Most of us like the idea of a new challenge or improving at something, but a lot of us will take on too much at once or have expectations that are too high. The problem with unrealistic expectations or a goal too big is that it can undermine your confidence or even make you give up early in your attempt to meet your challenge.
What is the optimal amount of difficulty for challenges?
When it comes to flow and performance, scientists found that just 4% past your current ability is the right amount. Just 4%! That’s barely moving the needle and I think many of us try to dial it up by much higher numbers.
I have tried taking on too much at once many times and it usually would mean I got worse. Trying to do ride a trail that is too technical or coming back after an injury expecting to be exactly where you were before is unrealistic. Setting small action steps or small micro-challenges with skill development will continue to help you build your confidence and work towards a goal in a sustainable way. Start where you are today, and set just manageable challenges to move forward.
This is something my health coaching clients do every session- they set 2 or 3 small goals that put a brick in the wall to build toward their broader goal. It’s good to have a big vision for what you want to achieve- you may even have heard of setting a BHAG: Big Hairy Audacious Goal. I’m all for that! But it’s about taking the baby action steps, having the patience for the long-term, and committing the process.
100 small steps get you pretty far down the path, create ant ingrained habit or skill, and give you the confidence and resilience to move forward. Looking at the big picture from time to time is key, just as long as it doesn’t overwhelm you making you feel like you need to do it all at once.
And a parting note: it’s important to celebrate those small wins. This week, talk to someone you care about to celebrate how far you’ve come with something you’ve been working at over the last few weeks or months. We often are so focused on the future and focused forward that we forget the impressive mountain we just climbed.