Forget about Perfection, This is My Small Wins Strategy

When it comes to setting goals for myself, I used to have a kind of phobia. It seemed like every time I set a resolution or goal, I either broke it or gave up on it in the first three months.

I’d start school, but not finish.

I’d quit one drug, but just substitute it with another.

As a recovering heroin addict, I made the goal to complete Celebrate Recovery’s 12 steps, which is a path to sobriety and healing. I made it to step 3, but then I relapsed.

My life moved in a circle. I thought I was getting somewhere, only to end up back where I started. I stopped making goals because of my previous failures. And that made me feel like a failure.

Like the time I tried to quit smoking—that went out the window in the first month. My own unrealistic expectations set me up for failure. I thought I could quit just like that, at the snap of my fingers. But I was overwhelmed by the challenge before I even got started.

But it turns out the problem wasn’t that there was something inherently wrong with me. To be sure, there were mental health and addiction issues that I needed professional help with and healing from. But it’s also true that a big part of my problem was that I didn’t know how to set achievable goals.

This year I am doing things differently. I’m still setting goals, but now I’m writing down ways I can achieve them. Here’s what that looks like:

  1. I start by asking what my end goal is.
  2. I think through a list of things I need to do to attain that goal.
  3. Then, using my bullet journal, I make an actual plan to make them happen. I often start with the littlest tasks first, because then it builds confidence and creates a snowball effect. I cross things off the list and feel a sense of accomplishment, which gives me momentum.

I’m working the 12 steps again, but this time I have a sense of all of the small goals that go into achieving that larger goal. My first task was to find a sponsor, which I did within a week of making the goal. I’m determined to stay connected and go to as many group meetings as possible, because recovery is lifelong. I’m not going to isolate myself, no matter what.

I’ve also found that when my focus is on God, I feel like everything else falls into place. I’ve committed to reading the entire Bible in a year. Other people at my church are doing this, so we are all following the same plan and encouraging each other.

And lastly, I’ve found writing in my journal at the end of the day very helpful. I like to journal about my good and bad experiences of the day, and I also take an inventory of things I need to work on and things I did well on. This helps me to see what I am really doing and what would be a reachable or reasonable goal for the next day. It helps me track progress—or correct course if I need to.

Because the truth is we all get off track sometimes. We all break and have to rebuild. We are only human.

If you’ve made your goals yet have already fallen off the bandwagon, it’s ok. Get back on. Life is about progress, not perfection.

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