Small Wins

Everyone has goals. They can often be lofty ones, like switching careers or running a marathon. Maybe publishing a book or launching a product is more your style. Maybe you want to travel the world.

The thought of these large goals can be overwhelming. It's difficult to break them down into smaller achievable tasks and it's often hard to know where to start. The typical wisdom is to focus on one thing at a time. Pick one goal and throw all your energy at it. I struggle with this myself. It's easy for me to come up with a list of big goals, but breaking them down into actionable and measureable tasks is challenging.

Lately, I've found that relaxing the idea of finishing huge tasks and letting myself have small victories has made a big difference. I get to celebrate being done, finishing something and checking an item off a list. It's a great motivator. Also, an added benefit is that I've found myself making more progress on my larger life goals while focusing on the small stuff.

Write it Down

It's easy to get caught up in the enthusiasm of new ideas and goals, but it can be really disappointing to forget the details of what made an idea unique or special in the first place. It's easy to lose motivation when your goals become vague and feel like their dissipating away in a mist. Trying to juggle everything going on in your life with new goals and aspirations is a constant challenge.

We can also fall into the trap of obsessing over tools and process. Finding just the right method of project managment, or note taking, or just the right app is almost always a bigger distraction than it is a productivity bonus.

Something which has been working for me lately has been to record ideas as they come to me instead of letting them stew. For open source programming projects I'll create a repository for ideas I have. I can then create issues for small tasks as I think of them without worrying about getting into details or even verifying that the idea is relevant or useful. I can always come back later to edit or close them. The important part is getting the idea out of my head and knowing that I can come back to it later and not lose the idea itself.

This same approach has worked well for errands, craft projects, writing, as well as fitness and health goals. Outlining the tasks and requirements to make small measured progress has been a huge help.

The simplest and most familiar tools always seem to win out. Don't let the idea get lost in your head, in the rolling, ever moving train of thoughts. Just write it down.

The Enemy that is Perfectionism

We want to show people our best work. We want to be proud of our work and hold it close to our hearts. I find that trouble arises when wanting something to be perfect prevents us from sharing it at all. We see success in others' work and want that for ourselves. We likely aren't aware of the effort or time invested to create that success—we want it now.

It's hard to publish, share or finish something that doesn't meet the expectations you have for it in your mind. But there's always something to improve. There's always something that you think could be better.

Being able to make something great comes from the experience of making a lot of things that are good. And you can't make something good if you always plan, tweak and talk about making things, but never finish them. I get stuck in this revision loop more frequently than I'd like to admit. I'm aware that I need to leave a trail of rough drafts and unifinished work to get to something I'm proud of, but I want it to be good the first time.

Gaining Momentum

I think building healthy habits is important, but can be dangerous if obsessed over. Habits need to be created deliberately with purpose and care because bad habits can be formed just as easily as good ones. My recent experience has shown me that celebrating completing small tasks and goals can be a great starting point, and possibly a better focus than forming habits.

I've had recent success with achieving and celebrating small wins with both weightlifting (from zero experience to decent barbell PRs), and my personal and open source projects (launching a photography portfolio and new personal website). Achieving and launching these things have been goals of mine for quite some time. The difference is that more recently I made the focus the short terms goals: consistently go to the gym 2-3 times a week and lift slightly more each time, and launch a simple version of my portfolio and personal website and consistently update and improve them.

Conclusion

The above may seem obvious, but it's helped me considerably. I've also made a goal to improve my writing and communicaiton, so finishing this post is itself a small win for me.

I do want to note that I think we also need to give ourselves a break when things don't go according to plan. I've had several setbacks with my fitness goals. I've had trouble sticking to a meal plan or cutting out certains foods and there was a several month stretch where I just stopped going to the gym. When I looked at my long term goals it almost felt impossible. But when I ignored that feeling and focused on the week-to-week progress and consistency, suddenly things were much more achievable and progress was noticeable.

It's so easy to get caught up in comparing ourselves to others and to the constant exposure to the greatest hits of our lives we post to social media feeds. I think turning our focus inwards and enjoying the small successes can be really rewarding.

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