I had an epiphany in my kitchen this morning: I set big, grand, humongous goals to keep myself safe.
I set the big ones because I’m think I’m supposed to. “Reach for the stars!” “Shoot for the moon!” “Go big or go home!” “If it doesn’t scare you, you’re not thinking big enough.” “Insert peppy and annoying phrase here!”
Maybe one time when I was little I told someone my goal for the day was to draw a picture or something and I didn’t get a pat on the back. Maybe someone said “That’s not a real goal!”. Or maybe reading boatloads of stories about someone setting a huge goal and then his/her miraculous moment of accomplishing it (seemingly without even trying very hard) were what did me in. I don’t know.
In any case, somewhere along the way I began telling myself the story that it was go big or don’t even bother trying. Certainly don’t share a small goal out loud, and really, it’s probably best not to even have them because if I’m working on a small goal, then I’m a small goal person who will never amount to anything and probably end my days living behind a dumpster with rats and zombies.
Now before any panties get in a twist, let me be clear — I’m not saying you shouldn’t have a big goal. I see that having an idea of where one wants to go can be a sort of homing beacon guiding the way, a light drawing us forward. Maybe the point of a big goal is for it simply to be a light that draws us forward. And maybe there are some folks who function really well with just a big idea — they see the light and then instinctively know how to get there.
I am not one of those people. I don’t do big leaps or black and white. Maybe someday a leap will call to me, but for now, baby steps are what work. I know I know this (though sometimes I forget and get stuck in the loop of “leap, leap, leap, you idiot!! — which then ends with me fearfully flinging myself sideways or frozen in place, neither helping to move me forward).
What I typically do is this: I set a big goal, say taking all of the sugar out of my diet (i.e., no more chocolate ever again) so my skin will clear up, energy levels will go through the roof, and I’ll lose ten pounds (of course!!) OR something like making $10,000+/month (or a $100,000+/month) in my business. I’ve got my goal. I might even write it down on a piece of paper under the heading of “***GOAL!!***” (which I then look at once or twice before putting it into a pile of stuff which sits on my counter until I get a “I need to clean everything!” moment and I end up looking at it with resentment, anger, and/or shame before stuffing it into the recycle bin).
Writing down that goal doesn’t feel scary. It feels like a big and important thing to do. It makes it feel kind of official because I WROTE IT DOWN. Go me. Sweet. And then things go in this pattern: look at goal and feel accomplished for a day (or an hour), start to wonder how to get there, start sweating and getting a headache, figure that because I’m getting a headache and starting to have trouble thinking and focusing and deciding what to do that the goal wasn’t the right goal and/or a good idea, and then decide to scrap the goal, feeling better and worse at the same time. Wash, rinse, and repeat ad nauseam.
But here’s the thing I’ve realized. You know why setting such a big goal didn’t feel scary? Because deep down I didn’t believe I could accomplish it (but yet it was the “right” and “good” sort of thing to do). It was safe because it would allow me to stay where I was. I could set it and check the box of setting a big goal (phew!), and then I was okay to stay where I was because I had no flippin’ idea how to actually get there but could then use that as an excuse because I didn’t know how to get there so how could I have actually gotten there? It would have needed a miracle or I would’ve needed to somehow transform into a totally new person with superpowers.
I see that the danger in this cycle is that it erodes my confidence in setting any sort of goal, big or small. I’ve got the idea that I can’t accomplish anything, so I stop trying much of anything or looking into where I’ve gone astray. I stay stuck in place (which always leads to feeling shitty).
I’ve heard before about mini-goals and tasks, but I never really put much stock into those. I didn’t see the value. Thinking back to my years in gymnastics, I certainly didn’t get much, if any, praise for falling fewer times off the beam or bending my legs two degrees less during my flight series on beam (when going for straight-legged perfection). Hit that routine perfectly with the big and important skills or it’s a fail.
After flailingly failing for years upon years using grandiose visions, I’ve started to consider, try, and maybe even like baby steps. I see that it does actually work, that I actually make progress. It’s okay if I don’t know how to get all of the way there — what is one teeny-tiny thing that moves the ball in the direction I want to go?
If I do want to lessen my daily dose of sugar? Perhaps that looks like a glass of water and an apple before having a cup of chocolate chips. On the business end, maybe my goal is to start at making $100 in a month. These sorts of goals actually feel scary — because they feel doable. What if I start here, try, and see how it goes?
I see that I can get stuck when I focus on raising the bar and then stare at that raised bar. I can keep going that route, but I’m guessing nothing will change, just like nothing has changed when I’ve gone down that road before (hello, definition of insanity). But if I lower the bar, so low that I can step over it? And then I step over it successfully? Whoa – that feels scarily amazing and different. And I feel a touch of confidence that I can maybe even raise the bar another inch and try stepping over that new height (and bring mats for either side to both boost me up and provide a little cushion so I won’t have as far to fall if I do).
I’m also starting to suspect that even if stories I’ve read about others’ accomplishments don’t list out all of the baby steps they’ve taken, they most likely have taken millions of baby steps too — it probably didn’t actually happen overnight (though making it sound like that results in a seductive story, for sure).
I’m lowering the bar today. Care to join me?