Dream big. Go small.

I decided to start sharing the main lessons I have learned from working with over a dozen first clients. These people adopted the Monthly Method for at least a month and I’ve learned some major lessons from their experience. One of the main ones is “Dream big but go small.”

dream big go small

Three types of goal setters

The phrase “Dream big. Go small” comes from the One Thing podcast which I highly recommend listening to. I think they borrowed this phrase from the One Thing book.

I’ve heard this phrase so many times but I think I never actually comprehended the level of wisdom until I started working with clients. 

I have worked with over a dozen Monthly Method clients. And one common theme kept popping up. 

There were three groups of goal setters:

    1. The ones who set huge goals for the sprint.
    2. The ones who set realistic goals for the sprint.
    3. The ones who set ridiculously small goals. 

And here is what happened to each group of people every single time. 

The overachievers

People with huge goals were the ones who wanted to run 10k every day when they haven’t gone for a run in the last two years. The ones who wanted to read a book a week without opening a book since high school. 

And don’t get me wrong, I am not blaming or shaming these people. In fact, I can pretty much relate to them. I definitely used to be one of them. It’s the New Year, New Me resolution crowd. It was me after watching an inspiring movie or a YouTube video. The logic here is that the new me will be born tomorrow and there is absolutely zero regard for what I did yesterday. 

Who cares? Tomorrow is a new life. 

The realists

The second group of people set realistic goals. At least that’s how they think. They’ve probably attempted to pursue these goals in the past. They got some progress but fell off the wagon and now they want to return to what they were doing before.

“Go small” group

This is my favourite group – the ones who set up small goals for their habits in each of the categories.

In case you don’t know, under the Monthly Method, you can work on one habit per category:

  • Career & Growth,
  • Health and Key relationships,
  • Quality of Life.

Who got the most progress in just 1 month?

Can you guess which group experiences the highest completion rates and the overall progress throughout the sprint? It’s the third group! Who experiences the least success? It is the first group. 

And who are my returning clients? All of them belong to the third group. 

“But wait… they set such low goals, of course they achieve them but there is not much progress to be made when your goals are so small.” And here is where you are wrong my friend. And let me explain why. 

Goal setting as an overachiever

Let’s look at the first group. The overachievers. The ones with the new life starting tomorrow. The “go big or go home” crowd. The white-knuckling enthusiasts. The no pain, no gain quotes printed out and taped to the wall. 

This is how the Monthly Method experience goes for them. They set an enormous goal. They don’t consider what they’ve done in the past up till this point. They start implementing the weekly Monthly Method plan. And they are burned out by the third day. They are burned out so much, they don’t even have the energy to do any of the Quality of Life fun activities. 

The most popular phrase I hear is “I’ve fallen off the wagon.” Where is the wagon? What wagon? There is no wagon to fall off of!!!

Let’s say their burnout happened on Wednesday. They didn’t do much on Wednesday. Then it’s Thursday but “hey I’ve already missed a day. It’s not worth starting now. It’s not gonna be perfect. The streak is broken. I’ve broken the chain. That beautiful habit tracking tool I’ve created for myself now looks so ugly with the empty boxes. Not even worth trying.”

Fact vs. Fiction Analysis

Have you noticed that all of this is fiction and not a fact?

“I’ve already missed a day.” This is a fact, we can all agree on that. There is  zero controversy about this statement.

“It’s not worth starting now.” That is fiction. Who said so? Bring 10 people into a room and everyone will have a different opinion on whether it’s worth starting again. It’s fiction, it’s not a fact. 

“It’s not gonna be perfect.” This is a fact. But so what? so what it’s not perfect? Here is my favourite question, “What’s the alternative?” Ok, it’s not gonna be perfect but what’s the alternative? Throw in the towel and do nothing? Is nothing really better than imperfect?

“That beautiful habit tracking tool I’ve created looks ugly with empty boxes.” Again, it’s fiction, not a fact! I think it will look beautiful the more you use it because it will tell a story with all the empty boxes. That’s my fiction.

“It’s not even worth trying.” Again… fiction, not a fact. 

This is just an opinion, why do you believe as if it was a fact?

Overachiever’s result

Ok, now let’s look at some measurable results. Let’s use running as an example. 

An overachiever would set a goal of running 10k every day. He would go on a run Monday and Tuesday. Then the burnout. Total result: 20K ran in a week and the never-ending thoughts of “I’m a failure. I can never get anything done.”

Goal setting as a realist

Let’s look at the second group – the realists. What differentiates them from the overachievers is that they actually look at what they’ve done up till this point and adjust their expectations accordingly. 

Let’s look at the running example. Maybe they used to run consistently at university and now they want to get back to the same form. Or they tried to build running habit a few month ago. It wasn’t successful but it wasn’t a complete failure either. 

I think it is an improvement. At least they don’t have an illusion that tomorrow a new them will wake up and start a new life. They realize that it will be them who will wake up tomorrow and will need to do all the work. Huge improvement compared to the overachievers. 

Usually, there are two types of outcome that happens. 

  1. Roaring Success
  2. Icky in-between

And your previous experience with this habit is what dictates the outcome. 

Let’s look at some real examples from the real clients of mine. 

We have Nick. One of the habits he was working on last sprint was intermittent fasting. In particular, the 22-2 split. It’s very ambitious for a beginner and I would never recommend that if you are starting out. But what was different with Nick is that he used to do this split before he just wanted to get back into the same habit. He was successful with this habit before. And that’s why he is successful with it now. 

Another example, a client of mind used to meditate a lot and now he wants to get back into meditation. He was really good at this habit before and now there is easy for him to return to the same habit. 

Again, what I came to realize after observing my clients is that your previous experience with this habit is what dictates the outcome. 

I said, there are two potential outcome:

  1. Roaring success or
  2. Icky in-between

Icky-in-between happens when you previous experience with the habit was an icky in-between. When it wasn’t a success and it wasn’t a failure. It was 50-50. Maybe out of 30 days in a month, you did this habit 15 times. 

If your completion rate for this particular habit wasn’t as good before, you need to analyze why and change your habit accordingly. 

That’s why we do sprint reviews every month with our clients. In order to avoid repeating the same mistakes again. If you were not fully successful doing this before, it needs to be changed. Maybe it needs to be smaller, maybe you need to change the location or the time of when you do this habit. Something needs to change.

If you just simply copy-paste the same habit to your next sprint, you will copy-paste the results as well. 

So, there is nothing wrong with being a realist especially when it comes to getting back to certain activities you were successfully doing before. But if you want to start something new, I recommend going redicously small and blowing your mind off with the results you achieve. 

goal setting

“Dream big go small” goal setting

Ok, let’s turn our heads to my most successful group of clients – the dream big, go small crowd. 

Let’s look at the running example again. This group would say that putting running shoes on and walking around the block is a success when trying to build a running habit. 

This is a group of people who aim at just opening up a textbook and reading one page vs. reading an entire chapter. 

This is a group that wants to do just 15 minutes of deep focus per day instead of 5 hours. 

Why do I like working with this group?

The main reason is that they are the happiest clients out of all three groups. They come to our weekly calls and they say things like. “I was aiming for 15 minutes of deep work on Thursday but ended up doing 2 hours and finishing my tax return that I’ve been procrastinating on.” 

Or I hear things like “I’ve never been so consistent and deliberate at spending quality time with my kids every single night”

Or “I had the best sleep ever from just a single habit of turning the TV off at 10 pm.”

Results are great, but what’s most important is that they develop a new self-image, a new identity. 

They are becoming the people who cross thing out, who show up for the goals. 

And it’s amazing to see the level of self-confidence raising from week to week. 

Instead of practicing self-bitching and thinking “I’m not good enough” what these practice is self-confidence and thinking “I am the person who show up for my goals”.

And let’s do a thought experiment here. Who do you think will have a much bigger progress in their life one year from now? The one practiced the “I’m not good enough” thinking or the one who practiced “I am the person who show up for my goals.” thinking? Make your bet. 

And then the next sprint they are able to make this habit a bit bigger and make daily progress on that. 

And let’s look at the real results here. So the client who set a goal of just doing 15 minutes deep focus work per day ends up doing by my estimates at least an hour day. But even if it’s just 15 minutes, he had built a habit around it. He does it every day at the same time. Now he has a habit that he will benefit from for the rest of his life. 

build habits

Mike’s studying example

And now I want to use a real-life example to show you how one client of mine went from the first group to the third in just one sprint. 

Mike came to me with a request to start studying for a medical exam. He needed to study a lot to pass this test. And he tried different approaches, different productivity methods but nothing seemed to work. 

The first week he set a goal of reading 1 chapter of a textbook and completing notes for the chapter every day Monday – Friday. Little did I know that these medical textbooks are humongous and it takes about 2-3 hours to read the chapter and do proper notes. Guess how many times did he complete his goal that week? Exactly one. 

During our second call where I got to learn how much it takes to finish each chapter, I recommended going a lot smaller. Focusing on just 30 minutes of reading per day. 

Guess how many days did he read for 30 minutes? I think it was 2-3. 

And listen… For me it’s not a sign that there is something wrong with my client. It’s a sign that the habit is still big and we need to break down even further. 

Week 3 we decided to focus on the very first domino. After doing a little analysis together, we realized that the thing that prevents him from studying is that arrives late to work and his mornings are hectic. And we came up with the solution to build a habit to pack everything he needs the night before and create a checklist for his mornings tasks. 

It literally took him 10 minutes total to do all of that the night before. To pack his backpack, lay out his cloth, and write down a checklist on a list of paper. 

Have you notice – there is nothing in this habit that says that he needs to study except for the fact that he needs to put a textbook in his backpack. 

Result? He was able to stick with this habit for 6 days out of 7 which is a great completion rate? And guess, he was even able to study that week. He studied more that than any previous weeks when studying was actually the habit we were focusing on. 

I think this is a great example that illustrates that if you keep on being stubborn and if keep on setting study goals for yourself even though you see very little progress, you will not succeed. If you are willing to be flexible and go small, you will be able to see your progress much sooner. 

Dream big. Go small my friends. Don’t be ashamed to start small. Because what’s the alternative? Start big and burnout by Wednesday and never attempt at this goal again? 

If you want to set the goals of the right size that will deliver measurable results one month at a time, check out monthlymethod.com.

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Read next:
  1. The one question that turns a lazy day around
  2. Consuming vs. Producing
  3. Why long-term planning is not as good as you were taught

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