Big Goals Or Baby Steps?

Or when did you last climb a mountain?

Ben Lawers Nature Reserve

When did you last climb a mountain?

OK, it doesn’t have to be a physical one – you may prefer to use this idea as a metaphor. When did you last undertake a big challenge that you knew would be a bit of a long haul, one that stretched you, a goal where you experienced moments along the way where your commitment began to waver?

Are you running out of fingers as you count off the instances, or are you still scratching your head as you try to find an example?


Do you go for ‘big, hairy, audacious goals’?

Don’t worry if you are struggling – I certainly couldn’t reel off loads of examples myself. If I am honest, I am not the kind of person who finds ‘big, hairy, audacious goals’ (as some of the coaching gurus call them) exciting and inspiring. In fact, if a goal is too big I think it is easy to find it overwhelming rather than inspiring. It may just seem too distant, too unachievable and the reaction can be to shrug the shoulders and decide it wasn’t really what you wanted anyway.


So what works for you?

Do you like Big Challenges or do you find them off-putting? If you do, that’s great, if not, don’t worry, your approach is just different, not wrong.

The key thing to remember with any goal, however big or small, is that it is made up of small steps. Even if I set myself the goal of going downstairs to make a cup of tea, (now there’s an idea, I’ll be back in a minute...!)

Ah, that’s better, cup of tea to hand now. OK, where was I?

Yes, even making a cup of tea is made up of small steps and by breaking a task down, it can be made to feel less daunting.

Fortunately the tea making was not too much of a stretch, but I will admit that there were points as I was climbing Ben Lawers when I just had to put my head down and commit to taking 50 more paces up the hill, after which I could stop – to admire the view, of course ;-)


Many baby steps add up to giant leaps

The good thing about taking a ‘baby steps’ approach is that you can make every step on your list small enough to be achieved without too much effort, so you get a quick result and a sense of success.

It is important to keep a note of all the small successes as you achieve them, because after a while you can stop and look up to discover that you are now half way up the mountain! And that is a great feeling.

Now I don’t mean you should only ever set small goals that are easily within your reach. Changing career is a perfect example of a big goal that you could easily shy away from because it seems unattainable. But if you find raising your eyes to the mountain top of career change a bit daunting, don’t beat yourself up for being bad at setting and achieving goals, just commit to taking 50 paces in the right direction, or even just one pace. You’ll be amazed how they add up.


Or is it to do with the words?

I was listening to an audio by Peter Thomson recently and he suggested using the word ‘promise’ instead of goal. Goals can feel a bit burdensome whereas a promise is something you choose to make and I expect you, like me, would like to think that you keep your promises.

So try making a promise to yourself that you will take the actions needed along the way to make your career change happen. That may sit more comfortably with you than setting a goal.

What matters is to find a strategy that works for you – and you are the one who knows best what will work. Big, hairy audacious goal or a quiet promise to yourself – take your pick and move forward.




Something to think about


“When I was a Boy Scout, we played a game when new Scouts joined the troop. We lined up chairs in a pattern, creating an obstacle course through which the new Scouts, blindfolded, were supposed to manoeuvre. The Scoutmaster gave them a few moments to study the pattern before our adventure began. But as soon as the victims were blindfolded, the rest of us quietly removed the chairs.

I think life is like this game.

Perhaps we spend our lives avoiding obstacles we have created for ourselves and in reality exist only in our minds. We're afraid to apply for that job, take violin lessons, learn a foreign language, call an old friend, write our Congressman - whatever it is that we would really like to do but don't because of personal obstacles.

Don't avoid any chairs until you run smack into one. And if you do, at least you'll have a place to sit down”

~ Pierce Vincent Eckhart ~




Cherry Recommends


TED Talks


I have mentioned TED Talks before and have no hesitation in doing so again. If you have not yet discovered this treasure trove, you have a treat in store.

Let me whet your appetite with a miniature from Derek Sivers.

This very short talk by Derek flies in the face of all popular wisdom about goal setting and the advantages of making your goals public.

It is just over 3 minutes so click here and take a look.

I am not sure that I totally agree with him, and I am not sure that the results of a controlled experiment will always apply exactly in the real world.


What do you think?

I guess it depends on who you tell and how important it is for you to gain or retain their approval by achieving what you have said you would.

At the end of the day, the one person whose approval you must gain is your own. You are the one who must live with the goals you have let slip by the wayside. So maybe he’s right – you are the only one who needs to know.

Hope you enjoy the talk, but be careful…if you are anything like me you will find that TED is addictive and although you may start with the intention of watching only one video, it is only too easy to find an hour has gone by and the dog is still waiting to be fed! But at least you will have been educated as well as entertained.


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