Your Goals Are Too Small

Goals Are Too Small

1. I want you to think about something.

Maybe you’re like me: coasting along, doing okay, not lacking for anything material. You have a good life.

What else is there? Oh, that’s right: everything.

At a certain point you have you ask yourself, am I playing a small game or a big one? Am I truly striving? Am I really challenging myself?

Sure, life isn’t a game. But thinking of it like a game can help. Every day you’ve got to clear the obstacles, defeat the boss, and get to the next level. Along the way there are pitfalls to avoid and opportunities to grow stronger.

It should be fun but it shouldn’t be too easy. At each stage we should feel a sense of accomplishment. That was a close one! But look what we did.

Life also isn’t a practice session. It’s the real thing, with little opportunity to reset or lower the difficulty level. And you don’t want to lose the game, do you?

2. Let’s talk about goals.

You may prefer to live entirely in the moment. Well, enjoy that feeling while you can. Sooner or later, you’ll realize there’s more to it.

When it comes to goals, at one time you might have preferred small. That was nice. That was what they call a good start.

Don’t get me wrong: when you’re beginning, the little things matter. Running a mile is a big deal if you’ve never done it before.

But later, when it becomes a regular thing to lace up and hit the neighborhood for a 4-miler, and the whole time you’re thinking about other things and there’s no challenge … that’s when you’ve got to make a change.

It’s time to sign up for that marathon—before you’re ready. It’s time to say, you know, I’ve been thinking about this thing for a while. Maybe instead of thinking about it, I should do something about it.

Or maybe I’m already doing it, but my vision has been too small.

Bigger isn’t always better, but sometimes it is.

So step it up! You know what to do.

3. Your confidence from overcoming earlier challenges has given rise to two new belief structures:

1. That wasn’t so hard, was it?

2. What’s next?

Because it’s not a goal if it’s something you’re going to do anyway. If your stretch goal is to walk to the store and get milk, you can accomplish everything you want in life before lunchtime but still feel hollow.

It’s not the fear of missing out you need to worry about. It’s the fear of being unafraid to take a risk when you knew the time had come.

You don’t want to wind up thinking, “Huh. I wonder if I should have tried that.”

You want to look back and think, “Hell yeah!”

It can be tough, I know. When you have a good life or a good job, it’s easy to accept it for what it is.

But somehow we need to rise above the ordinary, even when the ordinary is fine and well.

If you don’t like goals, no worries. If you don’t get it, it’s all good. But this one goes out to the people who need to hear it.

If that’s you, your goals are too small. Raise the stakes!


Are you stepping up? What holds you back from raising the stakes? Share comments here.


Image: Matley

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  • Craig McBreen says:

    It took me a good long while to finally get this.

    I always thought: Very hard work and determination were the way you made it. Extended periods of work, then little bursts of fun, like that one week vacation.

    It took me forever to realize this isn’t the key to an enriching life. I’m a fan of working hard, but not of a passionless struggle – a struggle without a plan and zero fun along the way. This is something I’ve done for much of my life

    The slap to the forehead keys?
    Embracing discomfort.
    Learning to deal with uncertainty.
    Taming that super-active lizard brain (getting out of my head).
    And … Planning … and taking small baby steps that really add up to big plans realized.

    So right now I’m more excited about life than every before, because I’m finally breaking free of those self-imposed shackles AND planning big and smart. It took me a while, but I am a late bloomer after all 😉

  • Sara S says:

    This is a keeper. Totally agree. Thank you, Chris!

  • Sara Korn says:

    I think it’s because life is the real thing and there’s no reset button that people tend to keep their goals small. I know that’s my reason. As you said, we don’t want to lose the game!

    In a game you can take a big risk, have fun with it and if you die, oh well, you can just try again. Repeatedly. Is it that easy in real life? Do we need to challenge the idea that there is no reset button? Or is this where the game analogy falls short? Thoughts?

  • Josh says:

    Wow Chris, this really hit home.

    On Tuesday I started a project to raise money for charity. The goal is to get 497,000 downloads of my new single by April 2014 and to give 100% of the profits to a charity called Innovations for Poverty Action. This will not be easy by any means and will require a ton of effort. But I knew I had to push through the fear of putting myself out there with something this big for all the reasons you talked about.

    The whole reason I made that the goal was because I realized I was coasting and not really pushing myself to do great things.

    Thanks for the reminder and inspiration to keep playing the big game.

  • Meg Sylvia says:

    I like this post, but I’m personally really conflicted on the subject! I definitely agree that most of us set our goals too low. I feel like I’ve finally set my current goals high enough to be realistic yet challenging. But the other part of me thinks, will I ever be content? Balancing being happy with what I presently have and striving for more in the future is definitely a challenge!

  • Matthew Trinetti says:

    This is great, Chris. I just finished reading the book ‘The Magic of Thinking Big’ which dives deep into this very topic. I’d highly recommend it to any readers who can use some help thinking bigger.

    As the author says, “No one accomplishes more than he sets out to accomplish. So visualize a big future.” It’s easier not to dream big and have huge goals because most people don’t seem to dream big. So it can feel ridiculous. I feel like thinking and planning big goals needs to develop into a constant, daily, mental exercise.

    Thanks for the reminder!

  • Connie Habash says:

    I agree that goals matter. For me, they give a focus for my energy and attention, and that naturally begins to attract who and what I need to bring them into manifestation – even without “doing” a lot of external actions towards them.

    I especially like goals focused more on WHO I want to BE, rather than on WHAT I want to DO. Lately, I’ve found them more fulfilling, and all the doings just seem to show up naturally. 🙂

  • Karen says:

    Really love this post because I definitely think for me, one of my biggest hurdles to living a great life is my really good life. This is a great reminder to strive for the extra ordinary, its really easy to go back to ordinary if you don’t make it. Thanks 🙂

  • Pamela Kenney says:

    I would set a goal then my fears would build it up to be this huge unscalable mountain of effort populated with “what-ifs” and “yeah-buts” and “what would other people think” (the biggest fear) so that by the time I finally battled through it all and took a step toward my goal, the actual effort was nowhere near as difficult as I thought or feared it would be. My fears made each goal seem so much more unreachable than it actually was in reality.
    Good news is that the more times I set goals and the more dragons I slay, the easier and bigger my goals can become.
    Thanks Chris for this great article!

  • Maggie says:

    I just came back from vacation to my boring, totally-not-demanding, good pay and good benefits job – so this is a very welcome post!
    I’m endeavoring to find new goals and try them out – try out guest blogging, try out grant writing, etc. and experiment during my aimless office days, and I think gamification of goals would be a great thing.
    My goal was to get out off student debt (done) and have a comfortable living arrangement (done) and have friends I liked (done) – so what’s next?
    I guess finding work i love to do – and i need to learn how to do work on that task first.

  • Gladys Strickland says:

    Love this even though I don’t need to hear it right now. I made the decision several years ago that I HAD to recreate my life. Within the next 10 days I will leave my full-time job, pack my remaining belongings in my car, and move 900 miles to live where it is sunny and warm and on the ocean, and support myself with my freelance biz. If I stop and really think about everything I am doing, it feels very scary.

    And, I must disagree with one statement you made: “with little opportunity to reset.” You may not be able to have the time back, and you cannot erase what happened, but it is never too late to create a different life and start again. I have…and I turn 50 in a month.

    Thank you for regularly providing inspiring and thought-provoking posts!

  • CJ Rising says:

    I have struggled with the tension between being “present” and content with what I have and being really ambitious and wanting to achieve big things. I tend to go with the latter, dreaming big and working hard to achieve those dreams. I think it’s the way to an exciting, challenging life. I am also teaching my kids to just go for it, to have ambitious dreams and then do what it takes to achieve them. I believe that you should strive for the top because if you don’t there’s a 100% chance that you won’t get there.

  • Akinsola says:

    It’s not the fear of missing out you need to worry about. It’s the fear of being unafraid to take a risk when you knew the time had come- chris guillebeau

    I really love this, and I keep myself in check from time to time, deciding when is time to get my game to the next level even though what I have at the moment is satisfactory. Immediately I want to do a thing and suddenly fear takes over, I would just say to myself challenges only makes me better, how would ever be a better me without it.

  • Sonia Marsh/GutsyLiving says:

    Thanks to your messages, I’ve followed your advice about challenging myself and I am putting an event together at a movie theater in OC, CA,
    on September 26th called, “Bring Out the Gutsy in You.”
    This is my first event and I remember attending your 1st event with about 500 people. It’s scary yet I’m pushing myself and am so excited that Marybeth Bond, “The Gutsy Traveler” agreed to be my keynot speaker. I asked her and she said, “yes.” Perhaps next year, I can get you to be my keynote speaker. I hope so.w

  • Morringhan says:

    I used to have the opposite problem. My goals were too big, pretty damn near impossible if you ask me. I was only setting myself up for disappointment, by wanting to jump too many hurdles at once. I’m learning to tone it down a little bit, to set milestones in the way of achieving the ultimate goal. Do I want to run a marathon? Well I better get used to those 4 milers around the neighborhood first.

  • Roberto Lebron says:

    My desktop has a photo of a cave and a quote from Joseph Campbell:

    “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure that you seek.”

    Thank you for your inspiring and challenging words.

  • Laura says:

    What an awesome post! Perfect for today… I have this big business idea spinning around my head for a while and I just feel this is the right moment to the next step. I have just taken the decision this morning and then your post landed on my inbox. Helped me to feel even more confident and also helped me to understand why I was holding back before an suddenly I felt “this is it, this is the right moment!” I realized that all I have been working on and studying gave me the background I needed to be able of move forward to the next level. Thank you Chris for the great post!

  • Joseph Bernard says:

    Chris, As your writing does so often, there is a call to something greater.

    We all have something greater within us. We have a bigger mind and heart then we have yet explored. We have within us creativity, genius and greatness yet to be fully expressed.

    You can live in narrow story that looks like this: | |

    Or you can go for an amazing life & have a story that looks like this:
    \ /

    It’s up to you.

    You are all awesome and your awesomeness is needed in the world more than ever.

  • Caroline Frenette Intuitive Leadership Coach says:

    I would say this is crazy divine timing…

    Just this morning I woke up hearing a wimpy, defeated little voice in my head saying “maybe your goals are too unrealistic, you can’t achieve THAT goal in the deadline that you’ve set, maybe your dreams are too big and you should be more realistic…”

    WHAT? Who said those big fat lies?! (The 8 year old me turns out).

    Well, I’m 43 now (and I know better than to listen to a wimpy little voice in my head), so I called my coach and we cleared this right up!

    My goals & dreams are just freakin’ fantastic thank you and now that I’ve got all of me on board I have a much bigger change of achieving them. (BTW, the 8 year old me is now on board as well and she’s ready to help 🙂

  • Caroline Frenette Intuitive Leadership Coach says:

    @ Laura Brandes (hey girl!) : on to the next level! I’m with you!


  • Sonya Stattmann says:

    I love this Chris! This year has been my year to really step up! It isn’t just a matter of having the big goal, it is the courage to commit to it no matter what gets in the way. I am committed to being fearless and to helping others be fearless with getting their unique and powerful message out to the world. We have to step up if we want to make a difference. There is too much noise in the world to reach people if we stay small and quiet. We have to be bold! I love your message and thanks for having the courage to face your fears and play a bigger game.

  • Natalie - The Cat Lady Sings says:

    I am stepping it up. I was laid off last month, which seemed like the perfect opportunity to dive in and take a chance…but I dawdled, kind of lost and figuring things out. The past week though, I hit my threshold – I need more.

  • Kelly @Try New Things says:

    This is a great reminder to me. I always create a safe scenario where if all the bad things that could happen, actually happen, (which they don’t) then I am still going to be okay.

    But you remind me that I create my life by creating small safe goals. I need to think bigger….

  • Tim Cigelske says:

    Something I needed right now. Thanks.

  • Curt Moe says:

    A swift kick in the pants Chris. Thanks.
    Started catering this year and have been thinking about working my 9-5 for the winter.
    Eff that noise.
    Time for goals to start catering full time.

  • Matthew says:

    I feel like I want to step it up, and in some ways I am, but it’s very disheartening to find that my bigger goals and larger plans don’t seem to go very far. One of the largest things holding me back (I feel) is that I am young, and that I think I need some more experience or education or some other similar rite of passage before I can set out and do something great. Among my goals is to be awesome (thanks for that post by the way) and I am only just realizing what kind of a commitment it is to train myself in being awesome.

    The problem for myself is that it is hard and requires sacrifices that I’m not willing to make yet. I’m not willing to sacrifice from my relationships with the people around me to truly pursue my big goals at the same time as work and school.

    My “Big Goals” are currently stepping stone goals to try to start something to see if I’m interested or have the aptitude. They include recording a song all on my own (all parts), starting a blog based on self teaching skills, and continuing to learn guitar.

    As a first time commenter, I would like to thank you for your excellent posts, and great backlinks to your own archives. I’ve read many of your posts this way.

  • Roland Oehme says:

    Nice article Chris and it really got me thinking. For me, it’s not that I am very afraid of trying something new, although I am if it means stepping out of my comfort zone. But the more paralyzing thing is that I have so many ideas and dreams that choosing one is near impossible since just settling on one does not seem adequate. Perhaps you could address this topic in your future article. Thank you very much.

  • Gary J. says:

    Great post. I think what holds me back is usually fear. The fear of failing is a common one but come to think of it, the fear of success is also a factor. If I achieve my small goals that I set what’s next? Can I outdo myself in the future? Setting small goals is good and all but that’s just it, those goals are still inside my comfort zone. After reading this, setting bigger goals that is way out of my comfort zone might be the boost one needs to achieve greatness.

  • Brian Snyder says:

    I love the post. I am probably thinking kind of small since my adventure is just starting. I am starting to wonder if maybe I need to stretch myself a bit, even in the beginning. Thanks for the reminder to think big.

  • Deanna says:

    Thank you!! I definitely needed to read that. Applying for grad schools now and feeling scared to move forward. My goals are huge but I’d rather try and know I tried than wonder what if I had tried.

  • Kevin Weijers says:

    Definitely think big. Then start small: Break it down, make it actionable and take action!

  • Ann says:

    You’re thinking what I’m thinking and describing my experience right now. I need challenge but I don’t know which way to move. As you say, it’s hard to rise above the ordinary when the ordinary is fine and well – I’ve got a well-paying job that I’m good at, but…

  • Chel says:

    Thanks for this, a very timely kick in the pants. I’ve been questioning myself lately about not having anything to show for my big ideas and research so far. Just this morning I wrote out a list of to do for the weekend, something I normally abhor. Clearing that will leave time, space, energy, emotion to get on with doing the bigger things. I’ve done the preparation, its time to get on with taking the world by storm. 😛
    Keep on challenging yourself and us, its great stuff.

  • Sonia says:

    As for many others, this very much resonated and with me and landed just at a time when I needed to read it – thanks Chris. ‘it’s not a goal if it’s something you’re going to do anyway’ I think I’ve been falling into this trap and the result is a lack lustre approach, far from the enthused excited person I really am. Here’s to more ‘Hell yeahs!’ 🙂

  • Mark says:

    That’s exactly where i’m at. I committed to a project yesterday that intails burning the bridge at 59…
    and this post pops up!
    Funny how I’m a lot less worried now than 24 hours ago…
    You’re an inspiration Chris, it’s the 100$ start up that made me realize that my idea is doable.

  • Shannon Lagasse says:

    This is just what I needed. :]

    I have felt like I’ve given up control and tried sitting in the passenger’s seat of my life. Like someone or something was going to come into my life and make everything the way that I want it to be.

    But this ain’t no dress rehearsal! I know I’m going to look back on this period of my life and think, “Yeah, I totally could’ve, and should’ve, done something more.”

    So thanks for getting my butt in gear! Needed this. :]

  • Christopher says:

    How timely. A few months ago I left a stable-but stagnant-job to pursue a unique opportunity. I’ve come out the other end with no job waiting for me… I’m taking the plunge to pursue self-employment. Diving into the deep end of the freelancing world. It’s sink or swim time.

  • Elissa says:

    It’s a good reminder to include the bigger picture in your goals. Some work better top down.

    I’d just add that envisioning a range of goals is more powerful than just picking a small one or just picking a big one. In other words, the one mile, the four mile, and the marathon are all good. Pair that up with timing – one month, three months, 12 months, and you’ve got a much better shot at making it happen.

  • Jean Emery says:

    Nicely written. And the first reaction is to say, right, right, right! But after a pause, it seems to me, maybe being in a very contrarian state: why?


    Without some clarity about why we should always be upping the ante, and that why being something that an individual connects with at a deep level, this mindset is just another variation on an ubiquitous theme in this country–growth for growth’s sake. Edward Albee had an observation about that, albeit in the environmental context: Growth for growth’s sake is the definition of a cancer cell.

    Not meaning to be a naysayer, but I think this post needs a Part 2.

  • Tiffany says:

    What’s stopping me is my energy level. I feel drained all the time. There is plenty I want to do (and plenty that needs doing) but I just don’t have the energy. Any tactical suggestions on how to overcome this?

  • Anca says:

    Two words –
    Thank you.

  • rebecca says:

    yes, i’m stepping up. i’ve worked as redemptive artist — i upcycle experienced furniture into functional art — part-time for about ten years and full-time for the past two years. but i see so much more that i can do. i’m starting a writing project that looks at redemptive art in our lives.

    and you can help!

    i’m collecting stories that highlight the redemptive power of creativity.

    i’d love to hear your story.

  • Kristy Swanson says:

    It’s interesting…I have always been a proponent of setting goals, stretching beyond your comfort zone, and so forth, so there’s one way that I hear what you’re saying and a piece of me says “YES!”

    And…for myself, at least, I’m finding that sometimes setting big goals can be counter-productive to me actually feeling engaged and present in my everyday life, especially when those goals are quantitative rather than qualitative. For example, in the past I had a goal to complete the RSVP bike ride–and loved having the goal to pull me forward, loved the uncertainty and challenge of “can I really do it?” and so forth.

    Yet it was all too easy to get hooked into always measuring my performance, to the point where it actually took joy from the journey. I’d get focused on distance or speed that I would ride with my head down, eyes on my bike computer, and forget to notice that the leaves were changing colors, or that the warm day brought out the scent of pine trees, or the sheer joy of feeling the wind in my face as I sped down a hill.

    So I’d say that for me, goals have value, but they can be a double-edged sword, and that I want to honor both achievement AND enjoy the process.

  • Andrea Mai says:

    As I set a big goal for the weekend and have spent the workday wondering how I will accomplish it, I was thrilled by this article. FOr me, it made go back to not the how to get it done, by the why get it done. Sometimes we simply need to stretch ourselves in a whole new direction, go beyond what comes easily, naturally, and blast the roof off our self expectations. Nobody else can do it for us.

    But I also know that goals can be too unmanageable or put ridiculous pressures on us. WHy do we do it? Why do we set targets we don’t know how to reach? I think it’s important that we set the goals and then continue to sculpt them till they are not just a wild hare, but a true goal.

  • sonja says:

    what’s holding me back? ME. How the f** that happens after 46 years on this planet, I don’t know. How many pep talks can you give yourself? How many kicks in the pants? How many more times can you say “I am so tired”? What the hell?? A viscious circle that every time I think I found the way out, I defeat myself – AGAIN. Sigh. I’ll get there, guess I’m not completely ready to burst out into my authentic self. But time. It is so short and getting shorter.

  • Andrew Cockerham says:

    Thanks Chris! Very much needed encouragement!

  • Jenny says:

    This is a very timely post. And for me – I finally feel like what I’m taking on right now is challenging me enough to grow in ways I’ve been hoping to for several years.

    It’s one of the biggest reasons I left Thailand. I was growing in so many ways, but in a couple key categories I was stuck (or moving backward). I had to get out and get moving. Onward China!

    I read this post and thought – for once, no they’re not. My goals are not too small. I’m in a new country. Dealing with a new language barrier. Teaching a couple of courses I have not previously taught. And I finally get to start saving for grad school and maybe have that savings actually get somewhere!

    And yes, grad school is another big goal I’m looking forward to. It’s not for everyone, but I have thought for years, and am still driven – it is for me. In the next 3-5 years. Doing it without taking loans would be spectacular! I’m laying my groundwork.

  • ZA @ The Girl Who Cry Wolf says:

    Definitely something to ponder over. Sometimes, we need a quick swift kick in the butt to move out of the comfort zone. It’s time to start living and not to wait till we are in our golden age. Cheers!

  • Jason says:

    Yeah, I think we always have to set new goals so that we are pushing ourself to greater height. Lately I’ve been slowing down and really need something to motivate myself. Good post!

  • Leonardo says:

    I really like this post. Setting big goals has like a magical power that gives you more energy and focused attention on accomplishing your goals. When you think big, it forces you to get out of your comfort zone, stretch your self imposed mental limits and makes you expand as a person.

    The idea that you have to expand from the ordinary, even when the ordinary is fine, struck a cord. When you live in the ordinary, especially when the ordinary is fine and comfortable, you are ignoring that powerful place within you that is whispering: “Is this it? Is this the life that I imagined when I was 10 years old. Were did my dreams go? I want to make them true.”

  • Ron says:

    Something I have noticed, though, is that sometimes we go to far. You mentioned increasing goals as you reach old goals. For example to run a 26-mile marathon. But what then? A 100-mile race? Then a race across the continent? Eventually you break down.

    Sometimes it is OK, and even for the best, to back off a bit and stay comfortable at the point where you maintain health. Start putting energy into a new project, say hitting the gym and doing weights too. Mix it up.

    That has been my experience anyway.

  • Elaine says:

    I absolutely agree with this. The only thing that stops the level of success you can achieve is your imagination. Great ideas are probably the most effective driver of both business and personal growth.

  • Llyane @ FrenchOnSkype says:

    Most of the times, I am in my head, comparing the options I may have with my past experience. I have to be super aware when my survival mind steps in, and not let myself controlled by it. Then only can I see that there are so many more unknown options out there for which I have to keep an open mind. Thanks so much,

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