Leo Babauta of Zen Habits suggests the secret to successfully achieving goals is working up to them level by level, video game style. The idea is that you make incremental changes to your existing behavior over a period of time, pausing along the way to master each level before progressing to the next. He took this approach to losing weight:
Like a video game, the way to changing your health habits is by starting out at the first level, and only going to the next level after you’ve beaten the one before that. The problem is that most people start at Level 10 and fail, and wonder what happened. Most of us want to skip several levels, but we’re just not ready.
So the secret is to start at Level 1, and only advance once you’re done with that level. One level at a time, you’ll master the game of losing weight and getting healthy….
1. Start walking just for a few minutes every day.
2. Reduce your eating by a little bit. A very little bit.
[D]on’t go to this level until you’ve had a streak of seven days of doing Level 1.
1. Walk every day for a few minutes more. If you’ve been going around the block twice, make it three times. Or add 5 minutes to your walking.
2. Eat a little less than in the previous level. Just a little less — not really noticeable.
If you’ve successfully done Level 2 for another week, you’re ready to add more:
1. Walk a little more.
2. Eat/drink less of something that’s empty calories — less soda, sugar, bread, pastries, sweet coffee drink, chips, cookies, pizza. Don’t drop any of these completely, just eat less of it.
And so on. Minor tweaks collectively add up to major changes. The trick is having the patience and diligence to stick with those small shifts and implement them week after week until you’ve achieved your ultimate goal. To stay motivated and track your progress, try using a goal-centered app like Coach.me, LittleBit, or Chains.cc or a more analogue system like Jake Lodwick’s Standards self-management technique.
There’s no bonus round in real life, so make the one you have count.