I’ve been thinking lately about the concept of ‘starting small’, and now it’s the time of year for new year resolutions I’m hoping to marry the two.

So the idea is to approach my new years goals in a small way. Sneak up on them, as it were. Catch them unawares. And then knock them flat.

Watch the chips fly

I maintain that it’s impossible to remain motivated at anything unless you can see progress, the metaphorical ‘chips flying’. So why do we set goals that will take an entire year to accomplish? Who has the kind of discipline to remain motivated in their goal half-way into the year, let alone for the full year?

So here’s my strategy to keep myself motivated: lots of small goals. Ideally, a week each. That way, as i can tick them off rapidly, and see my progress, it’ll be easier to remain motivated.

Games and Scouts

This idea of lots of little goals came to me, of all places, while playing jetpack joyride on my phone. This game has a very common ‘game mechanic’ these days, which is aimed at keeping you engaged with the game. Because the longer they can keep you engaged with the game, the more likely it is that you’ll spend money on upgrades etc.

The game mechanic is to give you lots of small accomplishments as you play. At any time, there are only three goals that you can achieve. The small number of goals avoids too-many-options paralysis and helps keep you focused. And the fact that the goals are simple to achieve keeps you motivated because you can see your progress.

There’s nothing more demotivating than trying to do something incredibly difficult and making absolutely zero progress, is there? You just feel like you’re wasting your time. Which is the feeling this ‘game mechanic’ aims to avoid.

And this mechanic isn’t even a new idea – the Boy Scouts thought of it a very long time ago! Their badge system is the original game-like engagement strategy: lots of small, achievable goals that you can try. And as you achieve each one, you get a nice pat on the back: a little badge to sew onto your uniform. Sometimes i wonder if the game companies deliberately copied this system. It’s genius.

One more thing: as I’ve written about before, it’s impossible to really stick with something if you don’t really believe that you stand a chance at achieving it. So by keeping these goals within your reach, by making them believable, you stand a much better chance of sticking with it.

Example goals

So, when coming up with my goals, i’m keeping a few things in mind so as to emulate the game/scouts system: Keep them simple, short, achievable, and part of a bigger goal.

A bigger goal i have this year is to be less tired and irritable. So my first few mini-goals are:

  • Get to bed by 10
  • Not drinking any coke/coffee late in the day
  • Go cycling every day

These goals will hopefully help me sleep better, by making me more regular in my sleep patterns, with less caffeine in my system and a bit more tired. Better sleep = less tired = less irritable. Brilliant!

How

So how to put these goals into place? In my case, i’m taking one at a time. Each goal will last for a week, and i’ll make a little checklist on a post-it note for each day. I’ll keep this in my wallet and check it off each day, and at the end of the week i’ll hopefully have done well. Once a week, i’ll use Trello to keep track of 3 lists: upcoming goals, my current goal, and accomplished goals. The accomplished goals is important: looking at this list rapidly grow is the key to keeping motivation and momentum up.

The key here is that everything is so simple and achievable. I’m not shooting for the stars or anything crazy. All i’m doing is getting to bed early for a week. Anyone can do that. Then i’ll cut out some caffeine (still have it in the morning though) – who can’t keep that up for a single week? As for cycling, well i’ll do the best i can.

Anyway I think it’s a more realistic system than massive goals like ‘Learn another language’. I mean, goals like that will get you nowhere. It’s like going indoor rock-climbing and going straight to the difficult wall. You’re not going to get anywhere. Much better to start at the shorter walls with lots of easy-to-hold rocks. Which is, in a nutshell, what i’m doing.

And, if i could be so presumptuous, you should too.

Thanks for reading! And if you want to get in touch, I'd love to hear from you: chris.hulbert at gmail.