Goal Setting – Viewing Your Long-Term Goals As a Staircase

“You never finish anything!”, she would say. The words still echo in my head until this day, an unforgiving reminder of all my mistakes and missteps along a path to success that’s been anything but a straight and narrow road. Twisting and turning, dipping and diving, it sometimes looks like an endless maze, complete with cracks, potholes & the traffic-causing construction crews that never seem to fail to schedule road repairs at the times you’re in a rush to get where you’re going.

And, in a way, that is my biggest problem: I’m always in a rush. My mother’s words, as frustrating as they may have been at the time, were right- I wasn’t finishing what I started. Partly due to impatience, and partly because I have quite possibly the worst case of Attention Deficit Disorder I’ve ever come across. My mind knows it’s going to lose interest soon so it looks for the quickest path to success and if it doesn’t find it, chalks it up as another dead-end street on the mental road map that is my mind.

And while rushing nor ADD may be your problem, I find we all share a common one: Our path.

It’s not that the goals we create for ourselves are unrealistic. It’s that the path to them is. We set goals as a one step, go from “here” to “there” plan of action, and start off with all engines revving. We’re working hard, moving towards what we want & things are going great. And then we make a mistake.

Unfortunately we’re human, and mistakes will happen. Suddenly we’re like a guy sitting alone on a raft in the middle of the ocean, no land in sight for miles around us in every direction. How far did we come? How far do we have to go?

How do we even know? It’s easy. We apply the staircase technique and learn to use micro and mini goals to accomplish our long term ones. Picture your goal as a staircase. When you look at a staircase, your brain automatically knows it has to individually climb up each of those steps. You wouldn’t try to jump up every stair in one leap, would you?

Some goals may require 5 steps, whereas some may require 50. Becoming a famous actor is probably going to require more steps than losing 30 pounds (unless, of course, your last name is Spielberg). But hardly any goals are going to require just ONE step, or else they probably aren’t even worth recognizing as worthwhile ones in the first place.

When you plan to get in shape, don’t set your goal as: “I want to get in shape”. It’s too broad and undefined a goal, and will lead you 10 different ways to your result before you end upgiving up in frustration at the fact that you really don’t know what you’re doing. Instead, envision it (or even draw it out) as a staircase, and write out the mini-goal of each step. It may look something like this:

Step 1: Clean up eating habits.

Step 2: Join gym.

Step 3: 15 minutes of cardio a day for a week.

Step 4: 30 minutes of cardio next week.

Step 5: Include light weight-lifting routine before cardio.

Step 6: Increase weight-lifting, 60 minutes of cardio a day.

The staircase visualization is good for 2 reasons: Not only does it give you realistic mini-steps towards your long term goals, but when you make a mistake, or lose motivation, you can look back at what step you’re on and see the progress you’ve made thus far. This is majorly important to keep motivation high. If your goal requires lots of hard work over a long period of time, you’re going to lose motivation at some point. It’s only natural. Life happens. You’re going to have a bad day, or your mind is going to be distracted by other things going on in your life, etc. You need this gauge of how far you’ve come, how far you have to go, and how far back you will fall if you give up now.

Think of something you want to accomplish. Now draw out a 5-step staircase of steps you can take to get closer to it. Now see if you can divide those 5 mini goals into 10 micro goals. I honestly feel the smaller the steps, the better, because the feeling of constant pushing forward will keep your motivation revving at it’s highest level.

Always be working towards climbing up that next step. Don’t worry about the top. You can’t get to the last step if you can’t even get to the 3rd. Stay motivated. Because remember, although you can’t jump UP a whole set of stairs in one leap, you certainly can jump DOWN one.