Even though I don’t really follow basketball I’ve been a super fan of John Wooden for a number of years. Wooden was the legendary coach of UCLA’s men’s team, who led them to ten NCAA national championships in a 12-year period (including a record seven in a row!).
A big part of Coach Wooden’s unparalleled success was due to his belief that success was an inevitable byproduct of doing the little things right. He didn’t believe in huge action or “silver bullets” and instead focused on the process of becoming a better player and person.
“When you improve a little each day, eventually big things occur. Don’t look for the big, quick improvement. Seek the small improvement, one day at a time, as the only way it happens. When it happens, it lasts.”
When I first read this quote it was like a punch in the mouth to me, because it was pretty much the exact opposite of how I had done things for such a long time. I was a classic couch to marathon type of person.
I was that guy who didn’t exercise for two years, and then I’d get hit with a sudden burst of motivation and inspiration (probably from reading an article like this) and decide “I’m going to get in the best shape of my life!”
So I’d get up off the couch and decide that I’m going to run a marathon. And I’d go out the first day and run 10 miles. And I’d eat perfectly. And I’d get to sleep early. And the next day I’d do it again.
Sounds great so far, right?
But by the time the third day rolled around, I’d be sore. And tired. And have other stuff to do. And I’d eat poorly. So I’d tell myself, “This sucks. Why am I doing this? I’m never going to do that again.”
And then I’d wind up back on the couch.
After years and years of trying (and pretty much always failing) with the big change approach, I finally started doing the opposite—and actually succeeding! I’m hoping that I can save you some of this pain and show you exactly how to build on “small” wins and have them turn into huge success.
No matter what goal you have, what huge and amazing feat you’d like to accomplish, the reality is that you can make it happen simply by taking these six steps.
It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.
Step 1: Name Your Goal
This one is pretty easy because all you have to do is think about a big project or big idea that’s looming in your mind.
If you’re not totally sure how to phrase it, just answer this question: What’s that one thing that you really want to accomplish—yet it feels too big to tackle?
Whatever immediately came to your mind when you read that question is probably what you want to focus on. So jot it down somewhere (because written goals are more effective).
One other way to figure this out, is to think about that big thing that you really don’t want to do, but you know you should, we all have a lot of these!
That’s the goal that you’re going to accomplish, as long as you follow the remaining five steps.
Step 2: Set a Reasonable Deadline
I emphasize reasonable because many times, especially when we’re feeling really motivated and inspired (think New Year’s resolutions), we can be a little over zealous with our deadlines.
For instance, we may look at something that we know should take about five months, yet we say, “This should only take three weeks.”
And we start off super strong, but then we don’t get anywhere close to hitting our deadline (our goal) because it was completely unrealistic.
As a result, instead of building upon our success, we feel like a failure because we didn’t even get close.
That’s why you need to set a reasonable deadline, whatever reasonable is for the particular goal you have.
Step 3: Break it Down (Work Backwards)
For this step, you’re going to work backward in time.
Break your goal down by weeks, months, quarters, whatever timeframes are necessary based on the goal itself and the deadline you’ve set—from the deadline backward until today.
The second habit in Dr. Steven Covey’s* The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change is to “Begin with the end in mind.”
The reason this works, as Covey explains, is that it’s “...based on imagination—the ability to envision in your mind what you cannot at present see with your eyes.”
So consider your final goal and break it down into smaller goals, working backward from when you intend to achieve it, to where you are today.
Step 4: Answer the “When?” and “What?”
Once you have your goal broken down from the deadline to today, the next step entails deciding the when? and the what?—as Neil Fiore explains in Awaken Your Strongest Self, “...back-time from the deadline and, moving down the page, write in each week or month until you come to today. Then ask yourself, “When can I start today? On what part will I start?”
Two simple but powerful questions:
- When can I start today?
- On what part will I start?
As Fiore explains, you’re essentially creating a clear path to the goal. You’re dictating the exact steps necessary to make your goal a success.
The purpose of this is so your mind can start working on the goal positively instead of being worried about what’s happening and all of the action you’re not taking.
Now is when you’re going to start getting specific. What exactly are you going to do in order to reach your goal?
Step 5: Start
The fifth step is simply to start putting your plan (your when and what) into action.
Don’t worry about how efficient you are or anything like that because it doesn’t matter how great (or not great) you are at whatever it is you are doing, it’s all about starting. In the words of author Steve Pressfield,“Start before you’re ready.”
It doesn’t matter how long you work on it, just start. Take some type of action, whatever that action is.
Step 6: Bring it to the Present
The next and final thing you want to do is maintain that action, that motion, that momentum.
Fiore says to simply ask yourself, “When can I start again?”
By breaking your goal down into all of those different parts and bringing it back to today, you’re moving it to the present. As Fiore explains, “You’ve just created a mental image of a project that spreads out into the future, like steps toward your goal, but also returns your mind to the present where your body can release its energy and start working.”
Then, instead of your mind wasting all of this energy thinking about what you’re not doing, it’s able to actually focus on doing whatever it is you need to do.
Just take one step. Then another. Then another.