Getting Things Done: Big Goals are just a bunch of Small Goals lumped together

Every once in a while you get an idea for a big goal that you want to accomplish. This idea will loom in the back of your mind, and although you truly want to accomplish it, it always seems to stay a “future goal.” It’s a big task, and as such it’s too overwhelming to start. Consequently, it lingers above you, just out of reach — but always present enough to remind you how you still need to do it.

I’m thinking about this because I have an upcoming deadline for something that’s really important to me. I’m applying to a creative writing MFA program, and I need to write about 80 pages of a manuscript to submit as part of the application. It’s an overwhelming project that’s hanging over my head, that I just can’t seem to jump up and grab.

For larger goals like this, it’s helpful for me to view the big goal as a bunch of smaller goals. Put another way, in order to accomplish something big, I need to break it down.

Naturally, I can’t write 80 pages of fiction in one shot. Still, when I think about the task at hand, I can’t help but imagine the end goal: A stack of paper ready to be mailed. A perfectly written manuscript totaling 80 pages.

Approaching it in this manner intimidates me. I get stressed out. I think about how disappointed I’ll be if I don’t succeed, and I start to worry about how the deadline is fast approaching. Trying to attack the goal head on like this is a waste of time, because nothing gets accomplished. I worry, become afraid, and run away from the task to do something else entirely.

It’s better to break your big goals down into smaller ones. Finish small, daily goals that will ultimately contribute to the end goal. This way, you’re constantly moving forward.

If I view my manuscript as a slowly building progression over time, it becomes much more manageable. For instance, if I can write an average of three pages a day for every day in October, then I’ll exceed my page requirement by November. Since the University accepts applications November 1 through January 3, finishing my first draft ahead of the deadline will give me the flexibility to re-write, make cuts, and even send my drafted manuscript to other people for review. Once I’ve consolidated everyone’s suggestions and produced a “final” copy, I’ll be ready to submit it.

Steps to Success

Granted, there is no guarantee that I will be accepted into the program I’m interested in, but if I don’t succeed at submitting a finished application then I will have no chance at all. Furthermore, I can’t put all of my hopes into this single school — I’ll be needing to other MFA programs as well, in case my first choice doesn’t come through.

All of this will come later, though. The primary objective right now is to get the hard part finished: Write the manuscript. It’s the first step towards my goal of becoming a published author, whether I attend an MFA program or not. Simply put, if I want to be a writer, then I must write.

My point is that your big, seemingly-impossible goals will always seem out of reach until you break them down. If your goal is to own a house, but you’re not getting any closer to that goal, it’s because you’re not taking the smaller steps necessary to get there. You need to save for a down-payment, but instead of saving your money, you’re inflating your spending to the point where you’re constantly broke. I know so many people who get really excited about successfully landing a promotion, finding a better job, or getting a pay raise — but instead of paying down debt with their added income they simply buy more stuff. I want to slap them and shake them out of it: You’re doing it wrong!

Start smaller. Try saving $100 in 30 days. If you can do that successfully, try doing it for an entire year. You’ll save over $1000.

Saving money really is that simple — but don’t confuse “simple” with “easy.” Just remember that you MUST be able to successfully save $100 before you can save enough for a house. It’s stupid to think otherwise, and if you never realize the necessity of starting small, then your big goals will always remain out of reach.

Don’t allow your big goals to stay out of reach forever. Take small steps and climb up to meet them gradually. This will work, regardless of what your big goals are.

Maybe you want to learn to play a difficult piece of music. Maybe you want a better job. Maybe you want to plant a garden. Maybe you want to flip a house. Whatever you’re dreaming of doing, to truly get it done you must take action!

Start small, be consistent, and follow through. As long as you’re consciously working towards your goals — big or small — you will conquer them.

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