All of us want success, however we define it. We may want to earn more money, have more free time, be more balanced, or beat our boss at golf (not the best career move, by the way…). But in many cases, achieving our goals – whatever they may be – requires effort, and may be challenging. After all, if achieving our goals was easy, we would have already achieved them all. And the reality is that most goals are never fully achieved.
Many people fail at achieving their goals because they try to achieve too much too fast. For instance, there are many people who want to “get into shape” after years of sitting on the sofa who start with the same workout routine they used when they were on the high school football team. Instead of getting back into shape, they end up demoralized, and possibly injured, because they went too hard too fast. A lot of our goals are like that. Another approach, and the one that most often works best, is to develop a plan that builds on small successes. This approach is known as scaffolding.
The essence of scaffolding
I remember my first day at the US Naval Academy as if it were today. After the Induction and Oath of Office, we were led into Bancroft Hall and thoroughly… “trained.” I distinctly recall thinking to myself that I could not possibly “train” this way for four years. But, having been through enlisted boot camp, and had similar thoughts (only replace “four years” with “eight weeks”), I remembered what one of our Company Commanders (aka Drill Instructors) at boot camp told us – take it one evolution at a time. And that’s what I learned to do, and that’s how I graduated both schools, finished 2 Masters degrees, and how I am working through a PhD… one evolution at a time. In other words, although I did not know the term at the time, I embraced the scaffolding approach to achievement.
Scaffolding is about focusing on the present task. This doesn’t imply that you should not plan ahead. Its good to think strategically about things. However, if you get too caught up in tomorrow’s tasks, you may not complete today’s tasks. In a sense, scaffolding can be related to living in the present. By focusing on the present task you are more likely to successfully complete it.
And by completing the present task you build confidence and momentum for future tasks. And this is the essence of scaffolding: small achievements build larger achievements.
The secret to achieving big goals (well… one of them, anyway)
In our society, where instant gratification is considered a virtue, it can be very difficult to just take life as one evolution at a time. Often times when we want to achieve something big, we want to achieve it now. Failure to exercise patience, and work towards achieving big goals one evolution at a time most often leads to failure. And, just as success breeds success, so does failure breed failure.
The best way to achieve big goals is to break them down into smaller, achievable tasks, and have the patience to accomplish each smaller task while maintaining focus on the end goal.