The Art of the Small Goal

by Alison Bonds Shapiro, M.B.A.

We are used to making long range plans, fixing a goal firmly in our minds and organizing ourselves to get there – always keeping an eye on the impending result. This is useful. Many things are accomplished just this way. But there is another strategy we can employ and one that works well when dealing with unknowns like the outcome of healing. This strategy is the art of the small goal.

The path of recovering from illness and injury can be unpredictable. We don’t know how far we will come or what the ups and downs and turns along the way might bring. Focusing only on a long range intended result may both frustrate and discourage us and may take our attention away from what we need to do.

This not to say that we should wander aimlessly without direction and a sense of purpose. But we might try holding that direction in a general way without giving ourselves a fixed outcome. We can do this both with strength and with a kind of spaciousness, allowing for discovery and variation. I have met people who, in the course of their recovery, had one specific goal in mind. Their sense of their healing is defined by the belief that if they didn’t achieve that one specific goal and achieve it quickly their efforts are a “failure”. And I have known other people who decided to become and stay as well as they possibly can be but are open to discovering exactly what that means, without a preconceived specific idea or a particular measure.

I saw a person the other day whom I had not seen since his stroke a few months ago. Paul is early into his recovery. He is young, in college still (Yes, young people have strokes). Initially paralyzed on his dominant side, Paul is healing well, but still has a long way to go. Paul intends to go back to college. He does not know what that will mean for him yet – if he will have full use of his hand when he goes – if his walking will be more even and without a cane – but Paul is determined to go back to school.  Paul has established going back to school as a general direction. And he is willing to discover and work with whatever amount of healing he has along the way.

Paul could have said that he would not be well enough to go back to college unless he met a big, specific goal, like the complete restoration of use of his dominant hand, but he hasn’t. There is no doubt that Paul wants the use of his hand, but there is also no doubt that Paul is willing to work to find out what he might achieve by focusing on what he can do each day and continuing with his life regardless.

The art of the small goal is putting our full attention on the small thing we can achieve today and letting go of the need to measure our success by some narrowly defined, long-range outcome. Martha, when she began to learn to walk again, started by being able to lift her injured leg only a very short distance. Her hip began to respond, but she could not yet bend her knee. The changes were slow. She could move her leg a little bit. The next day she could move it a tiny fraction more, and then, after many more days she could bend the knee a little. Each day brought a tiny discovery. Martha didn’t judge her results by measuring them against the whole leg movement. She didn’t say to herself, “Oh this is no good. I can’t walk around the block. I haven’t achieved the results I want so this amount of movement is a failure.” She said to herself, “Let me see what small improvement I can find today.”

You might be amazed at how many people I meet who become deeply discouraged because they don’t meet a big goal quickly and then give up trying altogether. Holding determination for a general direction of healing, while letting go of outcomes is essential. One small goal at a time is the focus that will help us. When we learn to focus on the small goals, we have achievements to celebrate, rather than measurements of failures to dishearten us.

When we focus on the small goals our creativity is stimulated. When we let go of big, specific outcomes, we make a space to discover what is emerging. What emerges might be something we never imagined, something we can work with in a new way.

And, amazingly enough, when we focus on small goals and achieve them one at a time, more often than not they add up to big goals.

GoalsOnTrack iPhone App version 1.0.6

We have just released a new update to the GoalsOnTrack iPhone app which is now available for download on the App Store.

In this version 1.0.6, we have added a new feature to allow you to do a full re-sync if your iPhone app data is out of sync with your web version for any reason. Now you don’t have to remove and re-install the app to do a resync. Simply go to the “Settings” view, and tap “Reset Sync” link. You will be prompted for confirmation. Once confirmed, your app will reset the sync data and exist. Open the app and login again with your account password. Then go to the “Settings” view and tap “Sync Now” link.

A couple of more fixes around data syncing code have also been added. We are also working on an HTML5 based mobile version which is optimized for Android phones, but will work for all latest smart phones. Please stay tuned for updates on the upcoming mobile app launch.

As always, feel free to let us know if you have any feedback about our software or web site. Thanks and have a great weekend!


Review Your Goals Weekly

Post written by Leo Babauta

How often do you review your goals? Every year? If so, you may be ahead of most people. Even so, I recommend a more frequent review period that will seem like overkill for some people, but to me it’s the key to maintaining focus on your goals and actually making them a reality. The key habit to actualizing your goals: Review your goals at least once a week.

Let’s be honest: if you don’t think about your goals, you won’t make them happen. If you aren’t doing anything about your goals, they are just wishes. (If you haven’t set your goals yet, I highly recommend you do so.)

In order to actualize your goals, you need to take the following steps:

  1. Set your goals (see Think About Your Life Goals).
  2. Set action tasks for each goal.
  3. Do the action tasks – one a day is ideal (see Purpose Your Day).
  4. Motivate yourself to stay focused (see Top 20 Motivation Hacks).
  5. Review your goals often (weekly is ideal).

Here’s the process I recommend:

  1. Once a year (New Year is convenient, but really any time is good) you should review what you’ve done this year, and set your goals for the next 12 months. Yearly goals should be mini-goals of your life goals.
  2. At the beginning (or end) of each month, review your progress for the past month, and set your goals for the coming month. Set easily achievable goals — it’s better to set your sights low (at least at first) and achieve them than to set them too high and fail. Monthly goals should be mini-goals of your overall yearly goals.
  3. At a set time each week (Mondays work for me), review your progress for the last week, and set goals for the week. These goals should be mini-goals for your monthly goals. For each of these goals, list a few action steps. Then schedule the action steps throughout the week (one step per day is ideal).
  4. Each day, when planning your day, make your goal action step for that day be one of your Most Important Things for that day. Do it first thing in the morning. Once you complete it, you have done something awesome for that day — you’ve taken a small step towards making your dreams come true!

The key is to review these goals and set action steps each week. If you only do it once a year, or even once a month, you won’t remember them on a daily basis.

If you fall off your weekly review, just re-focus yourself and start again the next week. Don’t let small slip-ups stop you from achieving your goals!

How to Take More Action: 9 Powerful Tips


“It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.”
Leonardo Da Vinci

To get things done you need to take action. Things seldom happen on their own.

But taking action can be difficult and hard. And so it’s easy to wind up in Lazyville or Procrastinationland a lot. How can you break out of such behaviour and develop a behaviour of taking more action?

Here are 10 tips that you’ll hopefully find useful.

1. Reconnect with the present moment.

This will help you snap out of over thinking and just go and do whatever you want to get done.

This is probably the best tip I have found so far for taking more action since it puts you in a state where you feel little emotional resistance to the work you’ll do. And it puts you in state where the right actions often just seem to flow out of you in a focused but relaxed way and without much effort.

One of the simplest ways to connect with the present moment is just to keep your focus on you breathing for a minute or two. Check out 7 more tips in 8 Ways to Return to the Present Moment.

2. Be accountable to others.

If you tell a bunch of people that you are going to do something then it will be hard to not do it. You don’t want to disappoint them. Or have to face up to them the next time you meet.

If you have a hard time getting going with something get some support. If you for instance workout, do it with a friend to motivate each other to take action – and actually go to the gym – when motivation runs low. Motivating each other and bringing enthusiasm when one of you is feeling low can really help to develop consistency and useful habits.

Think about how you can involve others to help all of you to take more action.

This tip works well. But it can put you in situation where you take action to avoid pain, to avoid judgement. And it can help you create pressure within yourself. Such a state may not always be the best one to be in to take action and perform well. One way to lessen such problems is to use this tip and then when you are about to take action you reconnect with the present moment to quiet negativity within yourself.

3. Be accountable to yourself.

In the long run a more consistent and perhaps healthier way to develop a habit of taking more action is to answer to yourself instead of others. To set your own standards and principles for how you will behave.

The problem with this one is that you are likely to cheat on yourself and rationalize how you don’t need to take action or follow your principles. When the social pressure of having to answer to others isn’t there it’s easy to slip and fall into laziness or procrastination.

But over time you can become more and more consistent with acting according to your own standards. I believe that one of the keys to develop this kind of thinking is to get off a dependence on external validation and be more internally validated. You can read more about that at # 8 in 9 Great Ways to Make Yourself Absolutely Miserable.

If you can develop accountability to your own standards then it can be more consistent than the one you get from relying on being accountable to others. It comes from within so it doesn’t have to rely on other, outer circumstances that may fluctuate.

It is also very useful to help you feel good about yourself and to help you grow. If you rely on being accountable to others and their validation then you may grow but also feel confined by what others expect from you. If you are accountable to yourself then you set your limits wherever you want them.

4. Lighten up.

One way to dissuade yourself from taking action is to take whatever you are about to do too seriously. That makes it feel too big, too difficult and too scary. If you on the other hand relax a bit and lighten up you often realize that those problems and negative feelings are just something you are creating in your own mind. With a lighter state of mind your tasks seems lighter and becomes easier to get started with. Have a look at Lighten Up!for more on this topic.

5. Use a limited to-do list.

A to-do list is a simple and great way to remember what you are about to do. But it’s easy to get overly enthusiastic when writing it and putting in to many items. And then when you look at that big list you feel drained and an urge to procrastinate.

But do you need to do all those things?

Think about what the absolutely most important items on the list are. Just two or three. Then put them on a new to-do list. This list will seem less daunting and I have found that it makes it easier to actually take action and get those things done.

6. Choose instead of should.

Here’s a small but useful tip. You don’t really need to do anything. You always choose what to do. Thinking about things this way removes the “shoulds” and “need tos” that take your personal power away and make you feel like you aren’t in control. When you think that you choose to do whatever you do then you regain the control and power. And it becomes easier to take action.

7. Focus on the how instead of the if’s.

What if’s can really mess with your mind. You can spend days, weeks or years thinking about what may happen if you take action. So instead of letting your mind get lost in what if’s focus on the how. In a situation focus on how you can do something, how you can solve a problem or achieve a goal. Do some research if you need to. Or get support and help from other people.

Focusing on the how puts your mind to better use and creates a positive attitude within rather than a negative and uncertain one. This makes it easier to take action without too much hand wringing and time spent over thinking things.

8. Get enthusiastic.

Enthusiasm is great emotional state to be in to get going and take action. And if you aren’t feeling enthusiastic then that’s OK too. You can pretty much always create enthusiasm within yourself. Check out 4 Powerful Reasons to Up Your Enthusiasm, and How to Do It for tips on how you can do that from both me and you (there are some really good suggestions in the comments section of that article).

9. Start small.

To get from a state where you just feel like sitting on your chair and doing nothing much to one where you take action over and over you can do this: start small.

Getting started with your biggest task or most difficult action may seem too much and land you in Procrastinationland. So instead, start with something that doesn’t seem so hard.

One of my favourites is simply to take a few minutes to clean my desk. After that the next thing doesn’t seem so difficult to get started with since I’m now in a more of a “take action” kind of mode.

The Ultimate Productivity Habit

Written by Scott Young

I believe if something is important enough to remember, it’s important enough to write down. This doesn’t just apply to random to-do tasks or events to put on your calendar. I write down goals, ideas, what I spend money on and useful thinking points from books. The reason to write isn’t to keep records, but to be more aware.

In the popular productivity bible, Getting Things Done, Dave Allen suggests writing everything down on a notepad so you won’t forget. The purpose, according to Allen, is to take the burden off your memory. While I think this is important, it only touches on one of the reasons to write things down.

Writing Keeps You Aware

Writing focuses your thinking. When you write something down, you aren’t just creating a paper record, you’re changing the way you think about it. Writing down a goal changes a whim into a conviction. Writing down your expenses changes excessive spending from a bad habit to a conscious choice. Writing down your idea turns a vague suggestion into a clear concept.

Writing is like an upgrade to your thinking. In the normal flow of thought, you can’t edit typos and make adjustments. If you get distracted, it can be hard to return to your place. And since your short term memory is only about 5-9 items long, you can’t think over more complex ideas.

When you start writing things down, you have an upgraded level of thinking about them. Writing things down makes you more aware of opportunities and problems, like a temporary boost to your IQ.

The Virtue Isn’t in a Record

Over half the things I write down, I never look at again. For the other half, about three quarters of those, I’ll only look at once or twice, usually briefly. Only a small amount of the things I write down are needed for keeping records I’ll look at repeatedly. If you’re stuck in the record-keeping mindset, writing everything down won’t make sense. It just doesn’t seem practical to write down every idea, expense, meal or to-do item. But, if you appreciate the role writing plays in keeping you focused, you can see why it is valuable, even if you throw away the writing soon afterwards.

What Should I Write Down?

Obviously you can’t write down everything. You can’t write down everything said in a conversation. Writing down everything you eat or everything you do can eat up a lot of time. Writing is valuable because it forces you to focus, so writing down everything would ruin the purpose.

You should write down anything you feel needs more clarity. If your finances aren’t doing well and you want more clarity, start writing down everything you spend money on and all of your income. If your studying habits need work, start writing down when you study, what you studied and for how long. If you keep getting distracted on important goals, write them down too.

Writing is sort of a universal productivity tool. It can focus your thinking in just about anything, so using it frequently is a good way to stay focused. Even something as simple as writing down when you procrastinate can be enough to stop it.

Where Do You Need to Focus?

If something is important and worth getting done, it is probably worth writing down. Ask yourself what things could use more focus in your life. Writing isn’t an instant cure that will immediately make you more productive. But it makes you far more aware of what needs to be done and how well you are doing it.

The first time I started writing out exactly what I needed to do, I finished three times as much work. When I started writing out my goals, I was able to focus on them far more than when they were just in my head. I’ve also found writing down my expenses, how I use my time or what I eat to increase my awareness of any problems.

If there is a part of your life that is unknown, inconsistent or in poor shape, you should consider writing more down about it. Write down ideas and make records while you’re working on it, and spend time writing your thoughts when you’re taking a break. If you can keep writing for a few weeks, it can reveal solutions to problems you didn’t even realize you had before.

I suggest committing yourself to writing something down for at least a month. Writing isn’t a natural habit, we weren’t born with the skill and it’s one of the first pieces of technology we had developed. As a result, if you don’t commit to continuing it for a few weeks, you probably will return to relying only on your short-term memory. Thinking is good, but writing plus thinking is even better.

Don’t try to write down everything. Pick just a handful of things you want to keep your focus on. And if you’re planning on making a commitment to write, you will probably want to write that down too.

How to Make an Action Plan to Achieve Any Goal


Many people create goals for themselves, only to see them never materialize. The reason that their goals do not become their reality is that they do not take any actions to move toward their goals. Just wanting something is not enough to make it happen. To get anything in life you need to take action. The best way to achieve any goal that you set for yourself is by making an action plan for it.

1. Write down the goal that you want to make an action plan for. Over time you will want to do this for every goal that you set for yourself. Right now it is best to start with one goal that way you can narrow your focus and your drive to achieve it.

2. List the things that you will need to do to accomplish this goal. If you do not know what it will take to achieve this goal, go online and do some research. For example, if you want to become a teacher, go online and research what type of degree and certification that you will need to achieve this goal. To make an action plan, you must know in detail what it will take to reach your end destination.

3. Choose a completion date for your action plan. This is the date that you will accomplish your goal by. Be realistic when setting this date. If you need a certain amount of time for the schooling to accomplish a goal, then you will want to make sure that you factor that in to the date.

4. Break the actions that you need to take to accomplish into the months and weeks that lead up to the date that you have set to reach your goal. In an action plan, it is important to a weekly and monthly list of actions that you will take to achieve your goal. This will hold you accountable and keep you on your timeline.

5. Refer to the action plan often through out the time that you are working on your goal. Reread what you need to do each day to make your goal a reality. You can re-evaluate your action plan once a week or month to see if you need to rework any of your time frames and actions that you need to take. This will guarantee your success at any goal that your heart desires.

Next Page »