If you are Spring cleaning like many of us, you may be inspired to let go of some things you thought you needed to hold onto, and make room for something new. Click here for a link to a recent post I shared on Spring cleaning. It can be overwhelming if we aim too high, or it can be fun if we just make it a game. The only rule is to answer this one question: “How much can I share to make room for something new?”

You may be tempted to overcommit, like a friend of mine who said she wanted to get rid of 50 tops/shirts this month. I would be excited for her, except that this is a common target she has set for herself, many times, over many years, and so far has never come close to achieving it.

If this sounds like you, try a different approach. Reduce the target down from the audacious “50 shirts” goal, to something more manageable, like one shirt, or five shirts. As I said to my friend “Just try getting rid of one shirt. You can’t reach fifty without one (50 times!)” She laughed and agreed, it makes sense.

Goals are fantastic. They give us a direction. They also give us hope, when we allow ourselves to believe that future circumstances can be better than our current circumstances. But if we reach too high, we miss one of the critical elements of effective goal setting which is to make it easy/manageable/small. As James Clear says in Atomic Habits: Make it so easy you can’t fail.

Returning to the shirt example, it might feel great to set such an audacious target to donate fifty shirts. But the goal will fall flat if we never actually start. We have to set goals for incremental gains that are doable and reasonable. That is how we create momentum and a winning attitude: Set attainable, incremental goals, get to work on one thing, and celebrate it instantly when you hit. Repeat often.

In this example, if it were me, I’d trade out the “Donate fifty shirts” which is so vague and overwhelming, to something more specific and attainable like “Each Saturday I will move one shirt that someone else can use and I don’t so much need, from my closet to the donation box in the basement.”

“When the year is over I will have around 50 shirts to donate” and this will help make room for something new, while helping to meet the needs of a stranger. In this way, the goal becomes operationalized and manageable. We don’t have to take huge, earth shattering leaps to achieve our goals. We simply need to break them down into incremental acts that we consistently hit. Before we know it we are actually behaving our way toward achieving our audacious goal!

See if this incremental approach to goaling can help you with something you have been meaning to start or to achieve. This “donation” example is a great illustration of the power of aggregating small but consistent acts in the direction we want to move. One by one, we run another mile and find ourselves completing a marathon. Little by little we complete courses in a program of study and earn a new professional credential or new language.

By applying consistency over volume to our choices, we can build new habits in all areas of our lives including dialing in the fundamentals of eating, breathing, moving and sleeping. Try this out by setting an earlier bed time or wake up time, collecting donations, a new exercise programs (ie ”Walk 10 minutes daily for 30 days, then increase 10 minutes to 15. Then walk 15 minutes daily for 30 days. And continue to increase in small increments.”)

And by all means, have fun with this. Create visuals that remind you to stick to the new, adjusted behavior. Post reminders, bar graphs or any images that connect you with your new target to keep you focused. It can be a game instead of a pain in the neck. And if you are setting worthy goals, it is worth taking the time to actually achieve them, instead of saying you will give away 50 shirts, every Spring but never seem to get around to giving away one.

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