Today is my 29th birthday. I have always found writing to be a great way to leave a snapshot of my thoughts at any point in time. Given that a birthday is a great reflection point I have decided to write an article every year on my birthday. I hope to come back to these articles in the future and see what my thoughts were on each transition into a new age.
Last year on my birthday I wrote an article on what I think I have figured out about life.
Turning 29 makes you officially realise how close you are to turning 30. This realisation has left me reflecting on what my goals and ambitions were in my early 20s and what I thought I would have achieved by the time I’m 30. This year I would like to write about something that has been on my mind a lot lately.
I have been trying to figure out the best approach to achieving big goals, big ambitions. As a result I’ve asked myself the following questions:
- Why do people talk about their big goals and ambitions and never start working on them?
- For those that do start working on their big goals and ambitions, why do they fail catastrophically early on and give up?
A lot of people have fallen in these 2 buckets at some point in their life.
There are a number of reasons people end up in these 2 buckets. Big goals and ambitions by their nature (being big and complicated) are overwhelming and people often don’t know where to start. Analysis paralysis occurs, the state of over-analysing (or over-thinking) a situation so that a decision or action is never taken. Big goals are scary. The risk is higher, you stand to lose more if you fail, whether its money, time, motivation or your reputation.
We know that big goals and ambitions are difficult. So how do we resolve this? I believe everyone has some big goals and ambitions in their life at some point. I believe everyone would like to succeed in these big goals and ambitions. Is there a way to increase our chances at succeeding?
The answer lies in starting small. What I found helps me get around the paralysis and fear of big goals and ambitions is breaking down any task into small bite-size chunks. If we approach our big goals and ambitions by first breaking them down into very small steps, they become more manageable.
Small steps are not overwhelming. Small steps do not require large amounts of investment, whether its money, time, motivation or your reputation. Small steps allow you to review your progress frequently, which allows you to adjust accordingly if things are not going to plan. Small steps executed consistently build momentum, you have more moments to celebrate the small successes.
Small steps allow you to experiment and learn. My mentor often says I should pay attention to the lessons I’m learning now when things are small because the same lessons will be useful when things are bigger and scale up.
So the key is to start small and then scale up later. You can always then expand your small steps slowly into bigger changes. Don’t try to change the whole world right away. The way to change the world is by changing it in a small often unnoticeable way, one day at a time.
It’s great you want to make a big difference, just don’t miss the small differences you can make each day that add up to big differences. – Jim Kwik
Here are some examples of starting small:
Getting into a new fitness habit
Let me use running as an example since I am a runner. If you want to get into running, you do not start by going to run a marathon or even a half marathon. That is scary and even if you manage to make the attempt, you will probably feel a lot of pain for some days after that attempt. You want to start with small manageable distances to get your body used to running. At the beginning you can start with a small goal of running between 1km and 5km twice a week. Your goal initially could be to get to a point where you can run that distance without stopping to walk, even if you run at a very slow pace. Over time your body will get used to running this distance and you will be able to slowly start increasing the distance and run at a faster pace. You repeat this process with the new distance and keep scaling up. Before you know it you could be attempting the Comrades Marathon.
Starting a new business
We often look at large successful businesses and think they have been operating and that large scale from the start. What we often miss is that most successful business started small and grew slowly into the giants they are today. Nike the worldwide brand started with its founder Phil Knight selling running shoes at athletics meet ups out of the boot of his car. Shoe Dog, a memoir by the creator of Nike is a brilliant book covering most of the company’s humble beginning and growth story. Amazon began just as an online book store. It has since become a retail store for everything. These are just some examples of companies that started with a small focus in one area and have since scaled to much bigger things. If you are going to start your own new business, you should aim to start small, focus on a small area that satisfies your customers needs, then you can always slowly scale up from there. You can have large ambitious plans for the business, but always start small and keep those ambitious plans for the long term.
Starting to save money
Let us use an example of someone who has never had a money saving habit before. If you decide to be more responsible and start saving money then you must start with small manageable amounts. You cannot just say I’m going to start saving half my salary from this month when all the previous months you have been spending all your earnings. It will be too big a change and you are setting yourself up for failure. The ideal approach would be to pick a much smaller amount, for example 5% of your earnings. As you succeed in saving this small amount each month, you can then start increasing the savings amount again in small manageable increases. Eventually you may find yourself comfortably saving half your earnings each month.
The best things we know and love started as tiny things. – Joel Gascoigne
Next time you have an overwhelming big goal or ambition. Ask yourself if you can break it down into smaller manageable steps. This lesson can be applied in all areas of life. Whether they are family goals, fitness and health goals, financial goals, work goals, the list goes on.
Breaking things down into small manageable steps is the secret sauce to starting, and starting is often what you need to build that much needed momentum. Having a dream is one thing, actually executing it is another. Don’t be afraid to think big, but start small. I’m looking forward to seeing how many small experiments I can try in the next year as I approach the big 30.
Tanaka Mutakwa (The General)