Let’s face it. You’re expected to have ambitious goals. You’re expected to be the best. You’re not supposed to set the bar low.
Point is, the pressure to succeed at things can lead me to set goals that are too high. Super high. So high I can’t imagine how I’ll ever accomplish them. And when I can’t imagine how I’ll accomplish something, it’s pretty hard to do it.
Setting the bar high isn’t always the best method for progress. In fact, it can be the enemy.
You know what I’ve learned? High goals keep me from reaching any goal. Even if I make progress, I don’t feel satisfied. High goals perpetuate a sense of confusion about what I’m doing because I’m looking so far down the road, rather than where I am. And they generally keep me from celebrating things I’ve done. In short, they suck.
So I have a new philosophy. Why not set the bar low? Real low. And see if I can’t get somewhere. 🙂
Set the Bar Low Part 1: Wait until you’re at a low point to mark the beginning
(so you can notice improvement quickly!)
Oh, I love to cheat my sense of progress. It is an amazing life hack.
Here’s my favorite way to do it.
Let’s say I want to lose a bit of weight.* Shall I hold off collecting my “start” weight until I’ve gotten into a bit better shape? Hell no!
Check that start weight at your worst moment! Right after you’ve eaten a huge meal, and haven’t worked out since forever.
One week into the new fitness routine, re-weigh yourself first thing in the morning (before you eat or drink anything and right after you poop). Voila! Unbelievably fast results.
Ah, It feels great… Maybe it is a bit artificial… Okay, maybe it is an absolutely horrible control condition! (Technically you’d want to weigh yourself under the same conditions each time.) But you know what? The progress makes me feel great.
I did something! And more importantly, I didn’t screw myself over by making some progress, then saying, “this is square one.” Which it actually wouldn’t be. You know what? Go ahead and own your low point.
Go ahead and own your low point.
By gaining evidence that your efforts have resulted in change, you’re setting yourself up to pursue your goal some more.
*I don’t advocate weighing yourself obsessively, even every day. Most of the time I don’t do it at all. But it is a good way to take occasional stock. It is not the only way to measure your health and this is just an example.
Set the Bar Low Part 2: How to do it wrong (a tutorial)
Once upon a time, I decided, “This year I’m running a marathon!” Flash forward to nope. Setting a goal like that landed me right back on the couch where I came from. Here’s why. I decided I wanted to be a “runner,” But I really just wanted to get in better shape. So I set the lofty goal above. My thinking went a little bit like this:
There are only X months left until the next marathon! I’ve got to train! This weekend I’ve got to run at least 5 miles. By next weekend 10! Better sign up for a half marathon first! Omg there’s one in 6 weeks! I going to do it!
Flash forward to the next available Saturday morning. I’m all suited up in various running apparati. Shoes. Shorts. A fancy iphone arm holder. I need to run 5 miles. I stretch out. Walk out my door, and sprint like hell.
Whoops! About 30 seconds in, I’m out of breath. I kept going. 5 mintues in I had a huge stitch in my side. 7 mins in I could barely breathe. And 10 mins in I collapsed. Yep. Right on the path, I just tripped and fell over. Then I stayed there. I didn’t move for about 20 minutes.
I realized right then. I was not a runner. I had evidence.
And so I didn’t try running again for about one year. Wow what a fitness achievement! So, what did I do wrong?
- Set a hugely insane goal (when I didn’t know what I was doing)
- I pushed myself too hard
- I ended up in pain (a lot of pain)
- I created evidence that my goal is unattainable
- I bailed after just one attempt
- Never tried again
Very very genius, no? So what should you do instead?
Set the Bar Low Part 3: Aim for the knock-off version of your goal
Okay, let’s so you really DO want to run a marathon. Or double your income. Here’s what you’re going to do:
1.Take your original goal and make it concrete.
How far do you want to run by when? Let’s say 10 miles in 2 months.
Exactly how much do you want to make by which date? Let’s say 40% more in 6 months.
2. Chop that goal in half. Then chop it in half again. (Or double the time. Then double it again.)
Your new goal is to run one-quarter of that distance in 4x the time. Now you’re running 2.5 miles in 8 months.
Your new goal is to increase your income 10% in 2 years. (Ooh these seem a little more do-able!)
3. Figure out how to get to your knock-off goal.
Now you can do things like run around the neighborhood once a week. Then twice a week. Maybe after a while you actually measure the distance and increase it.
Now you can talk to colleagues and see how much you can expect your earnings to increase. Does that already meet your knock-off goal? Okay, work a tiny bit smarter than that.
So that’s why to set the bar low
Set the bar low. Figure out what you’re doing. Give yourself room for failure. Give yourself TONS of room for failure. Go slow. 🙂
It is better to move towards a mini goal multiple times, than to only move toward your big goal once. The reason for this is that you (likely) need to use a habit to reach your goal. You’ve got to train to run. Got to do well at work consistently to make more money.
Give yourself the time and space to form a habit. Before you know it, you will hop over that low bar. Then, my friend, you can raise it.
Dr. Erienne Weine
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