Shift Your Focus from the Forest to the Trees

I requested that you send me your biggest obstacles to reaching your health goals. Below is one of the responses I received.

Dear Lara,

Sometimes my goals are so big (attainable but big) that breaking them down into tiny achievable bits becomes an exercise I'd rather not do. But I know if I don't take time to plan achieving my goals, I'll never get there.


In this blog post, I’d like to offer a few suggestions to this person; we’ll call him Big Goal Bob (BGB). Hopefully this helps him and you.

My interpretation of Big Goal Bob’s issue is this: He has difficulty taking time to break down goals into achievable chunks.

How can BGB be more successful? I have five suggestions.


First Suggestion: Question why you have the big goal.

I encourage people I work with to question their goals and motivations. Through this process, we get a better idea of why we want the big goal, which helps us set appropriate smaller goals. We also learn more about ourselves, like what we believe & value. We can also revisit the reasons for the larger goal when we are struggling through the smaller goals.

Sometimes the underlying motivations for a larger goal indicate we are trying to fill a void or be “good enough.” If your motivation stems from these places, there is no goal that, when achieved, will ever be sufficient.

Sometimes questioning the larger goals leads to a change in goals. It is a worthwhile endeavor to examine if your goals actually align with the person you want to be.

Are your goals congruent with your other values? Do your goals align with other things you devote attention to, or are your resources (mental & physical energy, time, money) being pulled in conflicting directions?

Whether or not you keep your large goal or change it, it is important to be clear on why you have the goal.


Second Suggestion: Acknowledge the big goal. Then put it aside.

Write down your big goal. Write down why you want the big goal.

Then focus on something else.

Once you’ve identified your smaller goals, these should take center stage. Check in with the big goal periodically (e.g., once a month), but aim to stay focused on the small steps. Smaller goals may be things that you can accomplish within a day or week.

In order to have success with your small goals, it will be helpful to find things about the smaller goals that you enjoy.

If you hate the small goals every time you do them, it will be harder to maintain them and thus harder to get to your big goal.


Third Suggestion: Nothing is permanent. You can always change your goals.

Sometimes when we are trying to settle on goals, we get overwhelmed – with possibilities, with how long it might take, with “shoulds.” 

When we feel overwhelmed it’s difficult for us to take a step forward.

One way to fight overwhelm is to focus on impermanence – nothing is permanent (for better or worse).

Pick a baby step to take, knowing that you can change at any time. You’re not locked into anything. Try it out in the short term. Reevaluate and see if you like the goal.

Life is one big experiment, and there are no “right” answers when it comes to setting your health goals.


Fourth Suggestion: Choosing small goals is not necessarily time consuming.

Pick a couple of small goals and go with them (revisit Suggestion #3). You don’t need to spend a lot of time mulling over specifics.



Also, each small goal does not need to be time consuming. Perhaps you’re thinking “yeah, this is obvious…they’re called small for a reason.”

But most people I talk with choose “small” goals that are waaaaay too big.

We get impatient and don’t want to take the baby steps that are necessary to instill a long-term behavior.  

Unfortunately, failing to break down our behaviors into small enough pieces inhibits us from reaching and/or maintaining our larger goal. Of course, we don’t typically see this as the problem when we don’t reach the larger goal.

We attribute that “failure” to having not chosen the “right” goals, having not been hard enough on ourselves to accomplish it, or to a lack of willpower, to name a few.


Fifth Suggestion: Find present-tense benefits of your small goals.

If you have talked to me, been to one of my lectures, or followed my blog, you know that I’m all about the process. Rather than looking at things as a means to an end, find what’s enjoyable about all the small goals. This is greatly facilitated by checking in on your main motivations for the larger goal (see Suggestion #1).

Try recreating in your smaller goals the things you like about the larger goal.

We tend to feel antsy, frustrated, and that we are falling short when we only focus on the outcome.

Find ways to create joy in the moment. This will help you continue to follow through with your small goals.


I hope my advice helps BGB and others. I am here to help you work out the details of these suggestions. Connect with me here if you want to delve deeper into your health goals.

You can achieve success and maintain it!


Much Love Y’all,