The “Baby Steps” Method for Achieving Any Goal

Baby Steps
The Baby Steps Method or the Cargo Ship Method – whatever you call it, it works.

I am convinced that steady, regular effort in pursuing a goal trumps occasional outbursts of activity, however big, any time.

Take the cargo ship analogy: A typical containership travels at around 24 knots (44.4 km/h). That doesn’t seem like much, but consider that the ship is traveling every hour, day and night. At 24 knots, that translates into almost 1065.6 km – more than a thousand kilometers – every day!

You can apply the same powerful principle to achieving any goal in your life. I call it the Baby Steps Method, and it’s very simple. Here is what you need to do:

  1. Define your goal in writing
  2. At the beginning of every day:
    • Review your written goal
    • Decide on a specific “baby step” – however small – that you are going to take towards the goal today. Optional: Write it down, too
    • Do not go to bed without completing your daily step.

Let’s break it down.

Define Your Goal in Writing

For best results, your goal has to be:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Written down, preferably by hand
  • Spelled out as if you have already achieved it.

For example:

I have launched a blog with at least 30 articles in it.

I have learned German to the level of comfortable verbal communication.

I have increased my income X% to $Y per month.

I am a believer in Psycho-Cybernetics, and I think that formulating your goal like this helps set a firm “goal image” in your mind that it will work hard to achieve.

Note that some people also recommend setting a deadline for your goal.

Review Your Written Goal Every Day

Nothing special here – just pull up your written goal (it helps if it’s written on a 3-by-4 card) and re-read the goal to remind yourself of it. This also helps to conjure up and further cement the “goal image” in your mind.

Decide on Your Daily Baby Step

I really like this part. The important thing here is that your daily “baby step” doesn’t have to be big. For example, if we take the blog goal above, some daily steps could be:

  • Register a domain name
  • Come up with a list of the first 10 articles to write
  • Write 1 article
  • Get hosting for the blog
  • Install WordPress

For the German language goal, how about these:

  • Do research on the German courses available in my city
  • Read 1 news article in German
  • Listen to a German podcast for at least 15 minutes
  • Watch a German movie
  • Do the course homework

You see that the steps above are of varying complexity. Buying a domain name is a 10-minute task, whereas writing an article is perhaps a 1-hour one. It doesn’t matter; what’s important is that you are taking measurable steps towards achieving your goal every day.

You may optionally write down the baby step you are going to take that day to further reinforce your commitment.

Don’t Go to Bed Without Completing Your Baby Step

As you might suspect, this is the crucial part. Remember that by deciding on the day’s step, you are making a promise to yourself. I don’t like breaking promises, so taking my daily step is a question of principle for me.

The good part is that, again, you don’t have to choose a big, hairy, intimidating step for a particular day. As you progress, you will feel more comfortable with taking on bigger steps, but it’s perfectly fine to stay small for as long as you wish. The method will work regardless.

Also, you won’t stay small forever anyway. As you begin to see your progress, you will naturally get the courage to try bigger daily steps and be inclined to challenge yourself for more.

Does it work? You bet it does! The blog example above is actually a real goal I set to myself a while ago with a tutorial website I was launching. My typical daily goal was to write just 1 article, and boy was I religious about it. Sure enough, the website was launched in no time.

Try it yourself, and you’ll be amazed at how quickly those baby steps add up.

Why Defining Your Product Through Someone Else’s Is a Bad Idea

iPhone Killer

A while ago, I’ve come across a piece of advice for crafting a startup elevator pitch. The author suggested that you should strive to convey your idea in the simplest way possible, and the preferred way to do so was through a product or service that the listener would already know. E.g. “My startup is an Airbnb for boats”, or “a Facebook for VCs”.

There may be other situations you may find yourself defining your product through another, a more well-known and established one. Right after the iPhone came out, the competition furiously tried to catch up with Apple, and every month, a new “iPhone killer” was announced in the media.

I think that you should never try to define your product or service through someone else’s. Moreover, if you can define it like this, it probably means that it can’t be as disruptive as the original. Here’s why.

“Product X Killer”

Claiming that your product is a killer of Product X is too limiting. Facebook was a MySpace killer, and iPhone was a Nokia killer, but they were also much more than that.

If your product is much more than just “a Product X killer”, don’t do it a disservice by labeling it so. And if it’s not, you have a bigger problem on your hands.

“The Next Product X”

Almost by definition, this label means that you don’t have a disruptor. “The next Product X” implies an improved version of the original, a 2.0 so to speak. Is that really how you make a disruptive product? No – Airbnb never was a “next” something, and neither was the iPhone. So please don’t do it either.

“Product X for Market Y”

My problem with this label is that disruptors tend to be domain-specific and simply transplanting the idea to another market is no guarantee of success. It also signals lack of originality.

There’s an exception to every rule though. I guess you could say that LinkedIn is “a Facebook for professionals” – both very successful businesses – but that only proves the point.

Bottom line: Try to find ways to describe your product or service that don’t piggyback on big flashy names.

How to Make a Change That Sticks

calvin-and-hobbes-resolutions

We’ve all been there. A new year begins, and you make that big New Year’s resolution of yours – say, to start going to a gym. Everything goes great for the first few weeks, and you feel really proud for yourself. The mere thought of having instituted this change in your life makes you smile. You tell friends about it. In fact, you feel so elevated that it’s almost surprising how easy the change was.

Then, something urgent comes up and you skip the gym once. “No big deal,” you think to yourself, “I’ll make up for it. Then again, my going to the gym is a done deal by now, what could possibly happen?” Then you skip once again, and again, until you’re back to square one.

Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I’ve done it thousands of times. – Mark Twain

Indeed, it’s easy to bring a change in your life. What’s hard is to make it stick. And here, I have a piece of advice that has helped me a lot throughout the years.

The advice is this:

After making a life change, avoid dwelling on it as much as possible.

Don’t be carrying your new way of life like a big flashy banner in your mind. Don’t be mentally patting your back for it or telling friends about your new positive habit. The more you do any of this, the smaller the chance that the change is here for a long haul.

It works, even though I don’t have a precise explanation why. That said, I do have a few ideas.

The Satisfaction of Advance Praise Undermines Your Motivation

In one psychology study, researches found out that announcing your goal to others may actually decrease your chances of achieving it. The praise and attitude change that you receive after the announcement are similar to those you’d have received if you actually achieved the goal, which undermines your motivation to work on the real thing.

I think that this applies to praising yourself just as much. Let your satisfaction come from the positive consequences of your life change, not from patting yourself on the back for merely initiating it.

Dwelling on a Change Inevitably Brings Up the Old Ways You’re Changing

We should not concentrate upon the undesirable feeling, even to the extent of driving it out. – Dr. Maxwell Maltz

To every positive change, there’s a flip side of an undesirable habit or a way of doing things that you are trying to fix. The flip side to going to a gym is the couch potato lifestyle. The flip side to saving more money is being a spendthrift. And so on.

Now, the funny thing about habits is that the more you concentrate on eradicating one, the more you bring it up in your mind and the more ingrained it becomes. In Psycho-Cybernetics terms, the bad habit becomes a “goal image” shown to your mind over and over.

You want to avoid that as much as possible, and the way to do it is not to overly dwell on the bad habit you’re trying to fix. Inevitably, this also means not dwelling on the new way of doing things you’re starting.

Save Your Enthusiasm for Later

Embarking on a change is often easy. The mere excitement of finally doing things differently is enough to get you going. The challenge begins later, when the excitement wears off and the risk of slipping increases.

Your drive and enthusiasm may not be material qualities to conserve and set aside for later use. But could it be that not thinking too much about your new life change helps you achieve just that? What if, by not dispensing all of your excitement in the beginning, you get the strength to carry on with that gym when the going gets really tough?

As I said, I really don’t know. But I do know that the less you think about your new life change, the more the chance of it sticking, and that’s really more than enough for me.