How Setting Micro-goals Can Increase Happiness

Published on: 12 Mar 2018
Writing a list of micro-goals

It’s easy to feel pressure to make, and then meet, life-changing resolutions at the start of each year. Maybe you pledge to lose 50 pounds, get in a workout in every day or go completely sugar free. But once January wraps up, many find themselves unable to fully realize them, leaving a lingering feeling of discouragement and frustration in its wake. But there is another way — setting realistic micro-goals.

The idea is simple: For any goal you are aiming to accomplish, micro-goals break down the large task into manageable, bite-sized parts. Rather than thinking about nailing that big-picture accomplishment, stay focused on achieving small nuggets of progress and go after them one tiny increment at a time.

Understanding the Impact of Micro-Goals

If you are aiming to run a 5K, for instance, instead of approaching the task as simply “finish a 5K race,” chunk up each of the initial steps into achievable micro-goals worthy of celebration. First, wake up at 6 a.m. Next, get changed and put on your running shoes. After that, go outside and begin running. This can continue on throughout your training period, and before you realize it, you’re forcing productivity and progress.

Studies show that setting micro-goals can rewire your brain by increasing dopamine levels each time one is set and achieved. According to Psychology Today, “everything from making your bed to doing all the dishes will give you the ‘ding-ding-ding’ feeling of having completed a task. Neurobiologically the satisfaction of completing a task creates internal rocket fuel that energizes you to keep working towards your larger goal.”

It is human nature to believe there is a better version of us out there on the horizon — the challenging part is figuring out exactly what it takes to make it a reality. We may gravitate toward believing grand gestures or quick changes can transform our thinking, but it is actually daily choices, or micro-goals, that shift and reinforce brain change. And each time you make headway, it will start to shift your perspective.

Harvard Business Review researchers found that making small strides toward big progress can actually increase a person’s happiness. “The more frequently people experience that sense of progress, the more likely they are to be creatively productive in the long run,” the article states. It doesn’t matter if you are working toward a major scientific breakthrough or simply want to make strides toward living a healthier life, tiny wins can make a big difference in how you feel and perform.

How to Start Creating Micro-Goals

If you are unsure how to start setting up micro-goals, start with the question: What is the one thing that, if accomplished, will make my life better? Perhaps you find that establishing more healthy eating habits will bring you happiness or that journaling every day will make you more mindful. Then, start to parse out those micro-goals, which are small steps that take 5 to 10 minutes to complete to help you arrive at that optimal future state. Each time you check one off, stop to appreciate your accomplishment.

Achieving big aspirations should not be a painful process that is easy to fail. By breaking down significant ambitions into manageable parts, the hope is that a fear of coming up short won’t hold you back. With a fresh perspective, you may even begin to enjoy the journey and appreciate the growth process.

Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.

Our goal at Talkspace is to provide the most up-to-date, valuable, and objective information on mental health-related topics in order to help readers make informed decisions.

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