Why the Journey Matters More Than Your Goal

6 tips to take you from dreaming to doing

Big goals are scary. They’re intimidating. They stare you down. They swim in a sea, where glimpses of ideas and flickers of dreams float in the nebulous future of ‘someday’.

It’s the beginning of another year. Our eyes are fixed on a big goal, whether it’s getting healthy, starting a company, or writing a book.

But big goals are scary. They’re intimidating. They stare you down. They swim in a sea, where glimpses of ideas and flickers of dreams float in the nebulous future of ‘someday’.

You could start tomorrow, you tell yourself. ‘Tomorrow’ is a comforting friend that promises a fresh start, where your future-self will make a better decision. But first you’ve got to find just the right diet or set up the perfect writing routine. And deep down, you can’t shake that feeling that your future-self would rather go onto the next Netflix episode instead.

So more ‘tomorrows’ pass, and eventually the well of motivation runs dry. Suddenly, your goal has quietly slipped into a dream deferred.

But here’s where we need to take a step back. When focusing on a big task, it’s easy to think the goal is everything. But it’s not. Because it’s not even about the goal. It’s about the journey.

That goal might not be something you can start today. But the journey? That’s something you can start right now. There are improvements you can make to your daily habits, all while putting you on a path to achieving that goal. We explain why, and share six tips for making it happen in 2018.

The present of small wins

Our minds tend to daydream about the future, instead of focusing on what we can do right now to improve.

A Harvard study found that we spend almost 50 percent of our time thinking about the past and future, instead of focusing on the present, which leads to increased unhappiness.

Looking through the lens of achieving goals, this finding seems to resonate. Our minds tend to daydream about the future state (or beat ourselves up for how we messed up in the past), instead of focusing on what we can do right now to improve.

But if you shift your focus from the goal to the journey, your mindset completely changes. Instead of seeing a big goal as something that will be realized at some point in the distant future, you have smaller, bite-sized steps that you can look forward to, and more importantly, act on today.

And these small steps carry a lot of weight. Small wins and slow progress multiplies and builds to create that elusive momentum. Psychology research has proven that small wins are powerful.

Doing over dreaming: what you get out of the journey

“Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome.”
— Arthur Ashe

Focusing on the journey also shines a light on what else you get out of trying to reach your goals. The trek is where you learn. Where you grow. In some ways, achieving goals is just a by-product of your journey. Yes, you lose weight, but you also walk away with new healthy habits, not to mention the gratifying knowledge that you have what it takes.

As the late famed tennis player Arthur Ashe once said, “Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome.”

So it turns out that you might not even need to reach your goal to be successful. But what you get out of trying is guaranteed to make an impact. By setting out to achieve a goal, you’re forming new habits, striving towards something bigger than yourself, and imbuing your life with purpose. And no one can take those lessons away.

From a year to a day: don’t delay

“Think in terms of the day’s resolutions, not the year’s.”
— Henry Moore

2018 is 365 chances to get it done. But that time frame is not as long as it seems. December will roll back around before you’ve even realized it.

If a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, then what’s to stop you from starting? If something is important enough to do in 2018, then isn’t it important enough to get started on today? When we stop focusing so much on the future or the outcome, and pay more attention to the present and the overall journey, that first single step seems more manageable.

As artist Henry Moore purportedly said, “think in terms of the day’s resolutions, not the year’s.” So we just need to start small. Today.

6 tips for focusing on the journey

“The point is not to get better than others, it’s to get better than the old version of yourself.”

Keeping your eye on the journey is hard. It’s not how we’re wired to think. It’s easy to fall back into the trap of getting overwhelmed when contemplating that big scary goal. But if you’re in it for the long haul, these tips will help you stay on track and cultivate a journey mindset.

1. Get specific

With both your overall goal and your roadmap for getting there, it’s important to be specific. Writing down ‘procrastinate less’ or ‘lose weight’ simply won’t get you where you need to go. A British Journal of Health Psychology study found that people who created a specific action plan of when and where to work out were 91 percent successful in exercising each week.

Try using the SMART approach for the goals themselves, and be specific in your action plan of how you’re going to achieve them.

2. Break it down and start small

The best way to gradually get to your overarching goal is to break big habits down into mini-goals and milestones. You can’t rely on motivation alone. Positive signals that you’re on the right track will help keep you going. So if you want to write a book, maybe start by writing a few articles on the topic or carve out 20 minutes everyday for writing. Instead of meditating for 10 minutes every day, try just one minute when you’re starting out. Everyday you’ll get incrementally better, learning something new along the way.

3. Figure out your blockers

What distracts you on a day-to-day basis? What’s holding you back? Whether it’s your inner perfectionist or the latest season of The Crown, chances are, things will rear their heads to interfere with your efforts. Brainstorm some ideas for how you can get around your most frequent distractions and triggers. Come up with some tactics to get yourself back on track if you lose your way.

4. Reflect daily

You have to work to keep the journey in mind. Actively thinking about it and reflecting on your motivations every day will remind you of why you started in the first place. Take it from Michael Hyatt, who reviews his goals on a daily basis. Break things down further each day by asking yourself, “What is one step I can take today to get closer to my goal?” You can add this routine to the end of the day as well by asking yourself, “What did I learn today?” You can also check in on a weekly or monthly basis to assess what you’ve gotten out of your journey thus far.

You can use this daily reflections template to track your journey in Evernote.

5. Carve out time

Set aside time every day. Whether it’s 10 minutes or an hour, don’t neglect it — it’s how you’ll make progress. Many successful individuals credit daily routines as the source of their productivity. If you view each day as a step on the journey, it’s easier to make the time.

See how you can make routines (and breaks) work for you.

6. Celebrate the progress and enjoy the journey

When it’s not all about the goal, you can take it all in, (and take what you’ve learned with you).

When you have a big goal, it’s tempting to think you haven’t succeeded until you’ve achieved it. That anything short is a failure. But this overlooks the progress and accomplishments along the way. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, professor of Business Psychology at University College London, observes that small milestones are powerful for seeing a change in the positive direction, noting that “the point is not to get better than others, it’s to get better than the old version of yourself.”

Keep track of what you’ve accomplished with a done list, which is a log of the tasks you’ve completed. Seeing your progress boosts motivation, heightens positive emotions, and sustains your productivity.

When it’s not all about the goal, you can take it all in, (and take what you’ve learned with you). If you reach your goal but then go back to your old ways, have you really gotten anything out of the experience?

The journey matters more than any goal ever could.


Got big goals for 2018? Share what you’re working towards in the comments below!

Written by Jessi Craige on January 9, 2018.

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