What are micro-goals? They’re the small steps you take towards achieving what I call your “big goal.” Micro-goals are often set aside and not recognized along the way towards the big goal because the entire focus is on the big goal. The loss of not recognizing the micro-goals is a loss in your progress towards the achieving the big goal. It can lead to an increase in frustration, loss of momentum, decrease in self-esteem and confidence, and at worst, the abandonment of the big goal. Let’s look at a common hypothetical scenario.
Let’s say on January 1st your big goal is to lose 20 pounds this year. You improve your diet, exercise more and get enough rest consistently for the first few months. On April 1st you’ve already lost 10 pounds. An amazing achievement. You’re actually three months ahead of the pace to achieve your big goal. But maybe you don’t recognize the achievement of this micro-goal because you’re still solely focused on the big goal.
So how do you track and celebrate micro-goals? Here’s some of the ways you can do this:
1. Set up reminders or alerts in your phone to spend 15 minutes periodically to think about your progress. If you don’t set this reminder, it’s very likely examining progress will not happen.
2. Keep a journal and create a very brief narrative of what’s been going on, ideally at least once a week, so you can see what intervening factors there may be. Just a few sentences, unless you’re inspired to write more. For example, you didn’t exercise as much this week as the previous two. A reason why could be because of the significant increased volume of work. This is a very different scenario than not exercising because you didn’t feel like it.
3. Another thing you could do with the journal is track concrete variables so you can see trends over time. In the example, the obvious one is how much weight you’ve lost. But you could also look at how many times you’re exercised, how long was each exercise session, how many days you ate healthy (However you define it), rate on a scale of 1 to 10 your energy level, etc.
4. If you’re good with spreadsheets, create one and use the data you collect to make charts for a visual representation of your progress. You could also download an app for your phone that will create these charts for you.
5. Manage your expectations so they’re realistic. Remember that change and progress are not perfectly linear. But as long as the trend is in the right direction you’re on your way.
6. Recognize the micro-goals with a small concrete reward. For example, if you’re into creating art, buy that paint brush you’re been looking at for some time.
7. Keep track of all the micro-goals and review them as a whole each time you achieve one. Not solely one micro-goal at a time.
Remember that recognizing the achievement of micro-goals will keep you on the path of achieving your big goals. Now that’s something to celebrate!
Law Practice and Exponentially Increasing Anxiety
It’s your first week as an attorney, a supervisor comes to your office, tells you to review something, and walks out. That’s your instruction. You don’t even know what it is because much of your knowledge was mostly common law from the 18th and 19th centuries that you studied in law school and maybe some bullet points from your bar exam review class. Basically, you have no idea what you’re doing and have no support or guidance from the supervisor. It usually doesn’t turn out well and the supervisor loses the small amount of confidence she/he had in you.
Another example involves boundaries of work load. You’re stretched to the max, and even if you worked 80+ hours for the week, you could not take on one more matter and still provide the quality of work product that is required. Of course this is the exact time a supervisor would come with another urgent assignment. If you say yes and take on the new assignment, you get no sleep and possibly turn in a sub-par work product. This would result in the supervisor forgetting that you took on this assignment and instead focusing on the result.
These and other similar incidents over the following months and years can lead to a perpetual downward spiral into a loss of self-confidence, an increase in your already self-critical and perfectionist nature, feeling overwhelmed, and your anxiety and stress moving towards unmanageable levels, which can also lead to depression.
Anxiety: Can I Feel Better?
Occasional mild anxiety is a normal human emotion for all of us. But what about some who are anxious often? Sometimes for what seems like no reason at all. Symptoms can include a tightness in your chest, sweating, uneasiness, upset stomach, insomnia, ruminating thoughts, and others. And some whose anxiety is so powerful at times it’s paralyzing and causes such stress that it keeps them from their daily responsibilities, like work, school, family, and others. The tips and strategies below can help.
· Distraction: Do anything that usually makes you feel good. Listen to music, go for a walk, watch TV or a movie, explore nature, play an instrument if you’re a musician, etc.
· Deep breathing: Our normal breaths during the day are short and shallow. They’re getting just enough oxygen that our body needs. Instead, take at least five long, deep breaths once an hour. Inhale in slowly for 5 seconds, hold it for 3 seconds, exhale slowly for 5 seconds. Repeat.
· Positive affirmations: I know this may sound corny, but they do work. Say out loud or in your mind “I feel good,” “I’m OK,” “I’m strong,” “I’ll get through this” and anything else that will help. Even when you don't feel good or are not doing OK, saying these things to yourself can change the pattern of thoughts in your mind to positive ones.
· Family/Friend(s) support: Spend time with loved ones and friends.
· Journaling: There’s something powerful about writing. When you’re ruminating, the same thoughts are going around and around in your head. Writing them down is a way to sometimes break the cycle. And if you don’t want to keep a journal, just grab some paper, write, and then shred it. The point is not the product, the point is the release.
· Meditation: I recommend taking a class for this or finding some resources on the web.
· Yoga: I also recommend taking a class or finding some resources on the web.
· Other exercise, especially interacting with others.
· Massage therapy: In addition to helping with any physical health issues such as chronic back pain, massage therapy can help with anxiety, stress and other mental health issues through relaxation.
· Therapy with a mental health professional: Among other things, a therapist can help you better manage and even alleviate excess anxiety by you: (a) developing skills in how to deal with demanding supervisors, including assertive communication that sets appropriate boundaries with work load, and by managing expectations of your supervisors, (b) building your self-confidence, (c) understanding the effect these outside negative forces have on you, and discovering how your own internal issues add to the difficulties, (d) supporting you in creating career and life goals, (e) reestablishing hope in your life, and (f) ultimately improving the quality of your life.
· Medication: If you’ve tried all of my recommendations and others, maybe it’s time to see a doctor (psychiatrist) to discuss other possible options. There are two types of medication for mental health issues: one you take every day to keep your day-to-day baseline anxiety lower, and one you take as needed during the difficult times.
· Incorporate some together: While you’re journaling, do deep breathing. While you’re meditating, do some positive affirmations. Whatever works for you is what’s important.