Breaking down big goals: 6 steps that are critical to success

breaking down big goals: lake and mountain
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Breaking Down Big Goals

Many of us look to improve our lives and feel a sense of achievement by setting ourselves big, important goals.

Whether in our personal or professional lives, setting ambitious targets can definitely be motivating. However, it is successfully navigating the path towards these goals is that truly matters

After all, it is easy enough to set off on an arduous journey, but much harder to see it through to the finish.

Fortunately there are some techniques related to how goals work that you can use to help you you reach your big goals and we look at them in detail below. But here are the key takeaways.

Key Takeaways

But here is the summary of the best techniques for breaking down big goals to drive success.

  • Breaking down big goals into smaller tasks (pathway tasks) is essential for manageable progress. It reduces overwhelm and increase your chances of success.
  • Plan your pathway tasks so that you can accomplish them in the right order, with as little doubling back as possible.
  • Recognise the different types of goals you may need to set to achieve your big goals. For example, are there any skills or capabilities you first need to develop before you can make progress?
  • Take account of feedback and reflect on progress. As a result, make any necessary adjustments to your pathway tasks.
  • Recognise small wins – this bolsters your motivation and gives you a sense of ongoing accomplishment.
  • Build a good support network around you.

1. Set Achievable Goals

Setting achievable goals is pivotal to your success. By understanding how to break down intimidating objectives into manageable parts you can establish a pattern of consistent achievement that helps maintain motivation and focus.

2. Break Down Big Goals

The fear of big goals can often paralyse action. To prevent this, start by defining clear and specific objectives that align with your skills and values.

Think about what you want to achieve and how you can get there. Be realistic about the timeframes and be prepared to be pateint, intentional and methodical in your approach.

An important step is to thing about the different types of goals you may need to set.

For example, you should take into account any new skills you need to facilitate your progress and factor in some learning goals to your plan.

You should also frame your goals in a positive way and make sure that they they align with your strengths and vaues so that you can maintain motivation in the face of any setbacks you meet along the way.

Once your overarching goals are outlined, it’s time to create a structured plan with incremental stages. These are what I call your pathway tasks. Develop a timeline with manageable steps and deadlines, ensuring each stage builds upon the last.

Keep your focus narrow to minimise feeling overwhelmed and use lists to keep track of your progress. This approach allows you to adjust your path when faced with setbacks, maintaining your pathway to success.

3. Understand the Power of Small Wins

A series of stepping stones leading to a mountain peak, with each stone representing a small win. The path is lined with celebratory flags and confetti, symbolizing the importance of incremental steps and celebrating small victories

In the quest for achieving your goals, recognising and celebrating small wins is paramount. They not only contribute to your overall progress but also enhance your emotional well-being and motivation, nurturing a positive cycle that keeps you moving forward.

Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer, through meticulous research, came up with what they called the Progress Principle, a concept highlighting the value of achievements, however small, in maintaining motivation and momentum.

In their seminal Harvard Business Review article, they say:

Of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work. And the more frequently people experience that sense of progress, the more likely they are to be creatively productive in the long run. Whether they are trying to solve a major scientific mystery or simply produce a high-quality product or service, everyday progress—even a small win—can make all the difference in how they feel and perform.

Amabile, T. M., & Kramer, S. J. (2011). The power of small wins. Harvard business review89(5), 70-80.

Regular acknowledgment of small accomplishments can elevate joy, boost your confidence, and cultivate a higher sense of purpose. This acknowledgement leads to a positive feedback loop, where your emotions become a catalysing force for further achievements.

Small wins can be powerful because they produce a sense of achievement which, in turn, boosts motivation. As you celebrate these wins, you’re essentially activating a reward circuit in your brain, releasing dopamine that encourages you to keep pursuing similar successes. When your brain perceives progress, it reinforces your actions, pushing you to continue, thus establishing a resilient motivation cycle.

4. Recognise Incremental Progress

In everyday life, it is often your perception of progress that guides your emotions and motivations. When you consciously recognise even small advancements, you cultivate a more positive outlook that supports happiness and equanimity.

This practice helps shift your focus from what’s left to accomplish to what you’ve already achieved, reinforcing your path towards your greater aspirations. Acknowledging incremental progress counters feelings of stagnation and gives you a real sense of momentun in your journey towards your big goals.

5. Utilise Feedback and Support Systems

Feedback is instrumental in guiding your progress. Whether it’s positive reinforcement or constructive criticism, it helps refine your actions and propels you forward.

Establish a support system that provides this necessary feedback and take time to reflect yourself on whether you need to adjust your plans in light of what you have learned along the way.

This is critical in ensuring you stay on track to your ultimate destination.

6. Overcome Setbacks and Challenges

Setbacks and challenges are an inevitable part of the journey. When encountering these, it’s vital to have strategies to regain focus and continue to move forward.

First, acknowledge the setback without judgement—consider what you can learn from it. Then, reassess your approach and adjust your strategy if necessary. Drawing on the principles of behavioural change, it’s helpful to consider:

  • The impact of the setback on your motivation.
  • Alternative pathways to your goal that might now be apparent.

Resilience in the face of challenges will ensure your progress is sustained.

I have a whole post on the 11 principles you can employ for overcoming obstacles to achieve goals.

Summing Up

So, as you can see, achieving success in reaching big goals requires a clear plan of specific action steps (breaking down big goals) to make the pathway to your goal manageable.

But it is also really important to regularly reflect on your progress, recognise your successes, and be self-reflective, acting on feedback received along the way . By breaking down your goals and taking consistent, focused action, you can pave the way for achieving remarkable results. Keep going, and be intentional in focusing your energy of your ultimate aims.

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