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The smallest step

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Having a big goal can be overwhelming at times. The finish line can seem very far away, even unreachable. Successful people learn to break down the process into smaller steps and make them into habits—little things they can do every day that gets them closer to reaching that goal.—Dan John

If the goal we set is too big—too far removed from our current reality, there will be too many steps necessary to get there, too many life habits that need to change, too many uncontrolled variables, too much momentum has to be enlisted, and the time-scale for achievement will be too long. That’s a recipe for failure.

How many out-of-shape people join a health club on January 1st intending to get shredded only to lose enthusiasm a month later and return to their old ways? Why does that happen? Because the goal is too big. They have to undo years-worth of couch gravity and poor eating habits. To do that from one day to the next is nearly impossible.

Major success is always a byproduct of small steps that when consistently taken produce habits and momentum toward an increasing number of bigger successes, which in turn reinforce these positive habits, creating greater momentum toward even bigger successes. Major successes are always built from a series of minor successes.

It’s great to wake up one day and decide you’re going to scale Mt. Everest, but if you’ve never hiked up a hill then the goal is wildly disproportionate from where you are right now. A better goal would be what Frans Johansson calls the smallest executable step—the tiniest change you can make that moves you in the general direction you want to go.

As you create habits and momentum toward your goals you are actually, literally, re-wiring the neural pathways in your brain. That’s huge. You’re also enabling yourself to feel success at small intervals.

It’s OK to dream big. But if you want your dream to be anything more than a far-off desire with low probability, break it down into bite-sized achievable steps. Then rejoice as you meet each micro-goal, inching yourself toward the big one.

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