Skip to content

What’s Next? Proximal Goals to the Rescue

For doing many things, there’s one particular fix. It’s kind of a secret, but here it is:

Invest Effort

Let’s say you have a huge goal or two. Write a book. Get a degree. Write your dissertation. Lose 30 pounds. Walk 600 miles. Deep clean the whole house. Complete Project X.

Whether it’s hard or easy, here are two slightly different 5-step processes you can use to make progress.

02-07 Los Alamitos Creek

Goals that seem pretty hard. Let’s say you have a goal that feels daunting to you (whether that seems logical or not). Plus, let’s also say that you are convinced that it’s important.

  1. Remind yourself that you have taken steps like this before (written, exercised, cleaned, organized….), or that you’ve tried something new before and succeeded. Remember successes that were similar in some way to what’s required to complete this goal. 
  2. Figure out the next step to take. That step becomes the next goal: a proximal (close at hand) goal.
  3. Take that one step.
  4. Celebrate success, if only for a second.
  5. Repeat as necessary.

What are you doing? Investing effort, one proximal step at a time.

Goals that seem pretty easy. Let’s say, on the other hand, that when you think of a goal… you think, “Oh, no big deal. I’ve washed these windows before. This is sooo easy.” But let’s say that you haven’t gotten around to working on it, because, well, you have tons of time. What’s the hurry?” Again, this goal is important to you, even if you haven’t started it yet.

  1. Think about the many details required to wash these particular windows. Remember that the project might take longer than you expected. There might be a snag along the way. Also, think about the great job you want to do, or maybe a new technique you want to try. Hmm… maybe it’s not as easy as you thought. Convince yourself that this goal is (or could be) a little harder than you thought.
  2. Now, divide this project into smaller, proximal goals.
  3. Take the first one.
  4. Pat yourself on the back a little.
  5. Repeat as necessary.

What are you doing this time? Investing effort, one proximal step at a time.

Big accomplishments happen one step at a time. What’s the next, most proximal one for the goal you most want to reach this year?

If you’re going to exercise, you have to take that walk or lift a few weights. To finish that book, you have to actually write words. To clean the house, you’ll have to proceed one room at a time.

Sometimes, if I’m having trouble getting to something, I write a goal that hints at making progress (not too specific, so as not to scare myself). It might say something like,

  • “Write any number of words for the book today.”
  • “Lose any number of pounds this month.”
  • “Organize any little something.”

The idea is just to get started. One small success can lead to another. Setting and achieving small, proximal goals can help to overcome the resistance we sometimes feel. Resistance isn’t unusual, even when we’re thinking about goals that we set for ourselves in the first place. How to overcome it? Invest a little effort. Feel good about it. Repeat.


Post | 10 Ways to Stay on the Path

Disclosure: Some links on this site are “affiliate links,” which means that I may receive a small commission if you click on the link and purchase something.