Think big, start small

You know how to eat an elephant, right? One bite at a time. When it comes to elephants, we get it – there’s no way we can eat one all at once. When it comes to our own goals however, we tend toward an all-or-nothing approach.

[Which explains Blue Monday, a theory by psychologist Dr. Cliff Arnall, who came up with a mathematical formula determining that the third Monday of the year is statistically the saddest day of the year.Makes sense: it’s about the three-week point that the zeal for your life-changing “this year will be different” new year’s resolutions starts to fade and the realization of what it’s going to take sinks in.]

Set yourself up for success

For sure, big goals are more compelling. Like Four-Hour Workweek author Tim Ferriss says, “Having an unusually large goal is an adrenaline infusion that provides the endurance to overcome the inevitable trials and tribulations that go along with any goal.”

The best way to get the big win, however, is to start small: modest, consistent progress almost always trumps all-out, dramatic efforts. Starting small sets you up for success [there’s nothing that says you can’t scale up as you acclimate!].

Here are three ways to start small:


Inevitably, all-or-nothing thinking – which, by definition, means going from 0 to 100 — creates inertia. Breaking a big goal up into micro-goals may mean less bragging rights [sorry, Ego!] but it busts through the wall of inertia. Once you start taking small steps, momentum kicks in and it actually becomes easier to keep moving forward than to stop.

At BUD/s training, Navy SEAL candidates are taught to “segment” –  rather than thinking about how they’re going to get through the next five days of Hell Week, to focus on the micro-goal of getting to the next meal, the next evolution.

Former SEAL Commander Mark Divine says: “When we set our sights on micro-goals, we achieve micro-wins, which quickly stack up and develop a sense of momentum and “can-do” instead of “can’t – won’t.”

Micro-goals work  in a crisis too. Jeff Wise, author of Extreme Fear, says: “If you’re bogged down in a massive project at work, then, don’t let yourself despair at the hugeness of the task. Break it down into pieces small enough that you can do each one in an hour or less, and focus all your attention exclusively on that.”


Anyone who’s intent on mastering a skill may scoff at the value of practicing only five minutes. But Daniel Coyle, author of The Talent Code, says: “When you practice a little each day, skills don’t erode. In fact, they consolidate. It’s like a bank account earning compound interest: a virtuous spiral where skill accrues quickly.”

This is exactly what my violinist sister found as she was counting down the last three months before returning to her post at the Paris Opera after several years focused on raising her children. By practicing every day – even if only for 15 minutes – she showed up at the first rehearsal feeling confident and in control.


And, finally, for everyone who says they don’t have time to exercise, former Navy SEAL Phil Black and founder of FitDeck, is on a mission to change that with micro-cising. “Basically, he says, “whenever I found myself waiting for someone or something, I started microcising. It didn’t matter what I was wearing, there was no sweating involved, and no exercise took more than 10-20 seconds at a time.”

Check out this example of how he found hidden pockets of time to exercise while the eggs are boiling, a TV commercial is playing and his kids are putting on their soccer cleats.