The Allure of Big Goals versus Small Goals
Setting ambitious, life changing goals can be exhilarating. The promise of monumental change, the allure of significant achievements – these are powerful motivators. However, for those already shouldering the burden of demanding professional lives, taking care of family, working out, and making healthy dinners every night, the pursuit of your health goals can sometimes add more stress than relief.
Consider the scenario of an overworked corporate professional aiming to overhaul their entire lifestyle – incorporating a rigorous exercise routine, adopting a strict diet, and making sure to to schedule an hour of mindfulness practice each day. While the intentions are commendable, the sheer scale of these aspirations may set the stage for disappointment and, ironically, more stress.
Small Steps Lead to Big Results
How can we make the process of goal setting less overwhelming and more achievable?
This is where the beauty of small goals comes into play. From a health coach perspective and working with hundreds of clients, I know that sustainable change (behavior and habit changes that last longer than February) often begins with smaller, manageable steps. Many of my clients struggle with the “all or nothing” approach. They will tell me that “I have to workout for at least 30 minutes everyday; I can only eat “xyz” foods; I have to lose 20 pounds by next month; I need to have eight or more hours of sleep every night.”
These goals are the first step in planning to achieve your desired outcome. I’d encourage writing out the reasons (motivators) for why you want to achieve a specific goal and make sure it aligns with your core values and what brings you a sense of joy and fulfillment.
When it comes to taking action towards your goal, what does action and follow through look like? One way to build momentum toward your goal is to simplify and chunk down the bigger picture into smaller goals. You could ask yourself “what is one small simple action that will move me towards my goal and I can do with 100% confidence today?”
James Clear’s “Atomic Habits” brilliantly aligns with the concept of setting small goals. Clear introduces the idea of atomic habits—tiny changes that compound over time to produce remarkable results. These are the small, incremental adjustments that, when consistently practiced, lead to transformative outcomes. For instance, instead of committing to 30 to 60-minutes of intense exercise daily, maybe try a brisk 10 to15-minute walk on your lunch or after a meal.
Personally, I have the “7 Minute Workout” app that I use often when my day is looking busy or I’m tight on time. Getting in this quick workout in the morning and sometimes on my lunch break gives me the satisfaction that I am moving my body. I’ve found this to be a helpful tool to use when my inner critic is loudly telling me, “You need to do a 30 minute workout!” I’ll confidently respond to my critic and say, “I am working on progress over perfection.” I call these 7-minute workouts or doing 30 squats during an online meeting my “movement snacks.”
If your goal is around healthier eating, rather than imposing a rigid diet plan, maybe start a gradual reduction in processed foods. Or when you have a meal that you don’t feel the greatest about, instead of beating yourself up and saying you’re going to start over again next Monday, be intentional with your NEXT meal. Could you add a whole food item such as produce or bump up the protein content? These small adjustments are not only more realistic for someone with a hectic schedule, but they also lay the foundation for long-term, sustainable change.
Plan and Prepare
Around New Year’s we can get obsessed about what we want to change about ourselves instead of expanding on what we’ve been doing right. Maybe you’ve already been making a conscious effort to get more movement into your day, or you have at least one healthy meal as a foundation for everyday. Another way to look at New Years “goals” is to use the month of January to prepare and get organized. Seasonally, we are still in winter, hibernation mode. We might be moving slower, and recovering from the holidays that have been happening the past three months.
Take the pressure off to make drastic changes in January and instead think about what you want to achieve over the coming year and figure out a plan of how you’re going to do it. Planning and researching could be considered an action step towards your goal. Spend time researching workshops or courses, finding helpful people or accountability buddies, getting into the right mindset, reading books, making lists, booking time in your calendar, etc. In a world inundated with information and constant demands, slowing down to identify the vital few goals rather than getting lost in the trivial may be a refreshing approach to the “new year, new me” frenzy.
Celebrate and Track Your Milestones Towards Your Goal
One thing to include in your yearly goal plan is to celebrate small victories and milestones along the way towards your bigger goal. How do you want to track these victories and milestones? Do you want to track these in a journal, planner or habit tracking app? According to a study in the “Journal of Applied Psychology”, they found that writing down goals increased the likelihood of achieving those goals by 42%. The researchers also found that writing down goals was more effective than simply thinking about them or verbally expressing them to others.
Each step forward, no matter how modest, is a triumph worth acknowledging. This positive reinforcement builds momentum and reinforces the idea that progress, no matter how incremental, is meaningful.
Written by Raina Rooney, NBC-HWC Health Coach & Certifed PN1 Nutrition Coach
Former Client Services Specialist for The Wellness Center MN
Raina is passionate about helping overworked professionals shift from a stressed to more balanced state. Raina focuses on helping you reclaim your energy, confidence, and productivity in both personal and professional realms through 1:1 coaching sessions.