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Goal-Setting: the Importance of Micro Goals

By Renée

November 5, 2021

emotional intelligence, focus, goal setting, micro goals, resiliency

We all have goals. Some goals are large aspirations, like when a medical student aspires to be a doctor. Other goals are smaller or vaguer, like pledging to go outside more when we’re feeling cooped up. So, the question becomes, which of these goals is more important? If you guessed the first one, our largest aspirations and dreams, you’re not necessarily wrong. But in terms of goals that will inspire real achievements and progress in our lives, the smaller ones, or micro goals, actually show more promise. Let’s look at how micro goals can change the way we make our dreams come true.   

 

What Are Micro Goals?

stairs to nowhere micro goals 

To understand what micro goals are, let’s first look at the general definition of goals so we know what we’re referring to. Goals are, “the object of a person’s ambition or effort; an aim or desired result.” It typically refers to that big thing we’re working towards and everybody’s goals are different. Micro goals are a way of looking at those goals in a new light that might make them more feasible. Micro goals translate larger aspirations into everyday, manageable actions. By breaking down these larger goals, we can make progress on them every day and inspire ourselves to stick with them, even when they seem daunting.

Let’s look at an example. Instead of giving ourselves lofty goals like “I want to write a book this year,” we give ourselves incremental goals that will eventually lead to the larger goal we desire. Starting with “I want to write 10 pages per week” or “I want to write every day,” these micro goals will help us make meaningful progress and develop good habits.

Another important thing to keep in mind is that we have more room for adjustment with micro goals. Let’s say the 10 pages per week turns out to be easier than we thought. We can adjust our goal up to 15 pages, and if 15 pages turns out to be too difficult (never be afraid to stretch your goals) then split the difference. By making these adjustments, we can push our time management and our abilities beyond their current levels without it affecting our other priorities. It’s all about going at our own pace!

Micro goals are especially effective for weight loss. Weight loss is a key example where the task at hand can seem impossible when thinking about the ultimate goal. Because weight loss is so daunting and progress is incremental or negligent, it’s important to focus on what we can do immediately instead of what needs to be done over time. Instead of building a dream board of our skinny future self, we need a to-do list of meaningful small changes to diet and exercise routines that will impact our daily life.

But where do micro goals come from and how can we know they work? The amazing thing is they actually come to us from the Navy Seals. During training, Seals are put under intense physical and mental duress. They have to look at every challenge as though it’s the most important task in the entire world; otherwise the strain of training can be overwhelming. It helps them remain focused on the task immediately in front of them, instead of worrying about how tired they will be tomorrow. If it works for Navy Seals, then it most certainly should work for us!

Here’s a helpful list of micro goals that can improve health practices. This is a great place to start and a wonderful example of how small, incremental changes to our daily routines can work together to make a huge impact on our overall health.

What About Macro Goals?

The opposite of micro goals, linguistically, would be macro goals. These are more often referred to as aspirations, dreams, ambitions, and objectives. They are the long-term plans and ideas we have for our lives. Whether intentionally or not, we all have ideas about where we want to be in the future and what we want our lives to resemble.  

The biggest difference between these long-term macro goals and micro goals is time. Macro goals take time to come together while micro goals can usually be accomplished immediately. Micro goals often take the form of minute actions that build off each other to form larger accomplishments whereas macro goals often represent vague desires that lack an obvious infrastructure or plan for accomplishment.

The important thing to note about macro goals is that they are still important. They don’t have to go anywhere and they can still exist in the back of your mind, but we can’t let them become discouraging if we aren’t meeting them like we expected to. When our macro goals discourage us from pursuing them in the first place, they end up doing us more harm than good. So then how do we know that micro goals are more helpful than macro goals?

 

The Power of Micro Goals

stacking stones micro goals

While macro goals have their place in guiding the trajectories of our lives, it’s actually the macro goals that make up the meat of our accomplishments. When we falter or are faced with adversity, it’s our motivation and determination that keep us going. Micro goals increase motivation because smaller goals yield results faster than large aspirations.

This increase in motivation and determination increases happiness and reduces the likelihood of quitting. How many times have you heard stories of people quitting on their weight loss goals or addiction recovery goals when faced with daunting odds and adversity? Micro goals give us something tangible to hold on to in the face of these setbacks and challenges and give us small pieces of progress to encourage resiliency. 

But don’t just take it from me. Micro goals are no secret and there is proven evidence to back up their many claimed benefits. This article from Harvard Business Review discusses how everyday wins and accomplishments can lead to increases in overall happiness and improvements in brain function. Additionally, Psychology Today summarized research from USC, which found that even meaningless small rewards offered for minimal progress increase human motivation. By giving ourselves daily wins every chance we can, we can truly work towards being the person we most want to be.

 

I hope that you’re as convinced as I am about the efficiency and effectiveness of micro goals. I have a fortune cookie saying taped to my monitor that says “The key to achieving tomorrow’s goal is focusing on today’s goal.” By giving ourselves the freedom to fail and smaller hurdles to climb, we can actually stick to our macro goals in some amazing ways! Let me know in the comments if you’ve been struggling with your goals and we can brainstorm how you might want to change them into micro goals for success!

 

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