4 ways to set incremental goals & why they’re important

Incremental goals are at their most important during our toughest times. In tackling a spinal cord injury, I utilised both aspirational and incremental goals.

I aspired to a nearly full recovery but also needed incremental goals I could perform each day (or even more frequently) that encouraged progress and reduced the threat of setbacks.

On the first few days after surgery, my incremental goals were as simple as “just move” and “just breathe (deeply)”. I could easily reward myself for reaching these goals. The consistent application of effort and the absence of setbacks was progress enough.

As time passed and my strength grew, I could make my incremental goals bigger. I wanted to attend the football with my family. The first few times the goal was just getting there, in my wheelchair.

Then it became getting to the game in crutches and being able to sit in my member seat, rather than in the wheelchair. Then it became walking up the four flights of stairs that lead from the concourse to the 2nd tier seating.

The first goal was just to make it up, stopping for breath at the end of each flight; next home game it was just one stop, after 2 flights; then it was to make it up all 4 flights with only a rest for breath at the top. All these increments were aligned to my aspirational goal of regaining my mobility and identity.

Aspirational goals solidify hope by providing a vision to aim for, whilst incremental goals provide the steps to close the gap from where we are to where we want to be.

It is these incremental steps that will take us on the path towards our aspiration. Therefore we need conviction that the incremental goals will generate progress towards the aspirational.

They are connected by our sense of “why”. In my case both my aspirations and increments were driven by a desire to rebuild a fractured identity.

My four tips for setting incremental goals are:

Align them to your aspiration: Incremental goals are the actions that drive you towards your aspiration. Incremental goals are often small, repetitive, habitual. If you can’t connect them to your aspirations, they will be impossible to sustain. Alignment also ensures the effort applied will deliver valuable progress, thereby allowing you to narrow the gap to, and increase your belief in, your aspirations.

Connect them to your identity: Incrementalgoals are the actual doing. They are hard – attainment requires concerted application. The better we can connect why we are performing these acts to our sense of identity, the more likely we are to persevere when things are tough.

Make them appropriate: I think the best thing about incrementalgoals is we can scale them appropriately based on what is required. Make them very small when things are toughest, building the scale once you have momentum. If you have a setback and lose momentum, scale them down and strive again.

Share them with your supporters: Whenthings are toughest, gather up your cheer-squad. Share the incremental goals and why you are doing them. The genuine encouragement for effort and the celebration of successes by yourself and others is enormously valuable. People cheer louder then they appreciate your motives, and positive feedback reinvigorates effort.

Mark Berridge is the author of A Fraction Stronger (Major Street, $32.99). It shares Mark’s pursuit of belief and possibility in impossible moments after a cycling crash – and devastating spinal cord injury – turned his world upside down. He speaks and writes about the influences that helped him tackle adversity, shaped in a way that allows readers to feel a fraction stronger too.

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