As you switch your calendar to a new year, you might see those fresh, clean pages as an opportunity to live a better life. But maybe lofty New Year’s resolutions haven’t worked out for you in the past. If so, Joy Giorgio, behavioral health therapist at Thunderbird Medical Center in Glendale, AZ, has a suggestion—try micro goals.
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“The Greek word ‘mikro’ means small,” Giorgio said. “You want to break your larger goals down into small, manageable and achievable steps.”
Here’s why micro goals work
Maybe you’ve heard the Chinese proverb that says, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Micro goals are like those single steps. They move you toward your larger goals. With micro goals, you set realistic expectations. Your micro goals are easier to meet, and when you achieve them, you build confidence and momentum.
“People often wait until they feel motivated to start an activity. But this is a mistake,” Giorgio said. “That’s because usually, the feeling of motivation comes after the behavior. Every time you have a small success, you build momentum and make it more likely you will continue your journey and meet your long-term goals.”
And slow, steady progress keeps you moving toward your goals. “I like the idea that even when you are going slow, you are still lapping everyone on the couch,” Giorgio said.
Here’s how to create a good micro goal
Giorgio outlines the steps you can take to create or get to your micro goal:
- Identify your long-term goal and your “why.” Ask yourself why you are choosing this goal and how it will lead you to a more satisfying life. Your goal should connect to your values.
- Create a sense of empowerment by reminding yourself that you’re choosing this goal. Tell yourself, “I choose to do this” rather than “I have to do this.” When you feel as though you have to do something, it can lead to resentment. For example, a college student may feel like staying in bed and skipping class. They can remind themselves they don’t have to go to class. They are choosing to go to class because they want to graduate and earn their degree.
- Break your goal down into small, simple and achievable steps. Hold yourself accountable by including dates and times for each small step. If you’re not sure you can achieve a step, make it smaller.
- Reward yourself. When you meet your goals, celebrate your success.
Here’s how to make sure your goal is “micro” enough
Micro goals should hit the sweet spot where they take some energy, but not too much. “We build a sense of mastery when goals are moderately challenging,” Giorgio said. “If it’s too easy for us, we don’t feel proud of ourselves for accomplishing the goal, but if it’s too hard, it can feel overwhelming.”
Of course, “easy” and “hard” are relative terms. The key is to decide on one simple step that will move you toward your goal.
Here’s an exercise-related example:
- Long-term goal – finish the St. Patrick’s Day 5K
- Short-term goal – jog one mile by February 1
- Micro-goal for tomorrow– jog to the end of the street
- Micro-goal for today – set out my running shoes before I go to bed
Here’s how to frame your goals in a positive way
“Be sure to set positive goals, not negative goals,” Giorgio said. For example, the goal to quit smoking is a negative goal. It’s focused on what you can’t do. “If you keep repeating to yourself, ‘I can’t smoke,’ what are you thinking about? Smoking! You have smoking on your mind, and you’re more likely to smoke.”
A positive way to frame this goal is to say, “I want to live a healthy lifestyle.” That way, you’re working toward something positive rather than away from something negative. Your thoughts around this goal are positive:
- I can breathe more easily
- I’ll have more money
- I can kiss my partner with fresh breath
Here’s how to balance your micro goals
Maybe you have different parts of your life where you want to make changes. And you don’t want to wait until you achieve one goal before you start working on another.
Giorgio said you could work on two goals at a time—three at the most. “The key here is balance,” she said. “If you have too many goals, you don’t have the energy to pursue everything.” You end up not meeting your micro goals, and you lose motivation and faith in yourself.”
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She said balancing your goals means working on goals in different parts of your life. For example, if you have a goal of earning a college degree, you don’t want to have a second education-related goal. Instead, you might want to set a goal to increase your time for fun or a hobby.
The bottom line
A series of micro goals—short, simple and relatively easy goals—can help you make steps toward your bigger, long-term goals. The sense of empowerment you get from meeting your micro goals can motivate you to succeed.