Breaking Down Your Big Goals

By Liezel Thompson
Woman celebrating a goal at work - Vitality

A familiar conversation around the fire on a cold January evening: “What are your goals for the year?”.  Good old faithfuls include “run a marathon”, “save for our vacation overseas”, “go back to school to earn my degree”, “learn to play a new instrument”, or “become debt-free”.  We start with fervor, buy the new gear, get a trainer, go to sleep early, and wake up at the crack of dawn to chase our dreams.  But just a few short weeks later, that same momentum that propelled us to make those commitments, seems to have vanished into thin air.  Ringing any bells?  We realize that goals are pure fantasy unless there are realistic, sustainable plans to achieve them.

So how can we set a course toward that one BIG goal – the thing that keeps us up at night and burns a hole in our hearts? Here are a couple of ideas on how to approach taking those big goals and breaking them up into smaller, manageable chunks.  After all, how do you eat an elephant?  One bite-sized chunk at a time.

  1. Begin with the end in mind

Being able to clearly articulate the goal is the first step.  A rock-climbing analogy is helpful here.  The goal is to get to the top of the climb.  Simple.  The top is the reward; where you feel almost superhuman, even if you may be dead tired. However, it’s a dangerous sport and being strategic about how you get yourself from the ground to the clouds is critical.  Having a very clear end in sight gets you moving in the right direction.  Along the way, there are many options available to make the climb harder or easier, to expend or preserve more energy.  But those steps are not important just yet.

  1. Choose a path

Next, you should set short- and medium-term tasks that create forward progress.  These should be opportunities to achieve smaller goals daily.  Booking time in your schedule creates a visual reminder of your commitment to your long-term goal and turns your posture toward achievement. Prioritizing time and energy to these smaller goals produces momentum towards your big goal.  This is called the snowball effect and is especially powerful in paying off debt.  Tackle smaller amounts of debt first, and very soon, the thrill and sense of accomplishment boosts you toward becoming systematically debt-free.

  1. The beginning is always the hardest!

You can imagine the thrill of crossing the finish line, but unless you get your running shoes on and head out the door, that half marathon goal will take residence in your imagination forever.  Just take the first step.  Then the next, and the next.  Showing up for yourself every day will quickly become a habit, a drug you cannot get enough of.  Soon, you will not be able to imagine how you made it through your day without intentionally laying claim to “your” time.  Let the momentum of that initial start drive you forward.

  1. It’s not all straight up – there are some down bits too.

Expect the unexpected – life happens.  An unexpected work crisis, a nagging injury, an unplanned home repair.  Build margin into the long-term plan, with progress check-in points along the way.  Is this plan still working?  Was the initial timeline realistic?  Do I need more support?  Do I need to change my position?  Be prepared to adjust your plan but keep fighting for your goals!

  1. Don’t go at it alone

Having a few cheerleaders in your corner is worth its weight in gold.  Share your goals with a handful of friends for support for those times that you will inevitably need it.  Sometimes all you need is a little push from a friend to set you back on course. Avoid any negative talk that threatens to throw you off course – either your own or someone else’s.

  1. Celebrate your accomplishments

Finally, don’t forget to celebrate along the way.  Tick off each daily, weekly, monthly goal and congratulate yourself for getting after it.  You might even consider smaller rewards for reaching certain milestones –treat yourself to new running shoes once you hit that 30-minute run without needing to stop, or a weekend away after midterms.

Invest in yourself and crush your goals – no matter the size. It’s money in the rest-of-your-life bank! 

Liezel lives a full life in Moorestown, New Jersey with her 3 daughters and their brand-new Australian Shepherd puppy, Ron.  She enjoys playing the piano and is a budding pickleball enthusiast.  She loves being creative around her home and exploring the world around her with her girls.  This year, her big goals include designing and planting her dream “courtyard garden”, learning how to use power tools, and exercising to build strength.

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