Climbing a Ladder

We use a ladder to help us climb things (if you didn’t already know this, this blog isn’t going to make much sense). Getting to the top can seem difficult and possibly even frightening, especially if you’re only looking at the top. However, as any acrophobe who’s climbed a ladder knows, you don’t look at the top, you look at the rung in front of you. The same applies to any big goal.

For the last three years, I’ve been climbing a big ass ladder – my wife and I both. We’ve lived apart while she’s been completing her law degree. Three years ago, that seemed like an unbearable, impossible task. Yet here we are now, just three days away from graduation, and somehow we survived. But how were able to manage it?

Like climbing a ladder, accomplishing a goal can feel a lot more manageable if you break it down into smaller goals or rungs. Each small goal you achieve puts you that much closer to achieving your big goal, whatever it may be. Not only does it put you closer, it will give you a sense of accomplishment along the way. These small accomplishments will also help keep you motivated. For us, that meant rather than just focusing on graduation day for three years, we would focus on the next time we got to see each other. Eventually after seeing each other enough times, winter break would come, then summer break, then another school year, and finally three years went by.


My experience isn’t just an isolated incidence either; there’s a lot of evidence to back up why going for “small wins” leads to greater success. Psychologist Karl Weich has even suggested that setting elaborate goals can put us at a disadvantage because they can overwhelm us. Americans are great examples. As it currently stands, approximately 68% of Americans are either overweight or obese, yet weight loss programs have become extremely prolific over the last two decades. The idea of radically changing their behavior to achieve a goal is a hard pill for some to swallow (if only it was a Big Mac…), and so they don’t even try.

So whether you’re trying to start a new business, trying to make an A in your class, or getting through three years of living apart, try putting one foot in front of the other instead of trying to make a wild leap. If you can put one small task in front of you and achieve it, you’ll make progress. I would dare to guess that the sum of the small victories may even feel better than reaching the big one, sort of like the journey is better that the destination.

Have you ever tried setting small goals along the way? Have any strategies that helped? Please share in the comments below.