Dream big, hustle hard, aim high and reach for the stars!
Isn’t that what we’re encouraged to do?
Well, yes and no. Let me explain.
Before my wheelchair, I did a bit of mountain climbing through my university days. The kind that takes a couple of days and often involves ropes, a harness and other safety equipment to scale vertical rock faces along the way.
I remember this one climb in Thailand. It was stinking hot and the humidity was revolting. The hike to the base of the mountain was relatively easy and more like a relaxing bushwalk… in a sauna.
But I had a big goal: to reach the summit.
I knew the view from the top and that feeling of accomplishment would be worth it. But thinking about that big goal and all of the sweat, stress and strain that I’d have to endure just made me want to quit.
I think this happens a lot in life.
Having huge shiny aspirations and big, audacious goals for the future can be really important.
But at the same time it can feel totally overwhelming. Thinking about how you’ll feel when you ‘get there’ is exciting but the thought of everything you’ll have to do in between just leaves you mentally exhausted, like it did for me on that climb in Thailand.
Sometimes that overwhelm can even stop us from moving forward.
Sometimes that overwhelm just makes us quit.
So, when you feel like quitting, try this instead.
Break those big goals down – dream small and aim low. I realise that goes against everything we’re told but believe me it works.
Luckily for me, quitting wasn’t an option on my mountain climb and I was held accountable by my fellow climbers who also wanted to reach the summit.
So instead of focusing on my intimidating end point, I set myself mini goals along the way. Just scaling one particular little rock face became my goal for the next 40 minutes or so. It was far more achievable and an excuse for a momentary celebration after I’d done it.
And who doesn’t love an excuse for a little celebration?!
I continued this pattern all the way up the mountain. Setting and achieving little goals along the way until I finally reached the summit.
As I’d expected, the view was amazing and all of the sweat, stress and swearing was worth it.
Then there was that first year in hospital.
Imagine lying in bed and all you can do is blink your eyes, wiggle your fingers and kinda talk mumbled jibberish. Yep, it was like that for a while.
I had to relearn everything. Everything.
And the thought of that completely overwhelmed me.
Reclaiming my independence became an intense motivator and feeding myself became my big goal that month.
Yes, it was so small and insignificant in the grand scheme of things but it meant an awful lot to me at the time.
I applied the same sort of thinking that I’d used on the mountain in Thailand. I broke my big goal down into little ones.
For months I was fed through a tube and then progressed to a stage where someone else could feed me with a spoon (like an infant). Despite my complete dependency and continued high-care, this in itself was a little milestone to celebrate.
With the tube out, I was one milestone down and it was time for my next little goal on the way to my big goal…
Again, there was plenty of stress, strain and swearing along the way.
I failed on multiple occasions for weeks when I clumsily picked up cutlery and tried to feed myself. Food flew all over the little hospital table, all over me and any nearby casualties who stood too close.
But finally I did it. One bite of food made it safely from the plate into my mouth.
Wohoo! How good was I?!
And so that pattern continued until I could eat a whole plate of food by myself.
Some years later, I had a big goal of writing a book.
I’d spent the previous years teaching myself how to type again but I was still painstakingly slow (and am to this day).
But again, I broke the big goal down into smaller goals.
A few hundred words each day or sometimes none at all. Just one chapter at a time or even just a few sentences.
Eventually I wrote that book and my publisher asked me to write another, so I did. One word at a time.
I could continue with a squillion more examples from my own life where aiming small has helped me achieve big goals but think you understand my point!
By aiming small you can really achieve some big goals.
Think of a big goal in your life.
Your examples may have nothing to do with mountains or manuscripts, but very similar principles apply.
If your big goal feels a little too big or even a little scary, that’s no excuse to quit.
Something I learned as a kid is something I’ve kept remembering as an adult. It’s great to reach the top of the mountain (either literally or metaphorically), but it’s also awesome to enjoy all of those smaller victories along the way.
Do you have a really huge personal or professional goal?
Absolutely go for it but don’t forget to celebrate those little wins too.
The finish line is in front of you but don’t give up if you can’t cross it straight away.
This piece was originally published over on the HuffPost and you can see that right here!