Staring at the Summit | Setting Micro Goals

between the main course and cherry pie

a couple of weeks ago, i was at a wedding with some of our friends. during the evening's dinner of chicken and bbq pulled pork we found ourselves deep in conversation about creative growth and goal setting. somewhere between the wonderfully protein-heavy main course and the fabulous homemade cherry pie, a question arose about how one feasibly works to attain the ambitious, and quite often daunting, goals they set for themselves. i chimed in with some thoughts as i had often pondering that very question. here’s a bit of what i shared (along with some blog-exclusive content):

staring at the summit of everest. public domain.

staring at the summit of everest. public domain.

"dauntingness"

first off, let me say that big goals (read: macro goals) are good. they give us a destination to aspire to. however, macro goals can also hinder our aspirational growth because they cause us to fixate on the “dauntingness” of the goal we’ve set. we find ourselves asking, how am i ever going to be able to do this? do i have the necessary skills? do i actually have the time to commit to this goal? questions like these can literally daunt ourselves into standing still on our goals instead of advancing them. to further illustrate this point, lets invoke a cliche goal-oriented mountain climbing illustration: We set a goal of climbing Everest. However, we get stuck at its base because we’re too busy staring at its summit.

micro goals

so how do we overcome the "shell shock" of staring at the heights of our awesome macro goals? two words. micro goals.

micro goals can be thought of like purposeful subdivisions of a larger macro goal. they are goals designed to be quickly accomplishable and ruthlessly practical. they are goals designed to grow skills, confidence, and wisdom all while maintaining momentum. to better explain micro goals, here is an example of them in action from my own life.

an early lunch hour design challenge work.

an early lunch hour design challenge work.

the lunch hour design challenge

in late 2013, i set a macro goal for myself: to become a better graphic designer. i saw the work of talented designers on instagram, dribbble.com, at my church and at my favorite local businesses and was inspired to follow suit. but i was stuck. i knew that i was willing to put in the work to acquire, develop and hone my skills, but i also knew that i wouldn’t see my macro goal through unless i set up a system that allowed me to easily experience the fruits of my labor along the way. these realizations became the blueprint for my micro goal: the lunch hour design challenge. 

a couple of times per week i’d take my lunch hour and design a logo for a fake company i made up. the catch was that the concept had to be thought up and designed within that one hour time limit. this micro goal/challenge pushed me to think faster, more creatively, and sharpen my skills under pressure. it also provided tangible results to show for my work (i.e. i had a new completed design at the end of every hour). my efficiency of thought and design went through the roof. it was crazy how this one micro goal reshaped my thinking, my education and my expectations to help me attain my macro goal. 

over a few short months, it became clear that i was becoming a better graphic designer.

little aspirations

dividing out one’s goals into subgoals is not a new concept. and who knows, maybe someone out there has even beat me to the punch and titled what i have described above as “micro" and “macro" goals. regardless, this way of thinking has helped me immensely in learning how to strategically structure my goal setting in order to cultivate a more fulfilling journey to and a better chance of arrival at a macro goal destination. i share these thoughts because i hope, that in some small way, they can do the same for you.