Studies show 91 percent of us won’t achieve our New Year’s resolution. If you want to ruin your life, here’s my advice: Set huge unattainable goals. Start off January 1st with guns blazing. Resolve to lose 50 pounds on a crash diet. Decide to eat only raw broccoli and chicken. Tell yourself that you will exercise at least 60-90 minutes daily.
Set some enormous career goals, too. If Bill Gates and Elon Musk can make billions, why can’t you? Think super big.
Here’s the challenge. When you select enormous goals, you become overwhelmed, procrastinate, and nearly always quit. And then you beat yourself up about it. Rinse and repeat. Research can even predict when you’ll throw in the towel. According to Strava, “Quitter’s Day” this year will be January 13, 2023 (the second Friday in January).
How do you break the cycle? How can you become one of the 9 percent of successful goal achievers who do consistently well? Baby steps. Micro-goals. Tiny habits. A chain of small victories strung together like Christmas lights will do wonders for self-confidence.
Here are three strategies to help you succeed.
First, set a specific and attainable goal (including a date) and write it on a goal card. It’s critical that you are specific. Vague goals bring vague results. Instead of saying, “I want to lose weight in the future,” it’s better to say, “I will weigh 185 pounds by July 1, 2023.” And make it realistic, too. For example, with a weight loss goal, estimate no more than two pounds of fat loss per week.
Second, focus on smaller “baby step” goals to hit your big goal and keep a journal. In the funny movie “What About Bob?” Richard Dreyfuss played Dr. Leo Marvin, a psychotherapist, and author, who gave his patient, Bob Wiley (Bill Murray), a tidbit of wisdom along with a copy (not free) of his new self-help book, “Baby Steps.” The doctor explained: “It means setting small reasonable goals for yourself one day at a time. One tiny step at a time.” He was right.
Since most of our resolutions involve weight loss, eating, and exercise, I’ll share my own personal “baby step” story. After my high school football playing days, I struggled with my weight for decades.
My kryptonite was Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pies. By my early forties, I was in my fourth term in Congress, and — as a result of emotional eating and a stagnant lifestyle — my weight had ballooned up to an all-time high.
The rock-bottom moment was when one of my colleagues made a fat joke at my expense. It was likely an innocent remark, and I laughed at the story, but it secretly hurt my feelings. I felt like a joke. It was a turning point. I decided to quietly make some changes.
I hired a nutritionist who put me on a reasonable 1,800-calorie diet to help me lose only two pounds a week. I also got a journal and logged my daily exercise and calories.
My exercise goals were embarrassingly small. For example, for the first week, my goal was to jog only five minutes a day. And it was a super slow jog at that. My tiny five-minute goal was “too small to fail.” To my surprise, despite the tiny goal, I was proud of myself for having 100 percent consistency. It encouraged me to ramp up slowly.
In the second week, I bumped up slightly to ten minutes each day. After that, I added only five minutes a week. After three months, I was running for an hour every morning. After four to five months, my colleagues began to notice the positive changes in my appearance.
My weight continued to come off at about two pounds a week. After one year, I stepped on the scale. I had lost a hundred pounds. Here’s what I learned: Breaking down a larger goal into smaller tasks and accomplishing them one at a time is exactly how any big goal gets achieved. “Inch by inch, life’s a cinch. Yard by yard, life’s hard,” said author John Bytheway.
Third, read your goal card every morning and every night and visualize your success. Here’s why affirmations and visualizations work: achievements require confidence. Confidence requires belief. Repeating affirmations will help you to believe them. In other words, by saying specific affirmations to yourself over and over, you will eventually come to believe them. It is a well-known fact that you come to believe whatever you repeat to yourself, regardless of whether it is true or false.
Similarly, visualization is a powerful tool in creating belief because your brain cannot distinguish between real and illusory. In other words, imaginary “mind movies” convince or “trick” your subconscious mind into believing that your desired result is real, tangible, possible, and even already in existence.
I am an ordinary, not extraordinary, person. If I can do it, then you can, too. What I know for sure is that there are little things you can do to achieve big dreams. It’s not too late. You can still be what you wish to be.
Forget about thinking big; think small. Mini habits lead to many victories. Baby steps yield big results.
Ric Keller is the author of Chase the Bears: Little Things to Achieve Big Dreams and former U.S. Congressman.