This past weekend I had the pleasure of  a cup of coffee at The Moonboat Cafe. It was served up in a white, scalloped cup with saucer. Complete with delicious apple crisp. Perfect! My friend, Cassandra, offered me a coffee break on Twitter. Today, she offers a practical way for you to break free…

When I’m stuck in a rut or intimidated by a large project, this works like a miracle. It makes possible things I never thought I’d be able to do.

To illustrate, let me use three examples:

1. What if I want to lose weight and be more fit? If I just say, “I want to be thin,” I probably won’t accomplish much. Even deciding on a diet and picking a target weight is too vague, too large. I’ll make more progress if I find a tiny change I can do right now.

For example, I could say, “I will walk in the morning for 10 minutes. Each week I will add 10 minutes to that walk until I’m walking 60 minutes a day. I will do my walk at supper time, when my husband can take the kids. Also, I will stop eating my late night cereal, and substitute a cup of tea.”

Notice how I’ve reduced the amount of change to something very small and specific which doesn’t require too much effort?

2. Perhaps I want to create a landscaped garden around the house. If I simply decide we need a garden, I will probably put off doing anything because the project is too involved. And putting it off means I probably won’t do it.

Instead, let’s pretend that I choose a smaller goal. “I will plant one shrub and 12 bulbs on the first fall weekend. In the spring I will add six more plants. In summer I will add another six. Next fall I will do it again. Along the way, I’ll pay my kids to put on some mulch around the plantings. I will keep doing this, a little bit at the time, until the entire area in front of the house is filled.”

Now we’re moving forward already! This is affordable right now, and it’s the work of a single afternoon.

3. Suppose I want to write a book. As long as I say I want to write a book, it won’t happen. Why? A goal that large almost guarantees failure.

But what if I find something smaller to do — a micro-goal? “I will buy an inexpensive spiral-bound notebook. Every morning I will write on a page for 20 minutes with my morning coffee. Then I will write in it again at bedtime with my cup of tea. Every day I will do this — simply put words down. That’s where I’ll start right now.”

Immediately, I experience movement and change. I’m on my way. But first, I have to be willing to shrink the change to a size that fits my current life.

Micro-Goals Fit Your Life Now

Small goals, done this way, yield big dividends over time. If I do them, one at a time, and wait until new habits are established before adding more, I build momentum which changes my situation. Essentially, I act my way into a better life.

How much change is the right amount? A general rule of thumb is three small changes a month. After each change has become established, another small change can be added. I know I have the right amount of change when it feels invigorating, but not stressful.

The crucial aspect is my willingness to shrink change to a size which is manageable and achievable now, which slips easily into my daily routine. This is also the hardest part, because it feels like I’m settling for less than I want.

I’ve learned, however, that settling for less now means more in the long term. In fact, it nearly seals my success from the start. With micro-goals, I homeschooled my sons through high school to four-year college scholarships, renovated a Victorian home, built two gardens, became a hiker, traveled across the country three times with my family, and became a published free-lance writer.

I could not have done any of it without taking small steps which fit easily into my daily life.

You first met Cassandra when she encouraged you to Rest, Mama. You can also find her at The Moonboat Cafe, a place to dream. Currently, she’s not only venturing on one thousand hikes, she’s sharing her September Retreat Series. Don’t miss it!

Looking for a break and a breath of fresh air? Step into my bookstore coffee shop. The Moonboat Cafe is a place where you can drop your burdens and your busy pace for a few minutes. Walk over to the counter and order a cup of tea or coffee and sink into a tall chair by the window. Read a book or movie review. Chat with a friend. Or just gaze at the view.