At Least Do The Least: A Goal Setting Guide

If there is a task you desire to complete consistently, but lack the total amount of energy, drive or attention required to do so, consider arranging it by its major and minor variations. The major variation of a task is the optimal goal that you have in mind, such as go to the gym every morning or evening. The minor variation of a task is the smallest action you can take that still fulfills your daily (or whatever rate you choose) goal. If going to the gym every morning is the major goal, then planking for one minute every morning could be the minor goal.

I believe it is important to have a minor variation in your routine to help build consistency and protect your psychological environment. My subconscious mind tends to really feel the blow of failing to accomplish goals. As a result, negative feelings and emotions often manifest around the area I feel is failing. Those feelings also seem to seep and sink into other areas of my life. I’ve found that in order to soothe my subconscious expectations, as well as continue forward motion toward my goals, I have to at least do the least.

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For any task you set your sights on, you can define the most minimum action you will accept that qualifies in order to psych out the subconscious part of your brain that gets discouraged amidst inactivity. Of course you don’t want to make a habit of doing the minimum amount of work, but it is still better than nothing. It is a way to keep yourself above water on the days you feel uninspired, tired and uninterested.

For example, if your goal is to write everyday, in addition to setting your sights on how many hours or words you want to write per day, assign the minimum amount of time or words you will accept from yourself for it to technically count for the day.

The key is to feel as if you are consistently contributing to a streak of actions. Using this method, you could set your major daily writing goal to 1,000 words and your minor daily writing goal to one sentence. Go as low as you actually can accept from yourself. At least do the least every single day, and there is a great chance that your mind will still count this as forward motion. Stay moving and then adjust your momentum as your will and energy increases.

Ideally we would go full steam ahead, hitting all the high marks we set for ourselves. But I’ve experienced so many moments of procrastination and laziness, that I know sometimes I have to cut my goals down into more digestible pieces.

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I’ve adapted this technique to several areas of my life, the first being violin practice. Ever since I stopped playing within the structures of a university, private instructors, orchestras and chamber ensembles, I struggle keeping up with it on a daily basis. I know my goal is to practice every single day, but the idea of going through my entire routine sometimes triggers my laziness. Unfortunately, when I miss one day of practice, I’m likely to miss another and so on. Eventually, the idea of my violin will begin to create stress, anxiety and shame within me. Those feelings sometimes increase the distance between me and my craft even further.

You need to be content with small steps. That’s all life is. Small steps that you take every day so when you look back down the road it all adds up and you know you covered some distance. It took me a long time to accept that, but it’s true. You need to have patience.
— Katie Kacvinsky, Awaken

As a result, I came up with the idea to at least strum or pluck my violin strings every day no matter what. Some sort of sound needs to come from that instrument everyday even if I don’t pick it up. I need to keep it alive through minimum interaction at the very least. This has helped me keep my streaks and soothe my subconscious mind. It has also increased the chance of me having full and regular practice sessions.

What is something in your life that you wish to do every single day, with hopes of eventual completion or mastery? Set your major daily goal and your minor daily goal so that you can at least keep up a consistent streak and stay in motion.

m.theo | SUBSCRIBE