Many people fail to achieve their most important goals in life not because they set ill-advised goals or devise poor plans to achieve them, but rather because they either fail to get started at all or they fail to establish the discipline to build and maintain the momentum to accomplish their goals.
As with many things in life, consistency is key. Developing the discipline to build and to maintain momentum during successes and failures takes effort.
One way that I’ve found to grow discipline and jumpstart success is to start with a few small wins to build that initial momentum.
Small Wins as a Way to Build Discipline and Gain Momentum
“A huge body of research has shown that small wins have enormous power, an influence disproportionate to the accomplishments of the victories themselves.” — Charles Duhagg
I’m a huge believer in small wins as a way to build discipline and gain momentum.
I’ve used the technique for years to build momentum for change programs with my consulting clients. It’s also a tool that I’ve used to make the most dramatic changes in my own life.
I’ve found that starting with even a small win is simply the best way to get ‘jumpstarted’ toward accomplishing a goal, no matter the size.
Here are 7 ways that you can achieve a few small wins in just the next 7 days, and in the process begin to grow discipline and build momentum that can dramatically improve your life.
1. Take one goal that you’ve been putting off or unable to start and build a detailed workplan for the next three months, with the goal of completing the first task this week
“Reduce your plan to writing. The moment you complete this, you will have definitely given concrete form to the intangible desire” — Napoleon Hill
Having a big hairy audacious goal (or ‘BHAG’) is truly awesome.
But you’re also extremely unlikely to ever accomplish that goal if you don’t first get started. Sounds obvious, right?
Even better, why not get started in the best possible way (at least as you know it today), by planning out the first significant portion of the path towards completing your goal?
Goals often go unmet because people view them as enormous mountains to climb and can’t fathom even how to begin.
In this exercise, focus only on an initial milestone that you can reasonably complete in the next three months. Then, start by creating a project plan to hit this milestone.
For example, if you’re wanting to write a book your milestone might be to write the introduction or to create an outline for the book with chapter summaries. If you want to start a business, the milestone might be to complete the initial business planning and build a pitch deck for potential investors.
Next, set the due date of the very first task within the next 7 days, and make sure that you complete that task.
For example, if you’re hoping to start your own blog the first task might be to register a domain name or to sign up for web hosting.
By the end of the week you’ll have taken three huge steps forward toward accomplishing your goal — you’ll have identified the first important milestone, you’ll have built a plan to achieve that milestone within 3 months, and you’ll have completed the first task! Did you make that much progress toward this goal last week?
2. Set daily routines to build discipline around each day, starting with a very simple morning and evening routine and building from there
“You’ll never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.” ―John C. Maxwell
By now, I’ve read literally hundreds of different daily routines. There are entire books written about the routines of famous historical figures, business people, celebrities, writers, politicians, etc.
Some people (claim to at least) wake at an ungodly early hour and complete a whole series of tasks before most of us even wake up. Others have fairly simple and straightforward routines, such as hitting the gym and journaling before beginning their day.
Here’s the thing tough — in my most humble of opinions, the single most important thing to remember about routines is that it isn’t what you do in your routine that ultimately matters, but rather that you have a routine in the first place.
Having a daily routine helps you to build discipline. Having discipline helps you to complete tasks. Completing tasks helps you build momentum and ultimately accomplish goals, which in turn feeds your discipline and provides motivation and momentum to accomplish even more.
So, don’t worry at the outset about what you should be doing with your daily routine. Rather, just pick something simple (like journaling each morning and reading each evening) and get started.
Like tomorrow morning. Or this evening.
You’ll naturally vary it over time anyway as you see what works for you and what doesn’t work for you.
Remember — just starting and sticking with any routine is, in itself, a huge win, and will help you build discipline and momentum as you begin to tackle bigger and more challenging tasks and goals. (For a free copy of my ‘Routines,’ see the end of this article).
3. Change one habit to get more and better sleep
“A well-spent day brings happy sleep” — Leonardo Da Vinci
After reviewing the literature on sleep and performance, I personally believe virtually everyone on the planet could benefit from getting at least 6 hours of quality sleep per night.
The benefits of 6–7 hours of quality sleep are many, including better focus and concentration, reduced anxiety and better memory (among many other benefits — more info can be found in many studies, but a good summary is here).
In fact, chances are that I don’t need to convince you on the importance of a good night’s rest. Like the health benefits of broccoli or exercise, by now we all know it to be good!
Thus, one way to make a dramatic change for the better in your life is to ensure that you’re getting at least that much quality sleep.
If you already feel like you’re spending enough hours in the bed at night, then perhaps focus on improving the quality of your sleep.
Cutting out alcohol or limiting exposure to electronic devices at night have both been shown to improve the quality of sleep.
Daily exercise also helps many people achieve a more restful sleep, as do some forms of nighttime tea (I’m a big believer in chamomile tea at night — whether there’s an ingredient that helps me to sleep or if it’s just a placebo effect, it works for me so I’m sticking with it).
You probably already have a good idea if you’re getting enough quality sleep at night. If not, take a step or steps to improve it this week, and start enjoying the benefits.
4. Forgive someone — perhaps even yourself — then move forward
“Let us forgive each other — only then will we live in peace” — Leo Tolstoy
If you’re like the vast majority of people that I’ve ever met, there’s a good chance that there’s at least one person against whom you are harboring a great deal of resentment or anger.
This person very likely legitimately did something that truly harmed you and hurt you, and this person probably doesn’t deserve your forgiveness.
I’d suggest that you try and forgive this person anyway. Hasn’t the person done enough to harm you, and to interfere in your life? Keeping hold of that anger and resentment just continues to let this person have a negative impact on you.
For some people, the person that you most need to forgive and move forward is yourself. This was case with me. It wasn’t easy, but until I could find a way to forgive myself for past mistakes, I wasn’t truly able to move forward.
Forgiveness is the ultimate expression of love, and love is the greatest attribute to which we can ever aspire.
Keep in mind that forgiving is not the same thing as forgetting. I’m in no way suggesting that you should forgive and then go back into a personal / financial / professional / whatever relationship with this person. In fact, you almost certainly should not do that!
Also, an important note here — for some of you the hurt caused by one individual may be too deep to simply make a decision to forgive. I’m by no means a therapist and don’t pretend to be one, and for these cases it may take a lifetime of therapy for you to get to where you need to be in order to offer forgiveness. For some of you that day may never come. In this case, I would suggest you either pick someone else to forgive, forgive yourself for something from which you need to move forward, or simply forgive pick a public figure who has screwed up in some major way and forgive them.
5. Make one dramatic change to your eating habits
“It is easier to change a man’s religion than to change his diet” — Margaret Mead
I’m not suggesting here that you should suddenly go all-in on some ‘named’ diet-of-the-moment or make a sudden switch to veganism or anything that represents a complete redesign of your diet.
Rather, in the spirit of ‘small wins’ and in building momentum, I suggest you make one major change that you know will have a positive impact on your diet and, ultimately, your health.
A while back I decided to eat at least two green vegetables each and every day. Sadly, this was harder than I anticipated. However, it’s made me carefully consider (and, in many cases, reconsider) every meal of the day so that I can accomplish that daily goal.
Also, switching my daily lunch sandwich (accompanied by some form of potato of course) to a daily lunch salad has had a dramatic effect on reducing my midday caloric intake and has also helped to eliminate that afternoon food crash that I’d so often experience in the past.
With either of these examples, I could certainly find ways to cheat such that my choice didn’t really impact my diet very much (chicken tender salad with extra Blue Cheese dressing, anyone?).
However, a decision to make a dramatic change in just one facet of your diet can make you reexamine at least one, if not every, meal each day. Remember — we’re going for small wins here to build momentum, then we build from there.
6. Set sufficient time aside for ‘Deep Work’ each and every day that’s free of distractions
“You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks” — Winston Churchill
If you haven’t read the book ‘Deep Work’ by Cal Newport, then by all means please go out and get it — and read it!
There are too many great takeaways from the book to list here, but (for me) the most important is the concept of reducing distractions so that you can enter into a state of high concentration on a single task so as to accomplish meaningful work in a shorter amount of time.
For me, I schedule at least a two-hour block of time daily for ‘Deep Work’, and often more. During this time, I put my phone and computer on ‘Do Not Disturb’ (or ‘Airplane Mode’), and I make sure that I’m not likely to be disturbed otherwise.
Put simply, setting aside time for ‘Deep Work’ with no distractions will enable you to get more done in less time.
Multitasking doesn’t result in nearly as much meaingful output as focused and uninterrupted concentrated effort.
Give this a try for two weeks and just see what you’re able to accomplish. To me, this one has been a game-changer.
7. Make a decision to view life in a more positive fashion, and each day take the time to be thankful for all that’s good in your life
“Positivity opens us. The first core truth about positive emotions is that they open our hearts and our minds, making us more receptive and more creative.” — Barbara Fredrickson
Every night when I close my eyes to fall asleep, I express gratitude for all that’s good in my life. For me, this helps me to focus on the positives in my life rather than dwelling on the negatives.
While life is always full of ups and downs, we have tremendous latitude in the lens we choose to view these experiences and trials.
While we all have things that aren’t going as well as we’d like or struggles that we’re facing, I’m willing to bet that we all also have people and things in our lives for which we are eternally thankful.
Remind yourself daily of those people and of those things, and make a decision to see the positive side of situations whenever possible rather than focusing on the negative.
Remember, each of these 7 is important, and can be life-changing, in its own right.
However, achieving 7 wins in just 7 days is perhaps even more powerful as a means to start building discipline, to gaining momentum, and to truly jumpstarting your efforts to achieving your goals.