The “Baby Step” Approach to Goals

The baby step approach concept breaks a big audacious goal into manageable steps which maximises your chances of achieving the goal.

Have you ever given up on a big audacious goal whenever the going got a bit tough or it seemed like too long to wait to achieve it? Welcome to the club. It will likely have been more to do with your approach to goal achievement than your actual willpower or grit. The baby step approach could be your answer. BTW – if you prefer an audio version of this to listen to, I have included one just for you at the end of this article – enjoy.

Big goals are great but…

There is an old riddle question which goes, “How do you eat an elephant? The answer is, “One bite at a time.”

Please note that to my knowledge no real elephants were eaten or otherwise inconvenienced because of the above question and answer.

Big audacious goals are exciting and impressive. I adore making grand plans. One or two of these grand, audacious plans succeeded but the majority failed. The reason? I ran out of steam, energy and interest as the goal seemed to move ever further from my grasp. One big (and sometimes not so big) setback and I was quickly deflated and simply gave up. I would then rationalise all this to salve my pride and justify my giving it up. For example, “I did not really want that silly thing anyway. What was I even thinking?” If this sounds familiar to you there is hope.

I learned about a solution to this issue by adopting the baby step approach, and my goal attainment has improved mightily. So has my self-confidence in my ability to get things done and my ability to set and hit targets.

Take one step at a time

Another old saying states that, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” It also ends with the last step. If you are walking the whole way, it continues with every subsequent step until the thousand miles are complete. This is a metaphoric journey method of course but the point holds. If you take each step required and complete each one you will finish your journey. Some steps will be longer and faster than others, but you must take all the steps to get to the destination. No shortcuts.

You also get to engage and learn more on a multi-step walking journey. You have time to look around, view the sights, hear the sounds, and enjoy the many experiences happening all around you. As you will see, the baby step approach replicates this step-by-step model.

How do babies learn to walk?

Assuming all is well and healthy in the baby’s body and environment they just do it. However, they do it in a very smart way. Babies go for it in small phases with simple clear objectives. They work on one phase at a time and in order. Babies do not try to walk across a room until they can stand up and balance for example. If they try to take an out of sequence approach the inevitable face or butt meets floor experience will provide valuable feedback.

The muscles and mind of the learning baby also adapt and grow to meet the demands of each phase as they progress. They get the current phase working well enough for them then move on to the next phase in the sequence. They never just sit down and look at the entire concept of walking and think, “This whole balancing and walking deal is just too complicated. I’ll never get there. I’m the worst baby in the world, ever. I’ll just stick to crawling. It’ll be fine.”

Is the baby step approach to walking a guarantee of easy success. Not at all. You know that that the baby in question will make a ton of mistakes and have many falls, bumps, and frustrations on the way toward toddling at first then proper walking later. They never give up though. They do not know how to give up. Giving up is not a concept they recognise or even process.

It makes sense to adopt the baby step approach

Now, I am not suggesting the baby who is learning to walk has sat down ahead of time and formulated a plan of action. They have not developed any project scopes, resource lists, Gantt charts or even identified a critical path to success. They just do it in small distinct phases

That said, you could benefit massively from following their general approach to getting things done. Adopting the baby step approach will make a positive difference.

As I mentioned earlier, it is great to have an overall huge goal or high purpose of course. This would act as your “North Star” and guide your overall progress. These big goals are hard to reach, and it is easy to get side-tracked or derailed when pursuing them.

It is not as simple as taking lots of small steps. You are an adult taking the baby step approach and I am assuming you are not actually a baby. No, you need to have a big goal plan and then take the right set of small steps. You must also take them in the right order.

The key is to break the big goal down into the smallest identifiable units possible. Call them sub-goals, sub-sub-goals, or whatever names you want to use. Organise these units into a useful sequence. Choose your starting point unit and go for it. You can still use your preferred goal setting and achieving process for each small unit phase, but the key thing is that each one is realistically achievable, clearly laid out and has a definite deliverable outcome.

Main benefits of the baby step approach

Humans like success. It feels good. Failing feels bad and drains self-confidence.

Planning big goals gives you one distant shot at an enormous success along with a great many opportunities to fail. When planning big, you are setting yourself up for a potentially big disappointment.

Adopting the baby step approach with its multiple small stages with a potential success at the end of each small stage plays right into your pleasure zone. You get to feel successful more regularly and you will become familiar with success. Your self-confidence grows. Your “North Star” big goal is also one step closer and is now even more achievable.

If you do encounter a knockback at any stage, it will be in proportion to the size of the step you took. You can regroup, reflect, adjust then try again without going completely off track. Your past successes are still locked in. Several steps in the process may well be critical to your success but no point in the process will become an absolute showstopper for you.

You can also adapt, pivot, and redirect our efforts more easily if anything about your big “North Star” goal changes.

If you are a professional who sets goals and is expected to make progress when pursuing them the baby step approach will work well for you in surprising ways. When your boss asks how you are doing, you can show clear evidence of ongoing achievement and immediate next steps rather than having to say an unconvincing statement like, “I’m getting there.” Each step supplies yet more evidence. Work smart.

Make it a marathon and not a sprint

Modern life appears to encourage a headlong and rushing approach to everything people do. Treat life as more of a marathon. Slow down and take a more considered approach and you may well find you get more done, and it will likely be of better quality too. In addition, you will have learned more and likely had much more fun on the journey. The baby step approach works wonders.

Go ahead and give the baby step approach a go

Take the baby step approach on your next goal setting attempt. You have nothing to lose and much to gain. Stick with it until it becomes an incredibly positive habit. You will wonder how you managed without it.

That is all for this one

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PPS Here is the audio version of this article if you would prefer to listen.

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