Have you ever had a massive goal but then took no action on it?
There is one big reason why I believe people don’t even attempt a goal.
The goal seems too big.
Set Huge Goals?
Set massive goals.
It’s typical to hear someone say… “You can accomplish anything you set your mind to.” And while this is an important mindset to harness – especially when doing difficult things – it can seem almost patronizing if you haven’t even started your journey.
Take an individual who is trying to get into running.
Let’s say it’s difficult to run around the block without getting winded. But you hear people say, “Make your goal huge!”
So, you decide your goal is going to be to run an ultramarathon.
One question you could ask is: “How am I supposed to set a goal of running an ultramarathon if I can’t even do a lap around my block?”
That’s a great question.
And my answer to that is: “You shouldn’t… if the huge goal demotivates you. If it excites you, carry on.”
When you set goals so big, so far away from your current reality, it’s easy to look at that reality as impossibility. Because it is impossible. Right now.
The truth is setting a goal of running an ultramarathon might push you in the opposite direction. It might paralyze you from taking action in the day to day.
This is the same for any type of massive goal.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t set it.
So, change your focus.
Should I Focus on the Day-to-Day?
One way to do that is to just think about that day or that week.
Notre Dame football is known for a phrase:
“Play Like A Champion Today”
There’s no reason to worry about if you didn’t go running yesterday.
Instead of thinking about the mountain you’re going to climb, think about the next step. If you can take a single step, you can keep going.
The reason this works is because it is inherently practical.
Your goal is to win the moment. You can’t win that moment by focusing on yesterday or tomorrow. In order to get better, to get to where you want to go… you need to lock in on that single day.
Although this is good advice, I believe it’s incomplete.
The Notre Dame football team can play like a champion today because they have the long-term goal of winning the College Football Playoff. They already put the practice on a daily basis.
The reason “Play Like A Champion Today” works is because it narrows their focus to what they can control – that day.
But if you haven’t started your journey, or you’re just getting started…
There’s something missing from the equation that most people don’t talk about.
Everyone talks about short-term goals (daily or weekly). Everyone talks about long term-goals (the big win).
These are both important.
But from my experience, when you’re just getting started, “medium-term goals” are the best way to get from where you are to where you want to be.
What do I mean by “medium term goals”?
These are goals that help you connect the day and years. They are the goals in between the short and long term. Hence the name. Medium.
For example, let’s go back to the running example. You know on the day-to-day, you want to run. You know in the long term, you wanted to be an ultramarathoner.
But what’s something that helps connect the short-term goal with the long-term goal?
It just so happens there’s a 5K Run in your area in 12 weeks.
That’s your medium-term goal.
“I will run a 5K race in 12 weeks” would be a perfect medium-term goal.
It helps give you a vision for where you want to be. You can see how your daily actions will lead you to where you want to go. And it helps connect your aspirations of long-distance running to the day-to-day.
The medium-term goal makes sense because it is practical. You can wrap your head around it.
Eventually, you’re going to complete your medium-term goal though.
What Should You Do After the Medium-Term Goal Is Complete?
Set a new medium-term goal.
In the above example, it could be as simple as running a 10K in a few months away. Take the next step up. Or it could be a half-marathon.
The medium-term goal (5K in 12 weeks) is NOT the long-term goal. That’s where it’s easy to make the mistake – and not follow through with your plan of becoming an ultramarathoner.
Feel good about accomplishing your goal. Be happy and proud of yourself. Then go to the next step.
Short, Medium, and Long-Term Are All Necessary
If you don’t have short, medium, and long-term goals, it’s much more difficult to stay with a habit.
If you only focused on the day-to-day, you’d start running one day.
“Wow, this is fun!”
You’d get excited because it was a new activity. Then, you might quit after it got difficult because you had nothing to look forward to.
If you only focused on the long term, you’d start running because you had this big goal.
“Wow, I’m going to be an ultramarathoner one day!”
You’d be excited to take some steps to achieve it initially. And then you’d stop once you realized how hard it actually was.
Let’s imagine you had the short and medium goals but didn’t have the long-term goals. You’d run daily, complete your 5K and stop running. You would need a longer-term goal to keep pushing you forward.
If you had a medium-term and long-term goal but had no short-term actions, you’d never actually get your butt off the couch.
When Your Reward Is the Action (When You Don’t Need Medium Term Goals)
Are medium term goals always necessary? Are goals always necessary at all?
Here’s my theory: when you’ve been doing an activity for a while, medium-term and long-term goals will still help motivate your behavior, but you’ll find the process of doing the activity turns out to be the reward.
When you can find joy in doing the activity, you find less need for goals.
And that should be the level we all strive for, right?
To get to a point where doing the activity itself is the reward.
- Setting huge goals can lead you to paralysis by analysis. They can demotivate you and eventually hurt you when you’re first starting out.
- Daily goals, focusing on what you can control, are good but insufficient.
- Long term goals are beneficial as well but setting them without medium term goals can be costly.
- Medium-term goals are goals that connect your short term and long term. They are neither daily actions nor are they the “end state” you’re hoping to achieve.
- If you’ve completed your first medium-term goal, you should set another one to build momentum.
- Eventually, you get to the point where the action becomes the reward.