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How to Break a Big Goal into Little Steps

Maybe you’ve got a big goal in your life – something that excites you but also scares you.

You might have been thinking about this goal for months, years, even decades. And, even if you’ve made a start on it, you might not have got very far.

Your goal might look something like this:

  • Run a marathon
  • Write a novel
  • Pay off the mortgage
  • Get a PhD
  • Become self-employed

All of these are big goals – most of them would take years to achieve. And if you really want to reach them, you need to break them down into manageable chunks.

Here’s how.

#1: Define Your Goal

First, you’ll want to come up with a clear description of your end goal. Too many big goals are so vague that it’s hard to start and impossible to finish.

For instance, if your goal is “write a novel”, what would finished look like?

  • A first draft?
  • A novel that you’re happy with?
  • A published novel?

If you want to run a marathon, what exactly does that mean?

  • Would walking the whole marathon be okay?
  • Or do you want to finish under a certain time?

Get clear about your goal. Decide what you’re aiming for, and write it down. Once you’ve done that, you can start on the next step.

#2: Break Your Goal into Major Milestones

Most goals can be divided into clear milestones. For instance, let’s say you’re planning to become self-employed. Your milestones might be:

  • Get everything ready to start the business (plan, funding, tools)
  • Make $500/month from the business
  • Make $1000/month from the business
  • Make enough to quit your day job and go full-time

…and so on.

These are still quite big steps, but they’re easier to grasp. You can start to imagine what’s necessary in order to achieve each milestone – and that’s what we’ll be covering in the next step.

#3: Come Up With a Task List

You don’t need to map out your entire goal – just your first milestone.

Come up with a clear task list: what exactly do you need to do? Try to phrase these as action items like “write proposal” or “ask John about tools”.

Here’s an example:

Goal: Run a marathon

First milestone: Jog for thirty minutes

Task list:

  • Buy kit – trainers and loose-fitting clothes
  • Get an exercise plan – ask for Sue’s help putting this together
  • Jog three times a week and gradually build up to thirty minutes

Your task list doesn’t need to be long or complicated, but it should be clear. If any items are vague, then break them down further.

By now, your big goal has been divided into little steps. You know what you need to do during the next week or two – and you can see the milestones mapped out for the next few months or years.

“Run a marathon” is daunting. “Buy trainers” isn’t. But all those little steps really do add up – and in a year’s time, you could have achieved something amazing.

How could your big goals break down? If you want to share your thoughts, the comments are open…

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18 Responses to How to Break a Big Goal into Little Steps

  1. Cljay8776 says:

    After surviving major surgery to remove my left kidney along with a 25lb cancerous tumor, I could just barely walk. Over the next 20 months I concentrated on just putting one foot in front of the other. After that I got tired of existing and decided to live! Big goal-get healthy. Big goal! Step one was just parking farther away from th entrance at work. Step2 was purchase a pedometerand walk on breaks and lunch. I slowly added more exercise and changed my eating habits. I lost 60 lbs and gradually increased my walking to 5-7 miles a day. Last year I ran my first 5k race Miles for Moffett, to raise money for cancer research where I had my surgery. I ran again this year and plan to better my time next year. I am almost 4 years cancer-free and loving life!

  2. farouk says:

    hi Ali
    always happy to come accross your posts in the blogshpere
    amazing post, keep it up :)

  3. Clint Cora says:

    This strategy works.  Took me 8 long years to go from a Level 1 to Level 2 ski instructor.  I had to break this goal into many little skills to work on each ski day for 8 winters until I was ready.  Even if one doesn’t reach that ultimate goal, with all the little steps taken, at least one will get much further ahead than if the goal was never broken down to manageable steps.

  4. ChangePals says:

    Simple, clear and manageable. The emphasis on only needing to plan until the first milestone in the beginning is great.

    This also requires a shit in perspective and thinking though. We are very quick to visualize the final steps of success (crossing the marathon finish line or receiving that huge paycheck for your own business). We are so eager to get there that we lose sight of all the foundational steps on the way.

  5. I couldn’t agree more with you Ali,
    Breaking down big goals into small, achievable steps is indeed the key to success.

    I recall wisdom words said by someone  ” Start with doing what is possible and what is necessary, suddenly you are doing impossible”.

    Great post. Keep it up.

  6. Sean says:

    Great writing as always Ali. Breaking down long-term goals into smaller goals and going one step at a time is very good advice.

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  9. Wow, that is an amazing story, thanks so much for sharing, really motivational. Thanks Ali great post

  10. Anonymous says:

    Breaking goals to small steps is a so important skill and give us the opportunity to manage big goals in a planned way.

    Thanks for this valuable reminder! 

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  12. Kawtar says:

    since you did it, me or every one can do it ! bravo :)

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