New Year’s resolutions are usually centred around a big aspirational goal: I’ll work out every day, I’ll write a book, I’ll never eat junk food. But most of us fail at our resolutions. One problem is that we’re setting our goals too high. If you want to reach a huge goal, first you have to set a small one.
Get your foot in the door. (Photo by David Wall)
In fact, you should set your goal so low that you couldn’t possibly brag about it. Instead of “I’ll write a book”, you can say “I’ll write 100 words a day”. That’s a goal you can reach during your lunch break — hell, during your bathroom breaks — and there’s no glory in reaching it. But there is a lot of value in reaching it.
There’s a psychological phenomenon called the foot-in-the-door technique: A charity asks you to sign a petition, and once you do, they ask for money. They know that once you agree to a small request, you’re more likely to agree to a bigger one. That’s what you’re doing to yourself here. By setting ridiculously achievable goals, you’re priming yourself to succeed.
The more gradually you approach your resolution, the more seriously you’re treating it. No famous musician wrote their greatest song first. No Olympic figure skater landed a triple Lutz their first time on the ice. They gave themselves room and time to improve, and so should you.
Similarly, you can split a big goal into smaller steps. If you can, turn each step into its own discrete goal. For instance, I’ve created several web video series. If I planned too far out in the future, I ended up not shooting a single episode. But when I just took one episode at a time, I ended up with nineteen videos and over a million views. I tricked myself into doing a big project one piece at a time.
So start small — so small that you can’t help but succeed. If you do ten push-ups a day for a month, reward yourself with some free weights. Do the free weights for a month, then reward yourself with that gym membership. And by then, the gym will be less crowded with all those ambitious quitters.