The Danger of Setting Big Goals

Making your goals big and bold, they say, will help you persist in the face of obstacles. But many times, this thinking doesn't cut it.
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I ran in a race in October and re-learned a valuable lesson. During the middle of the run, I turned a corner and faced a long stretch -- the kind that doesn't seem to end. When I started the race, the thought of crossing the finish line motivated me. But when I was half-way through, out of breath and out of energy, visualizing the finish line didn't provide me with any "umph."

Instead of focusing on success and reaching my goal, I tried to forget all about the finish line and conquering the long stretch ahead. I dropped my head and looked about three steps in front of me. Every three steps became a new "finish line." Forget about everything else, I told myself over and over. Focus on just those next three steps. Before I knew it, I had run the long stretch and was turning another corner.

So what does this mean in the real world? All the experts encourage you to dream big. Making your goals big and bold, they say, will help you persist in the face of obstacles. But many times, this thinking doesn't cut it.

Big goals can become a double-edged sword. Big can get you off the couch, but it can also create frustration: I'm in the battle for my life, struggling in the trenches, getting shot at, and you want me to focus on winning the war? I don't think so. How about focusing how to survive the next 24 hours?

There's a fine line of course. If you exclusively focus on the immediate (i.e., what's right in front of you) and ignore the bigger picture, your work may start to feel pointless. To achieve of a healthy balance, try the following:
  1. Think big. In order to get the motivation to enter the race (e.g., start a company, write a book, lose weight, learn to play drums, start a blog), it's important to visualize the finish line and to bask in the mental glory of crossing it. The bigger you think, the more excited you'll be to get started. If you're not a "think big" kind of thinker, check out Michael Port's Think Big Revolution website for some inspiration.
  2. Act small. Get out of your head and start doing small things every day to get one step closer to reaching your goal. You'll find that even the biggest goals (and longest stretches) can be achieved by focusing on those small things that will take you a few steps closer to your destination.
  3. Start today. Thinking about successfully achieving a big goal is easy. Actually achieving a big goal is hard. This is why most people talk and only a few do. If you want to accomplish X, you must do something today -- right now -- that moves you closer.

If you're afraid of heights, the rule is not to look down. During my race, I had a new rule: don't look up. I focused on my next few steps and knew if I did this over and over and over, I'd eventually reach the finish line. And I'm happy to report I did finish the race.

Oh, I guess I learned one more lesson. Don't run in a race that you haven't trained for if you want to walk the next day. (Ouch!)

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