It’s very easy in times like this, stuck at home with nowhere to go, to fall into routines or lack therefore that leave us unmotivated and down. But not all us want a rigid routine. Finding the balance, is what counts.
Enter, – the small goal.
When we set and achieve goals, however small, our brain releases dopamine, the brain’s feel good chemical. Dopamine, as many of us might be familiar with it, is one of the integral chemicals that tackles depression, stress and anxiety. It also acts as a motivator, giving us a feeling of pleasure. In short, high levels of dopamine are good, we like them.
Also, there is something really good about ticking things off a list.
Why are small goals better?
Studies show that neurologically, our brain reacts the same way to failing in achieving a goal to losing something important. So, when we fail to accomplish something, our dopamine cuts off and in walks anxiety and fear. The bigger the goal, the more our brain responds to our failing in completing it.
With this, whilst it’s easy to give ourselves a whole host of things to accomplish in this period, failing to do so can have very negative effects on our mental health. And in this time, our mental health remains as important as our physical.
But our brain wants us to achieve goals and the release of dopamine can really help us.
Enter, – the rule of three coined by my mum (hi, mum!).
What is The Rule of Three?
It’s is quite literally as simple as it sounds. Every day you set yourself a goal of three things, and you do them.
These tasks or goals do not have to be big.
Many of us will set ourselves large, perhaps unattainable goals that we expect ourselves to have achieved by the end of all this, things like:
- Learn a language
- Learn an instrument
- Do enough exercise to run a marathon afterwards
- Write a novel
You get the gist. But what if we don’t achieve them? Looking at the weeks ahead, it makes sense that we want to achieve something by the end of it. We plan ahead.
But it is just as much of a success to read that book you’ve always talked about reading or watch that film you kept putting off because it’s weirdly long.
For a lot of us, myself included, focusing on getting through day by day, is the best way of staying sane. Maybe the three things you do in a day are as small as:
- Making the bed
- Making dinner
- Having a shower
- Going for a walk
These are simple. But they are not inconsequential. And remember that when it comes to mental health, doing these things may be a challenge in themselves.
“One day at a time is all we do. One day at a time is good for you.” – John Lennon
All of these count as successes. If you come out this isolation without a six pack or new repertoire of recipes, without being grade four piano or semi-fluent in Japanese, that’s fine. What counts is that we come out if it.
How to Set Small Goals
The best way to set yourself small goals is by writing them down. On a calendar, planner, whiteboard or whatever scrap of paper you have to hand. When you’ve completed the goal, cross it off, scribble it out and carry on with your day.
Setting yourself three things and accomplishing them, no matter how small or unremarkable as they might appear, means that every day, you are accomplishing things. You are succeeding, you are achieving goals. Who cares if that goal was watching the film that always cheers you up, if it was washing the dog, colouring or phoning your grandma (which you really ought to do anyway. She’ll appreciate it).
For example, my three things for today: writing this (hello), read and make my bed.
Not world changing, not really extraordinary, things that most people might not even realise I’ve done, but I know I’ve done them. And so does my brain.
Sometimes completing the ordinary things, is, in itself, a worthy success.
“The abundance of ordinary things, their convenient arrangement here, seemed for the moment a personal gift to me. As did my ability to notice this, to be grateful for it.” – Sue Miller, While I Was Gone
If you want to know more about the impact small changes like this can have read, Atomic Habits by James Clear.