The rock slide stretched a thousand feet into the air before us, a waterfall of jagged granite boulders silhouetted at the top by the rising sun. The map showed that it lead up to a long, flat plateau called Froze-to-Death. From there we could follow it south until it stood opposite Granite Peak, the tallest summit in Montana. It was either that or keep going at our current elevation and have a near vertical climb from Granite’s base.
Our small group of seven had already been up since 4am. We’d skirted Princess Lake in the dark, hanging onto pine limbs as we climbed through the rocks, and had come to a small rise just below Cold Lake. An apt name, this high in the mountains. Its water was straight from Granite’s glaciers. Once the sun came up it would be emerald and clear all the way to its silt lakebed.
Josh, the group’s leader, peered over the map with a few of the others. He moved between it and a compass, talking in his typical calm tone. I didn’t know how to read maps, but with them at the lead I wasn’t worried. So I stayed back, chewing a granola bar and craning my neck to look up the rock slide.
“Ok,” Josh said finally and folded up the map. “Let’s climb.”
I set off with vigor. There’s nothing like bouncing from boulder to boulder while behind you the sun draws a horizontal line across the distance mountains. The higher we got up the rock slide, though, the harder it became to breath. We were nearing 11,000 feet and oxygen was growing thin. Despite the earlier snack, my legs were burning—and it was only 8am. We still had a peak to crest.
That’s when I learned a powerful tool that I have been using ever since. I used it while working as a server at the Cracker Barrel, while painting walls in my dad’s office, and now while writing my latest book.
It’s the power of aiming low.
SHOULDN’T WE SHOOT FOR THE STARS?
The typical encouragement is to shoot high, go big or go home, that sort of thing. That definitely is good for overall goals, like someday wanting to run a corporation or have a PhD. Definitely dream big in those areas. But when it comes to the daily act of achieving those dreams, I’ve found that setting small goals is noticeably more effective than giant ones.
Over the years I have wanted to write novels, which is a pretty big task. To do it in just a few months I would need to write close to 1000 words a day. The problem is that it’s hard to find time to write that much, what with full-time work, friends, grocery shopping, et cetera. It also takes a lot of stamina to be creative for that length of time, and so I’ll get a few paragraphs in and give up. When that happens a few days in a row, it’s easy to think I’ll never make and just give up.
But starting a few weeks I changed the 1000 words-a-day goal to just 250. A measly couple hundred words. That’s just a little more than the first three paragraphs of this article. It’s so small that it feels like any “real” author would scoff at it and say anyone could do that.
And that’s exactly the point. When the goal seems easily achievable, I would feel silly if I didn’t try to do it. So I sit down and write.
In the 26 days since I started doing this, I’ve only missed one day and have written 9,909 words. The beauty of it is, once I’m in the seat I usually end up writing more than my goal. My average word count over those 26 days is just under 400.
I have always struggled to write frequently, much less daily. By setting my goal almost ridiculously low, I’ve been able to reach a productivity and gain a momentum I’ve never experienced.
ZIGZAGGING UP THE MOUNTAIN
When I was climbing that rock slide, it was a good thing I didn’t aim straight for the horizon line far above. It turned out to be a false summit; once you reached it you found a whole other stretch of ground yet to climb.
Instead, I picked a rock about 10 feet away and told myself to get to it. Once I reached it, I picked another spot, telling myself I could rest after I got there. I zigzagged my way up the mountain, one short span at a time.
Now that I’ve realized this works for my writing as well, I’ve started to apply it in other areas. Do just 5 push-ups and pull-ups a day, or go to the prayer room once a week. It’s a small start, but I’m actually moving forward instead of only thinking about it.
The next step for me is to increase my goals. Writing 250 words a day turned out to be an easy one, so in February I’m going to increase it 350. As my capacity and strength grows, I’ll keep moving the finish line just a little farther away.
You might be someone who needs a big goal. Either you go big or you don’t take yourself seriously. If so, go for it. We all work differently.
I would bet, though, that most people just need to start off with baby steps. If you’re one of those, I encourage you to think about areas you want to grow in and set a goal so small it seems foolishly easy to reach. Do that for a few weeks, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if you look back and see how high up the mountain you’ve come.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go write for the 18th day in a row.
Any areas you can think of right now that could use a small goal? I’d love to hear about it!