maybe two, then building a daily tracking system to make sure you don't break the chain.

Next, do everything you can to stay consistent.

Finally, when you are setting these micro-goals, try to think about matching them to your lifestyle so they don't cause interruptions. Be careful of thinking that a simple daily goal is easy and thus requires little thought.

NO. You want to be hyper specific about matching our goals to your lifestyle so you can improve the chances they will be reached. For the same reason that most goals fail, tiny goals can fail as well—and for other reasons as well.

If you skip a day here and there, no big deal. Just get right back on.

Use micro-goals to reach mega goals.