goal setting: unambitious, but consistent

How to eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

Long, complicated projects, or drastic lifestyle changes, are at risk of never being achieved or attempted because the jump from now to that seems unfathomably far. I have a method, though, that involves breaking down a project into daily, seemingly inconsequential, but achievable tasks. Keeping with this theme, let me first break down the method I used:

  1. Envision
  2. Define
  3. Do

First, have a vision for what you’re looking to achieve – an actual picture in your mind of what that looks like. For me, I wanted the easy, minimalist home life of my favorite YouTuber, Jenny Mustard – not necessarily the clean/white aesthetic, but the void of clutter and the air of simplicity. I wanted to drink water from wine glasses on the couch next to folded blankets.

Second, define the breakdown. For my vision, I figured I could best achieve it by decluttering my living space (organizing, decorating, etc, would not be my primary focus). I first considered where I was starting: I was a functional hoarder who’d saved everything from my high school track shoes to 7-year-expired dried oregano. With this in mind, how did I want to break down this monumental decluttering project into achievable, daily tasks? The difficulty for me was not as much the time it’d take to declutter, but instead the finite emotional energy of wrestling my aversion to “wasting” or “getting rid of something I might need.” What do I think I could accomplish daily, even on my worst day, that would add up over time? In 2019, I set a New Year’s goal to get rid of one item a day, for a year.

Along the way, I learned the most important part of “Do” was keeping it simple: today, what item will go? Some really good days I got rid of more than one thing, but on the harder days I didn’t let myself get overwhelmed and discouraged by making the task an harder than it had to be. For example, I often saved the task of deciding what I should do with the item – sell, donate, or throw away – for another day. This helped me keep my momentum.

I’m now on my 9th month (started my NY resolution in December) and the daily task I defined at the beginning has become a daily habit. Even better, this one good habit has sparked other good habits related to my goal of maintaining a living space. For example, I buy far less, since I know very well that, one day, I will have to deal with this item in the back of the closet – so do I really need it? Even when the year is up, and I’m no longer getting rid of something daily, I’m confident that the habit will linger in some form. Because I did it over time, and thought about it every day (even if for only 2 minutes) this one daily habit has snowballed into a lifestyle change.

In short, the method is about choosing a task that is very unambitious day-to-day, but will create a drastic change over time because of it’s effect on other habits as well as pure addition. Other possibilities:

  • For a vision of a Instagram-healthy-diet, the task could be changing nothing else but eating one vegetable a day (i.e. some carrots with your cheeseburger)
  • If you imagine waking up every day feeling fit and energized, the task could be moving 15 minutes a day, whether that be walking around the block, a serious workout, or anything in between.

I’m going to try this out for future visions as well, always considering where I’m at and defining a daily task from there: one that is unambitious, but consistent.