The Key to Your Self-Care Goals Is Thinking Small and Here’s Why — Lionesses of Africa

by Lori Milner

When making progress on self-care goals, having a good intention is not enough. In my work as a coach and trainer, I know people genuinely have every good intention to show up on the calendar without guilt to make time for their self-care goals. They make promises to themselves, intending to honour them, but ultimately these agreements get broken. The excuses are coming from a good place — my boss needed something, I didn’t have enough time or my bed was too warm. I’ve realized that this lack of follow-through is not a character flaw nor a motivation problem. The real barrier is thinking too big.

If you associate exercise with needing 60 minutes of your time, then no wonder you never make progress. Thinking big is going to paralyze you. Instead, the answer is to think small. The secret to getting control over your life and working towards your dreams is making one tiny bit of progress every single day on the things that matter to you. In other words, how can you create micro wins?

Be specific.

The more specific you are about what ‘done’ and ‘doing’ looks like, the more likely you will make progress. Saying I want to be more mindful is too broad; it doesn’t clarify what specific action you must take. Instead, you can define ‘Done’ as staying calm when triggered by a stressful situation.

‘Doing’ means that every time I start a meeting, I will take ten deep breaths or every time I walk into my office, I will think of three things I am grateful for. Done could mean — I want to run a 5km race in 6 months. Doing is committing to a 20-minute walk three times per week. Shifting your focus to something that your mind perceives as a doable task will naturally increase positive energy, direction, and motivation.

Think in micro-choices.

We all make mistakes with our self-care goals. It’s human nature to give into instant gratification rather than stay focused on the long term goal. For example, when that cake comes out at the party, or you hit snooze because those extra ten minutes feel like they will change your entire day.

The good news is that one wrong choice does not equal permanent failure. It’s precisely that — one incorrect choice.

If you can see your day as a series of micro choices, you can make the next decision better. Drop all or nothing thinking — ‘oh well, I missed my walk today, so I may as well ditch the entire day and start again tomorrow.’

This thinking justifies a domino effect of poor choices like going for the doughnut or procrastinating on your tasks. Forgive yourself and move ahead with your day to ensure that the next choice aligns with your goals.

Put your choice under a microscope so you can prevent it from happening again. Maybe you had disrupted sleep, and the trigger was relying on food to give you an instant energy boost? The sooner you can identify the trigger, the sooner you can create sustainable change. Each good choice resulting in a positive action is a micro win. These wins stack up over time, which is how you make progress. It is not about one colossal decision but micro-choices throughout the day toward your goal.

Consistency is key.

The number one excuse for lack of progress on self-care goals is time.

If you can replace the mindset of needing more time with consistent action, you will no longer view time as a barrier. The beauty of consistency is that it compounds. I recently read the fifth book of Harry Potter with my daughter. The book is 800 pages, and it felt like we would never complete it. We started in December and completed it in three months, and we only read about 20 minutes per day except on weekends when we had more time to read. If you spend 15 minutes every day reading, meditating, doing yoga, studying, walking, painting, practicing a language or music — you name it — you will make progress. This is why thinking big can paralyze you from starting. You have convinced yourself that you need an hour to work on something, which will immediately deter you. When you think small and show up consistently, you will create daily micro wins and ultimately achieve your goal.

Trust the process.

Creating a micro win in isolation feels useless. One fifteen-minute session of writing or a five-minute meditation feels pointless. The key to making progress on your goals is to trust the process. There will always be a gap between creating micro wins and achieving your goal. If you start eating healthier, drinking more water or walking, there can be at least 3 to 6 weeks before you see the tangible result.

This interim period is a danger zone. You interpret the lack of tangible results as failure or that your effort is not worth it. If you can trust the process of creating daily wins and still persevere despite the results, you will eventually achieve your goal. Micro wins created consistently over time is what yields results.

The second part to trusting the process is you need to turn down the volume of the inner critic who constantly reminds you that you should be further than you are. Focus on creating daily wins and tune into your inner coach. Your inner critic is like a toddler; if you ignore the tantrum long enough, the child realizes it needs a new strategy. If you stop paying attention to the destructive self-talk, it will stay muted.

The reward is the journey, not the outcome.

It’s easy to get obsessed with the outcome because the end goal is what motivates you — being able to run 5km, get the promotion, buy the dream car or play a song on your guitar. When you finally achieve your goal, there is anti-climax and a feeling of ‘Is this all there is?’ Then you move the goalposts and start on the next goal. Perhaps a 10km or another degree. The MBA was all you ever wanted because you convinced yourself that when you achieve it, your happiness will skyrocket, and everything you have ever wanted will be achieved with a piece of paper. When you complete your MBA, it is not the paper you should be focusing on but who you have become along the way. Things that would have previously terrified you, you don’t think about anymore. Thinking small means focusing on the incremental wins along the way, not only the huge goal.

If you don’t find joy in the day-to-day journey, it may be the wrong journey. Of course, it’s challenging and not every part is sunshine and rainbows, but if you are on a sprint to the finish line, you may miss the scenery along the way.

Aim for progress, not perfection.

Change is difficult because you don’t want to experience discomfort in the process — the discomfort of feeling like a beginner and out of your depth.

When you can replace perfection with progress, you will start to appreciate each micro win and how it sets you up for success over time. Progress is what encourages you; this is the secret to motivation. When you pick up the guitar after a few weeks of practice, do the chords begin to make more sense than they did two weeks ago?

Author Niel Gaman said every writer has one million bad words in them. To get to the good stuff, you need first to purge those million words. I loved this analogy because it permitted me to be awful at the beginning of my writing career rather than feel despondent and give up. Instead of allowing my inner critic to use this opportunity to taunt me, I saw this as a process I needed to work through. When I think about my progress over the years, it is remarkable. What used to take me a week to write an article, I can complete in a few hours. It is being able to look back and appreciate where I was and where I have come.

Final thoughts.

When it comes to goal setting and creating a compelling future vision for your life, think big. When it comes to making these dreams a reality, think small. Focus on the incremental actions and daily micro wins that will lead you there.

We fail to recognize that the small decisions you and I make daily create our destinies. Every ‘overnight’ success took at least ten years to get there. It’s never one achievement that suddenly catapults them to success but consistent focus and deliberate daily action.

The purpose of the goal is to set the direction; the real win is growing into the person worthy of the goal.

Here’s to thinking small.

Warm wishes,


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