Happy people make specific goals: the ‘Smaller Parts’ method

Right now, somewhere in the back of your mind, you have a list of your goals. You want a promotion, a car, a house, a family, a holiday. And these goals are probably making your life suck.

Individuals with non-specific goals are more likely to be depressed. When asked what their goals were, happier individuals tended to give specific information: they knew precisely what they wanted, and that helped them understand precisely how to achieve it.

If you’re finding it hard to achieve your goals right now, chances are it’s because they are not specific enough.

When this happens to me, I use “The Smaller Parts Method”.

The Smaller Parts Method

Let’s take the biggest, most general goal there is: I want to be happy. This is the worst goal on the face of the planet. It doesn’t help you make decisions. It doesn’t give you any direction to make changes in your life. In fact, the only thing it’s really doing is reminding you that you don’t think you’re happy enough.

When something is broken in your house and you want to fix it, the first thing you do is open it up to see how it works. That’s the smaller parts method.

What are the smaller parts of happiness? Health, wealth, relationships, self-acceptance, and higher purpose are a few qualities that contribute to happiness. Now, instead of one general goal, you have five slightly more specific goals.

  • I want to be healthier
  • I want greater financial stability
  • I want better relationships
  • I want to accept myself more
  • I want to feel like I have a higher purpose

We’re heading in the right direction, but we can’t stop yet. We want to find goals that explain how to achieve themselves. We have to break up the goals into smaller parts again, for example:

  • I want to be healthier
    • I want to exercise more
    • I want to have a better diet
    • I want to improve my hygiene
    • I want to limit my bad habits

Again, our goals are more specific, and the actions we can start to take to achieve them are becoming more obvious. We just have to keep breaking them into smaller parts until we reach goals that look like this:

  • I want to be healthier
    • I want to exercise more
      • I will go running twice a week
      • I will get a gym membership
    • I want to have a better diet
      • I want to learn how to cook healthier meals
        • I will buy a cook book and make a meal plan for this week
      • I want to eat fewer sugary snacks
        • I will limit myself to one sugary snack a day for the next 7 days
    • I want to improve my hygiene
      • I want to treat myself to, and make use of, better shampoo/shaving equipment/toothbrush etc.
        • I will buy an electric toothbrush at the store tomorrow
    • I want to limit my bad habits
      • I want to quit smoking
        • I will talk to my doctor about quitting smoking
      • I want to stop going to sleep so late
        • I will stop using my computer and do relaxing activities from 11pm, and aim to be asleep by 12am.

Suddenly, all your “I wants” have turned into “I wills”. You’ve turned I want to be happy, a depressing goal, into a list of instructions which you can be confident will improve your happiness if you follow them.

One vague goal versus many specific ones

The reason that one vague goal is so overwhelming is because it is made up of many different specific ones. Breaking up that one vague goal doesn’t make it any less overwhelming. Now you’ve got hundreds of goals to deal with. But that was always the case. The final step is to identify which of those hundreds of goals you’re going to start on first.

And the good news is, some of them are easier than you could have ever imagined.

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