Why Small Goals are More Ambitious Than Big Goals

“Seriously, if you always put limits on what you can do, physical or anything else; it’ll spread over into the rest of your life. It’ll spread into your work, into your morality, into your entire being… There are NO limits. There are plateaus, but you must not stay there, you must go beyond them. If it kills you, it kills you. A man must constantly exceed his level.”

Bruce Lee

A person who reads Lee’s quote might think to set big goals. But look deeper, and you’ll see that massive goals are not the way, they are the problem. Here’s an example.

Common Goal: I want to do 100 push-ups a day.

A man recently completed 100 push-ups a day for a full year. He said that in the beginning, it was too difficult, but towards the end, it was too easy.

100 push-ups a day for a full year is impressive, and it did bring him some results. It is not, however, a good plan for these reasons he mentioned. It’s inflexible and sets you up to plateau.

Early difficulty makes people quit. Late ease loses people’s interest, making them plateau and/or quit. 

The Psychology of Goal Setting

Large goals are not just a target, they are a limit. If a goal looks ambitious to you, you will not look beyond it, because it will seem sufficient enough just to reach it. This goes against the great advice by Bruce Lee to avoid such plateaus and limits. One could say that you can simply set another goal afterwards, which is true, but that ignores human nature, which is to “rest” or celebrate once reaching a milestone, at least for a time.

If a goal has such a small size that it even insults your ego, it is not a plateau or a limit, but rather a platform from which you begin. Anybody who has tried a mini habit understands this. Rarely was I satisfied to do only one push-up per day, and so I did more than that many days. Today I do 10-20 push-ups a day without thought or effort, in addition to regular daily workouts. Contrast this to the people who do these challenges, and go from 100 push-ups a day to zero once they reach day 30.

“Oh good, now I can stop doing these annoying push-ups and rest because I reached 30 days/100 days/one year.”

Because of the psychology of smaller goals, you are more likely to adopt a limitless mindset. Not only are you accustomed to overachieving your initial aim (the fundamental idea behind limitlessness), but you lack that upper limit goal that tells you when to stop.

Large goals are an end. Small goals are a beginning. (tweet this)

With my 50 words a day mini habit, I’ve written more than 5,000 words in a single day. (If you knew how lazy I am, you’d find that more impressive.) But I would never had done that much with a larger goal of say, 2,000 words a day. Once I hit that magic number, I would feel immense satisfaction and stop for the day.

That’s why small goals are so superior to large goals. You might think that large goals are more ambitious but the advantage of small goals is that they’re more doable. But small goals are actually more ambitious! Small goals used as a starting point have no upper limit, can be sought indefinitely without burnout, and give you the best chance to maximize your potential in the long term and bust through plateaus.

I’ve written four books about exactly how to use small goals and their psychological superiority to your advantage. 

Mini Habits: The original small habits book. Often imitated, Clearly plagiarized, never duplicated.

How to Be an Imperfectionist: Apply mini habits to the widespread problem of perfectionism, which causes depression, restricts our freedom, and prevents us from being ourselves. 

Mini Habits for Weight Loss: Get leaner and healthier with the power of mini habits.

Elastic Habits: It’s basically Mini Habits 2.0. More flexibility, more fun, and lots of cool tracking tools on minihabits.com!

If you want to be ambitious, think smaller. Turn your limited goals into unlimited sparks.

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