If you’re feeling lost or defeated, try being micro-ambitious
A practical guide towards improving your life one day at a time.
I’m a big advocate for kaizen. It’s a Japanese concept that runs on the theory of small but consistent improvements over time. Many of us often jump into resolutions head first or expect grand changes after a short period of time. Then our motivation gets deflated when our expectations are mismatched against reality.
This is an issue that many of us experience. It’s probably endemic for our time. We’re so used to everything being instant that we’ve forgotten what it feels like to play the long game.
However, the long game can be tiring and often leave us feeling lost and defeated with a sense that we’re not making enough progress. In part, it’s because we’re projecting too far ahead and waiting too long to experience that high you get from a win.
That is why, if you want to succeed in the long game, you should try being micro-ambitious instead.
Creating a series of little highs
When we make grand promises to ourselves, we often get distracted by the grandeur of the end goal. We forget about the stepping stone process required to get to the destination — or rather, we fail to see our micro successes and therefore hit the conclusion that we’re not making any progress.
When this happens, our motivation gets deflated and over a short period of time, we lose steam and eventually whatever traction we had from the original push. We quickly relapse into our old patterns and whatever resolutions we made are lost in the wind.
Success isn’t always about greatness. It’s about consistency. Consistent hard work leads to success. Greatness will come.
If you think of being motivated as a feeling of fire — burning so brightly in the initial stages but struggle to keep up the pace in the long run — it’s because you’ve essentially burned out your fuel.
Motivation is the equivalent of your kindling and big unattended flames tend to burn quicker than smaller controlled ones.
Some people talk about finding your why — the thing that keeps you on track towards what you want to achieve. But we are simple creatures of habit and sometimes experiencing a win now is better than leaving it until later.
That’s why gambling is so addictive. According to a paper published in the science journal, Neuropsychopharmacology, problem gamblers tend to experience a series of win that boosts serotonin levels to a high enough level that persuades them to continue chasing losses. The actual loss itself feels diminished despite the reality of what gambling really is.
Gamblers experience a series of little highs at intervals long enough to sustain their losses but short enough to give them hope of making more.
If we were to pivot this sticking effect for our own personal gain, engineering a series of micro-milestone wins can help us sustain our journey towards our goals.
These micro-milestones are achievements that are small enough to be practically achievable. While it may seem like a tiny dent, if we allow ourselves to accept and understand that they will compound over time, each win is a stepping stone towards our final goal.
They are the tiniest of wins such as going to the gym every other day, even if it’s for 5 minutes on the treadmill. Or if you’ve been dreaming about writing that novel, it’s the act of putting down 100 words a day, every day.
Most of the time, you’ll probably exceed these goals — but the point is that it hasn’t given you the space to give up. When there is space, there is no win and when enough time has passed enough, we tend to sweep our goals and resolutions under the rug and pretend that it never happened.
Owning your life rather than letting it own you
To live life on a micro-ambitious level means you are setting yourself up with sets of daily achievable goals. Their purpose is to keep you moving, regardless of whatever else is happening in your life.
Perhaps you’re a content creator trying to make it online. Rather than trying to hit a $10k month off the bat and then feel sad when you don’t, you could start small at $1 — that is, make $1 more than the day before. So if you’ve managed to consistently hit this target daily, you’ll be making $10k months by the end of the year.
A year doesn’t seem as long when you’re constantly celebrating your wins. It also helps you figure out what’s working and what’s not.
Or perhaps you want to become a 5am person and waking up at the designated hour cold turkey just isn’t working for you. You could push the alarm clock back 5 minutes each day until you reach your goal.
We often get blinded by the littleness of our progress in the beginning when compared to the end goal. That is why celebrating your micro-wins is as important as reaching the final destination.
It lets you take ownership of your progress and makes you aware immediately when things aren’t going as planned — because when you fail a micro-goal consistently, your goal is either too big or you need to change something to make it achievable.
Here are some calculations on how micro-ambitious goals can pan out.
- swap out one bad snack for a healthy option once a week, every week, until your junk eating habits is phased out completely.
- if you’ve got a fitness tracker, you could increase your daily activity by 5% every week for the next 52 weeks. So, if you’re doing about 2000 steps daily, that would mean an increase of only 100 steps each day for the entire week. Within approximately 3 months, you would have figured out a way to consistently double your physical activity.
- pledge yourself to a homemade lunch day, once a week. Increase this pledge by one day every week. Within about 2 months, you would have gotten into the habit of making lunch, saving you money to spend on other things. The same thing can be done with coffee.
When we have micro-ambitious goals, we set ourselves up to consistently win. This puts us on a positive mindset, which can alter the way we view our reality.
Rather than feeling a grind, we are actively aware of what we’re doing and how it impacts on our journey towards our goal. The more we measure, the more we can calibrate and do what is necessary. It’s easier to take small steps in the right direction than leap constantly towards a faraway destination.
Dreams are turned into reality when we repeatedly do the things we need to do and micro-ambitious goals are one way to do it.