how to reach your goals

Reach Your Goals More Quickly: Use Incremental Change

Regardless of who you are, where you live, how much you make, or even your education, your life is on a certain path — similar to a train on a track. You know there are going to be twists and turns, ups and downs, but you can easily figure out where you’ll end up professionally and personally if you stay on the track you’re currently on. For example, if you continue to save this amount, you’ll end up with this. If you continue to eat like this, you’ll end up like that. If you continue to talk to your spouse like this, well, you get the gist. The hard part isn’t so much determining the future; the hard part is changing it.

If you look at the path you’re on and you like where you’re headed, you can sit back and keep doing exactly what you’ve been doing and enjoy the ride. But what if you see where you’re going and you don’t like it? The only solution is to change your destination, which means you have to jump on a whole new set of tracks. But how do you do that?

There are two ways to change direction to create a better, fuller, richer life: incremental change and radical change. It’s that simple. You can improve anything in your life — your weight, marriage, finances, health — by capitalizing on incremental and radical change.

What is incremental change? It’s making small and consistent progress toward a desired goal. It’s paying $50 a month toward your $3,000 of credit card debt. It’s cutting out your nightly dessert or taking the stairs to burn a few extra calories. It’s investing 3 percent of your salary in a 401(k) plan. Incremental change is where most of us look for answers because it’s safe and easy.

There’s nothing wrong with incremental change. Writing a page a day will eventually lead to a book. Your 20 minute afternoon walk will help you become healthier. The problem for most people with incremental change is that it’s frustratingly slow. Small and consistent actions tend to create small and consistent improvements, but is there a way to create much faster change without getting out of your comfort zone?

The trick is to focus on “er.” Instead of jogging 2 miles a day, saving $50 a paycheck, or writing for 30 minutes a night, you would jog a little farther, save a greater amount, or write for a longer period of time.

How can you bench press 100 pounds more than you can bench press right now? The answer is by gradually adding a little more weight to the bar each week until you got stronger and stronger. You’d start with 45 pounds and then move up to 50 pounds and then 75 pounds and so on. This is an obvious and efficient way to reach the goal. The problem is that most of us start by lifting 45 pounds, but never increase the weight. A year later we’re still lifting 45 pounds and are no closer to our goal than when we started. We’ll walk 20 minutes a day for a decade. We’ll set aside 3% of our income to our 401(k) until we retire. Of course lifting 45 pounds, walking 20 minutes, or saving 3 percent are worthwhile endeavors that can improve your life, but remember, what happens if you don’t like where your track is headed? You must do something differently.

The antidote to stagnation is “er.” It guarantees small, consistent, and most importantly, continuous progress toward your goals. Look at the various areas of your life (e.g., health, finances, relationships) where you can add “er” to push yourself a little more. In a future column, I’ll show you how you can put “er” on autopilot, but next week you’ll learn about the second type of change — radical change — and how to implement it in your life to see dramatic and blisteringly fast results. Until then, what can you do longer, greater, faster, farther, or harder?

This is part one of a two-part series on how to create positive change in your life. Read part two: “The Quickest Way to Radically Improve Your Life: Use Radical Change.

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