It Starts With One: 5 Steps for Breaking Down Our Greatest Challenges

The Thousand Mile Journey

Lao Tzu said “the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”

The hardest part is deciding when to step.

The six focus factors below call on us to pay attention to areas of our lives where we may be lacking in determination, fulfillment, progress, or goals.

A journey of a thousand miles sounds like a pretty daunting goal. So does:

Finance: Saving $100,000

Fitness: Running a half-marathon

Food: Eating only clean, whole foods for a month

Faith: Reading the bible in one year

Family: Raising a well-rounded, prepared adult

Fun: Bagging a high peak in the Adirondack mountains

These things, at first glance, seem overwhelming – so much so that we may not even have the gumption to take the “first step.”

This is why goal decomposition is so vitally important. Goal decomposition is the breaking down of our goals to bite-sized pieces – yearly, monthly, and daily tasks that make it possible to cognitively take the first step. Many people get so intimidated by the enormity of the task at hand that they decide it’s not worth starting. Goal decomposition is the solution.

Eating Elephants

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

Here are the five steps to break down your elephant-sized goals into manageable morsels:

1. Visualize success in high-definition
What defines success in your goal? Perhaps one of the focus factor examples above really resonates with you – take it, own it, and bring it to a deeper level of internalization. You should be able to qualify what success will feel like by describing it to someone else, and to quantify it via a measurable result (i.e. weight lost, miles ran, money saved, minutes spent).

2. Find your personal starting line
Gauge your current skill level or experience in whatever undertaking you’re tackling. In other words, if your goal is to run a 13.1 mile half-marathon, don’t start by trying to run all 13 miles in one go, especially if you’ve never run before. In this example, a good thing to do in this step is to chat with your doctor, do some light runs to determine your ability, and work with a coach to create a tailored plan that is scaled to your ability. Starting too fast can quickly derail even the most passionate goal-getters. Starting too slow for your level of skill can have a similar affect.

3. Do the math
Once you know where you’re starting and what success looks like – it’s time to break down your goal into regressive time increments. This isn’t rocket science, unless your goal is to build a rocket. If your goal is running a 13 mile race in six months, and you can already run three miles without stopping, then maybe your mile goals per month break down this way:

Month 1: 4 miles
Month 2: 6 miles
Month 3: 8 miles
Month 4: 10 miles
Month 5: 12 miles
Month 6: 13.1 miles

Financial goals can be even easier to mathematically break down. If you want to save $15,000 for a new vehicle to buy in three years, then:

$15,000/3 years = $5,000 per year/12 months = $417 monthly savings goal

Again, this isn’t hard stuff to comprehend, but statistically it appears it is hard to do. A newer survey on retirement readiness by Bank of America Merril Lynch found that 81% of Americans don’t know how much they need to retire. While there is certainly more that goes into planning for retirement than for buying a car, this statistic begs the question – why aren’t we doing more? What is stopping us from taking that first step or reaching out for assistance? The answer lies in the final steps.

4. Identify daily activities
All goals NEED to decompose to daily action. Daily action compounds over time to massive success. Daily inaction compounds over time to massive regret. Once you’ve done the math, it is so important to pinpoint what needs to be done every day to harness the power of action over time. In finance, this could mean buying one less coffee or working one extra job for two hours. In faith this could mean reading the bible for 10 minutes a day. In fitness this could mean starting every morning with a 20 minute walk. For fun this could mean practicing an instrument for 15 minutes a day. Begin with the end in mind, do the math to break down large goals all the way to daily tasks.

These tasks may seem small at the time, but they are investments in your larger venture, and the power of compounding tasks every day is a lot like compound interest in investing – after a while the returns will be exponentially greater than the effort.

5. Always be a student
Decomposing goals begins and ends with admitting that we don’t have all the answers, and that in order to succeed, we need help. A spouse, coach, advisor, friend, or mentor should be involved in our journey to help us stay accountable and on track. As soon as we stop learning, we stagnate, and many times regress.

Ego blunts effectiveness, and pride inhibits progress.

10,000

Prolific author Malcolm Gladwell proposed that 10,000 hours of deliberate practice is needed to become world-class in any field.

It is said we make 10,000-35,000 decisions per day.

We all wish we had just 10,000 more seconds to spend with those we’ve loved and lost.

You probably have 10,000 reasons to relentlessly pursue your passions.

Experts say that 10,000 walking steps a day are needed to maintain good health.

10,000 of anything seems like a lot to take on. The good news?

It all starts with one.

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