Do You Need a Big Goal, or a Mini Plateau?
Lately I’ve been talking (obsessing?) all about changes and shifts.
So far we’ve covered:
How to use words as guideposts for making intentional choices or changes in the new year;
How to make changes to our health without all the mindwreckage; and
How to move through the fear that keeps us from making changes at all.
Last week the focus was on fear, and how to push aside that particular barrier when it comes to starting down new paths and making changes. But this week, I want to get into the more complex – and arguably more interesting – barrier to change. Let’s talk paralysis.
One of my goals right now involves a big creative shift: I’m working on really embracing the task of sharing before I feel ready, or before the thing feels fully complete. It’s a new way of doing things for me, one that really freaked out my inner perfectionist at first (see: fear) and has opened me up to a lot more fun, lightness, and actual progress.
Removing the judgmental inner-gatekeeper has made my creative process feel a whole lot more energizing. It’s the reason I’ve been able to talk openly about a big change I’m working on – shifting my brand – and tease some of what that might look like in my Instagram stories before I have everything fully figured out – and that’s made the process a whole lot less isolating.
This process has really gotten my wheels turning about change, and why it can be so hard to start down a new road. Something like a brand shift is just one example of a big change we might want to make in our lives – and I think once we’ve gotten clear in our own minds about an exciting change we want to shoot for, it’s natural to want to treat it like one big project and tackle it all in one piece.
Whether it’s something big we want to move toward in our career, our health, our creative work, or our relationship, the truth is the same: change doesn’t have to happen all at once for it to ‘count’.
So often, the end goal is the end goal because it’s big and bold. Whatever it is, it’s probably a pretty big leap from where you are now, which is why the prospect of getting there gets us all jazzed up.
But thinking of that change as one big chunk – and forgetting to try and parse out all those smaller pieces that build on each other to help us get there – adds this layer of pressure that says, “you haven’t succeeded until you’ve done it all.” And it’s just going to mean we feel defeated that much sooner.
Instead of trying to take on huge changes all at once and quickly getting overwhelmed or deflated, I’ve found two go-to tactics that help me break through the paralysis:
1. Break down the big goal into smaller, more manageable action steps.
This is where things stop feeling paralyzing and overwhelming, and where we can start to see what a path forward actually looks like. With a list of small, bite-sized steps to work with, it’s so much easier to take those next steps forward and start building a sense of momentum. Plenty of smart, articulate people (like her and her) have written great stuff on this topic.
2. Look for the steps that can serve as your micro goals.
This is where things get interesting. At this stage, see if you can look past the knock-’em-out-real-quick steps on your list – things like downloading an app to get you started, ordering a new alarm clock, or setting up a Google alert for type of the job you want – and look for the slightly more ambitious steps that can serve as mini milestones in and of themselves. They’re the steps that will help you reach a new mini plateau, with a new view and possibly a new perspective.
If your goal is to get back into running again after a long hiatus from exercise... maybe that first mini milestone is being able to run a mile without stopping.
If your goal is to leave your job and switch to a new field you suspect will make you happier... maybe that first mini milestone is to complete one training, course, or certification in that new field to add to your resume.
If your goal is to work on your relationship and find more ease or joy... maybe your first mini milestone is getting to a place where you can start that first conversation about what’s not working for you, or what needs to change.
These micro goals are so, so valuable in making big exciting changes – not just because they help you stay focused by breaking up the journey in manageable steps, but also because they provide natural resting points to pause and celebrate, assess where you are and whether it still feels good, and decide if the path forward you that decided on months ago is still the one you want to travel down.
Not only do micro goals help us cultivate a sense of hope and accomplishment where we might otherwise feel defeated, but they also provide important information and pivot points along the way that might inform or change ‘the big plan’ in surprising ways.
The other thing is that since these mico goals came from a list of steps you want to take, that means they’re inherently things you can control. In other words, if the ‘big end goal’ is something that maybe you’re hoping for but can’t fully control – like landing a specific job or title at work, losing weight, or hoping you and your partner will transform your relationship together – these goals are things you can control. And that right there brings an important layer of intentionality, empowerment, and hope back into the process.
My challenge to you this week is to zero in on one big-ish change you’ve been thinking about wanting to make, and to break down the steps until you can find the mini plateaus.
Look for those manageable steps that feel exciting enough to get you started, but not so out of reach that the overwhelm sets in. See if you can make that first mini plateau the new goal in your mind, and let the other bigger goal fade into the background for now. Focus on getting to that first plateau, and maybe even set a gentle timeline if you think that’ll help. (If that feels like unwelcome added pressure, don’t!)
Then, make this promise to yourself: when you reach that plateau, before you power onto the next, you’ll stop to enjoy the view. You’ll sit with questions like, “Does this still feel good?” and “Do I want to keep going in this same direction?”
Use it as an opportunity to look at what you learned during that process, and use that information to make a thoughtful choice about your next move. This way, you’re not a prisoner to a long-term plan or idea that ‘sounded good at the time;’ you’ll be a conscious, thoughtful trail blazer who gets to decide how your journey unfolds as you're experiencing it.
Is there a particular goal or change you’ve been sitting with, or thinking about? What does your first mini plateau look like? Feel free to share in the comments below!