I’m not talking about losing weight, or balancing work and play more, or even getting the promotion you’ve been waiting for for years. I’m talking about deep, soulful big goals.  Goals that are bigger than what seems possible.  Big goals that will push you outside your comfort goals. The kind of goals that you keep to yourself because it seems impossible. Goals worth the tears it takes to make them a reality.

Thinking big and small

I’m a big thinker.

If you show me a handmade soap and tell me you want to sell it, I see rituals, glossy magazine ads, and billboards.  When you show me scraps of paper with notes that might, or might not, be the beginning of a book, I see a New York Times bestseller, television interviews with Oprah and airport bookshops filled with copies in the “best seller” section.

Naturally, this big thinking of mine has caused me many disappointments. But no one taught me or seemed able to, how to think small.

A lot of people have tried to talk me out of my big dreams. Sometimes for the better, like the time I was on the verge of buying a dolphin charter holiday resort from a woman I met at a retreat when a good friend openly laughed at my idea and talked me out of it. A few weeks later, we received the news that it had burnt down.  Sometimes, however, for the worst, like the colleagues or bosses convincing me to stay in dead-end jobs or the same boring role.

I’ve learned a lot from all these failed ventures.  Next, I’ve learned not to listen too much to what other people say, at least not at the cost of your happiness. I’ve learned how to break down big dreams into smaller, more doable chunks. And I’ve learned how to be patient and to persevere.

Here are my top 5 strategies if you too have big goals you want to realize:

1. Start small

A big tree doesn’t start big.  It begins as a tiny seed, covered and unseen for extended periods, sometimes even years.  Only once the external conditions are right does the seed slowly start to grow, one leaf at a time, into the beautiful big tree it was always meant to become.

Having observed and analyzed startups for years, particularly interested in what makes them a success or failure, I found some patterns.  One of the most common reasons is a lack of clarity, especially if you start with too ambitious big goals.  Even more common is scaling too fast.  On the contrary, the most successful startups I’ve observed all had huge but clear dreams and took small, sustainable steps.

Overnight success is only the result of a long, arduous journey that most people are unaware of. It’s not that they didn’t go through the slow growth; it’s just that you only started noticing the tree once it was big enough to stand out.

So stop comparing yourself to people who’ve been on the journey for years, and focus on only your next step.

The exercise

An exercise called “Circles and Soup” helps focus on which action to take next if you feel overwhelmed or easily distracted.

    1. Take a piece of paper and draw three concentric circles, much like a target.
    2. Label the inner circle “Control”, representing an area that you have complete control of.  The middle circle represents an area you can influence but not control, labelled “Influence”.  The outer circle is labelled “Soup” and describes the items you can neither directly control nor influence.
    3. Now, think of your big goal, take some sticky notes, and write down everything that needs to be done or be in place to realize each idea on a separate sticky note.
    4. Place each sticky note in one of the circles.
    5. Being aware of the things out of your control, focus on the things in your control.

Pick a task from the inner circle to action. By only worrying about things in your direct control, doors inevitably will start opening in the outer circles as you continue on your journey, and you’ll find that it wasn’t necessary to worry at all.

2. Start with the end in mind

As adults, we don’t stop using our imagination; we just learn to silence the desire.  Our imagination, however, is a potent tool, with one of my favourite techniques for planning a big goal, an exercise called “Remember the Future“.

Visualize your dream and see yourself one step further than where you want to be.  If you’re going to be the next Richard Branson, see yourself celebrating after a successful trip to the moon and back.  If you want to be a bestselling author, see yourself being interviewed on TV and the cover of your favourite magazine.

Now, working backwards one step at a time, break your goal into smaller steps, asking yourself one question repeatedly:

“What needs to be in place for you to achieve this goal?” 

Taking the bestseller book example, for you to be on a front cover of a magazine, you would have had to sell at least say a million copies of your book worldwide.  This is the immediate previous step.

Still very daunting and seeming impossible, take another step back, asking the same question.  This time, you probably would have had to be a bestseller in a few cities around the world, selling a total of, say, 100,000 copies.  Continue with the process until you reach a place that feels comfortably achievable.

The key is to break down your big plan into smaller bits, starting with the end in mind, until you get to a point where you feel confident that you can do it.

3. Just start

Sometimes, however, it’s not the size but the sheer volume that is overwhelming. When you feel that you have too much on your plate, it’s easy to get lost in deciding which task to do first, resulting in no action at all. If that sounds familiar, take a deep breath and just pick one.  Anyone.  Just start.

According to Newton’s laws, a body in motion tends to stay in motion.  So the most important thing to focus on is to get started. Once you feel that you’ve accomplished something, suddenly, a long list becomes less daunting.

There is no ‘right’ task.  Any task is better than no task, and feedback is more important than getting it right.

So just start.

4. Start with what feels best

I’m a firm believer that your emotions serve as your inner GPS, always trying to help you reach your big goals.  When you struggle to pick the most critical task to do next, choose the one that feels best, even if it’s not the most important.

When you pick a task that motivates you, you’re much more likely to finish it, which means you are more likely to take another step closer to your goal.

A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, and with each step you take, it becomes easier to see whether you are going in the right direction.  Like a GPS, only when you start moving can it accurately tell you which direction to go.

5. Don’t do anything

Every so often, no matter what who says or does, you remain paralyzed and overwhelmed, unable to do anything.  The best thing to do then is to surrender to the feeling and just not do anything.

Sometimes the most productive thing to do, is to do nothing.

It seems counter-productive not to do anything when there are so many things to be done, but by waiting, you allow the metaphorical dust to settle. It’s waiting for the fire to burn out. There’s no use trying to fight a fierce fire with a bucket of water. You’re helping no one when you’re going into a fire unprepared; instead, you’re only increasing the risk.

Sometimes you need to stand back and watch the fire die down before you can take the next step.   Doing nothing does not mean you’re lazy.  Doing nothing is one of the hardest things to do in a world obsessed with busyness.

Permit yourself to stop being busy, and wait for a new door to open.

Conclusion

Big dreams are scary, but dreams are supposed to come true, so this post suggests five strategies to help you reach your goals in 2017.

Start small, break down your big goals into smaller steps, follow your emotions, and sometimes, just don’t do anything for a while.  Rome wasn’t built in a day, and without a strong foundation, it would not have lasted for us to witness it.

With 20 years experience in the software development industry, Kate specializes in helping teams get unstuck, communicate and ultimately be more productive. She believes in efficiency through fun implementing lean, agile and playful design as tools for process improvement and organizational change. Her goal is to create more happy, healthy and whole workplaces where each person thrives and productivity soars.