Is it just me, or can setting ambitious goals feel unattainable or unrealistic at times? Especially those big-picture, long-term goals. Sure, yeah, in 10 years I’d love to own a house in the country and have a couple books published and have a few more figures in the bank and maybe have a mountain home for long weekends and holidays. That’s easy to visualize and dream about all day long, but how in the world do you actually get there?
I believe the key is starting small — like minuscule, the teeniest of tiny — and then building and stacking from there. This realization came to me as all the best ones do: accidentally. It started with flossing.
I’m not kidding you. I had accumulated about eight of those little floss packs from dentist visits that I would use occasionally, but not often enough to get rid of any by the time my next teeth cleaning came around. For the sake of avoiding guilt over throwing away all of those little blue boxes that I do use, sometimes, and that were FREE, I made a choice. I decided I would floss every morning before brushing my teeth until I used up all of my floss packs.
Real earth-shattering, mind-expanding goal setting over here in the Swanson-Skelton household, let me tell you. Truly, have you ever heard of a stupid easier goal than taking a minute to floss? But seriously, it was a new effort for me, since I probably only flossed one or two times a week (or every other week…) before that.
Expending just the extra minute every morning was something. It wasn’t something outrageous, but it was an additional daily effort that I hadn’t been doing before. I’ve been keeping up with this little goal for about three months, and guess what? I still have, like, a million floss packs. But, also! My teeth are whiter, they feel less grimy throughout the day, and I feel a bit better about myself by starting the morning with this refreshing sip of productivity every day.
Most importantly, I can’t imagine NOT flossing my teeth every morning now. I began thinking about why this goal, of all the goals I’ve set for myself in my life, has stuck so solidly, and I found that there are three components in this bitesized objective that I could probably apply to other areas of my life. It’s regular, it’s reachable, and, as I’ve mentioned once or twice, it’s SMALL.
I decided to search for other parts of my day that I could stick in these types of goals. Where could I add something on a regular basis, that didn’t feel like an everyday Everest (reachable), and that didn’t take an hour, or even 30 minutes, of my time…small?
If you’re anything like me, if a new thing takes too much time, it probably won’t be sticking around for long. I like my free time, and I like my routines, and shaking them up with discomfort or a new project is often a difficult mental hurdle to get over every single day. At least for me.
Shockingly (read: not shockingly), however, there were plenty of areas throughout my day to stick in these Post-It-sized goals.
In the mornings, I’ve committed to reading one chapter of a personal development book every day before sitting down at my desk to work. Right now, I’m reading Brene Brown’s “Braving the Wilderness.” To be completely honest, I’ve been reading it for the last seven months. I hadn’t read it in the last five because “I don’t have time” or “There are more important things to do than read during the day.”
Truth is, if I leave reading — especially books that expand my mindset and push me to pursue more in life, but are also a little more abstract and slow-going than, say, murder mysteries — until nighttime, I read two paragraphs and pass the heck out, absorbing almost none of the goodness among those pages. Ask John. I read thrillers at night, and even those can’t keep me up longer than a page or two.
Reading ONE CHAPTER in the mornings takes 10 to 15 minutes of my time. Time that would probably be spent on Instagram as I drink my coffee, if I’m still being totally honest. This little goal has really become quite a precious buddy of mine.
Another one that John and I are committing to is both sharing three things that are exclusive to each day that we are thankful for. So, we can’t say “health, family, and shelter” every day, and we’re forced to think of three items special to every particular day, which poses us in a place of gratitude at the end of even our worst days with a less-than-5-minute-long exercise.
Between that and all this reading and flossing going on, it’s like, who do I think I am? Miss America? It’s good stuff, y’all.
Maybe you have even less bandwidth or tolerance than I do for new, daily goals that could expand your health, mind, or worldview. Sorry, but I’m still going to challenge you to find something — anything (remember how mine started with stinking flossing?!) — and roll with it. But, make me a promise, only start with one thing.
Try listening to a podcast on entrepreneurship or communication on your way to work, eating vegetarian one meal a day, rolling out of bed and doing 25 push-ups and crunches right there on the floor, taking your dog on a walk around the block after dinner every night, subscribing to a new uplifting newsletter that you don’t delete before reading every day, taking off your makeup every night, meditating for five minutes before driving to work — whatever it is, stick to it for a week and then see what happens. (I know what will happen.)
I’ve seen this play out for myself and it has been so transformative with how I go about my day. Start with one that takes 10 minutes or less, make it a non-negotiable part of your routine, and then eventually add another. This stacking of goals will eventually shape your days into something heartening, fulfilling, and productive for so many areas of your life. I’m not saying it’ll get you that mountain home in 10 years, but I’m also not not saying that. Give it a shot, you guys. Or a floss.
I would love more ideas for goal-stacking in my own life! Tell me all about the little goals you’ve already been accomplishing in your day-to-day, and ones you want to start pursuing, in a comment below or in an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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