Duff O'Melia

Dream Small Dreams Every Day

There has been much written in the area of setting goals for one’s life. It seems that most successful folks attribute some of their success to the fact that they had very clear, very big, and very specific written-down goals.

Most people think way too small. If they’ve even established some goals, those goals are often much smaller than they should be. People seem to underestimate their potential and this can often contribute to a lack of fulfillment in one’s life. To combat this tendency, many authors would say that your goals should be ginormous. They should be so huge that you have no idea how you’re going to accomplish them. Dream really big dreams and you’ll achieve much more than you thought possible.

This all makes sense if you’re talking about long term goals – 30 year goals, 10 year goals, 3 year goals, and 1 year goals. For these kinds of time frames, I think that having incredibly huge dreams about your future helps you. I can see very little downside to having goals that are seemingly beyond your reach – when you’re creating your long-term goals.

I’ve run into some trouble when trying to apply these principles to daily goals. There’s a major downside to setting goals that are too big when you’re working with a daily time frame. That downside is discouragement.

I’ve had many days when I’ve felt disappointed at the end of the day. Some days I’ve felt unproductive. Other days I’ve felt like I just didn’t get nearly enough done as I should have. It’s pretty easy to feel like a failure if your daily goals are too big. Disappointment comes from unmet expectations. The failure I was feeling was not because I didn’t accomplish enough that day. It was because I didn’t accomplish as much as I thought I would at the start of the day. If my expectations for the day are unrealistic, it’s a recipe for continual discouragement. Discrouragement can then lead to other problems because it’s tough to be optimistic when you’re disappointed.

I’m not arguing that you should low-ball your daily goals. I’m not saying you should turn into a daily sloth and only set a few easy goals each day so you can feel accomplished and stay positive. This wouldn’t be living up to your potential.

Instead, I’d argue that a daily goal list should be broken down into 2 sections:

  • The first section is the must-have list. This is the list of things that you need to do every single day no matter what. These things ought to be done regardless of what happens that day. If you’re in a coma, then you don’t need to accomplish the must-haves. No other excuse holds any water. It’s the section of your daily goals that you’re not willing to compromise on. If the things on this section aren’t done by the end of the day, you don’t go to sleep until they are.
  • The second section is the nice-to-have list. Every other goal you have for the day is in this list. It’s ok to think bigger here because everything in this list is gravy. It’s nice if you get them done but it’s certainly not the end of the world if you don’t accomplish every nice-to-have goal for the day.

This type of approach builds up your confidence and leads to more discipline in your life because you form the daily habit of always doing what you say you’re going to do that day. It also encourages you to stretch a bit with the nice-to-haves.