The Power of Cutting a Goal in Half

One of the big problems with setting a big, life-altering goal for yourself is the sheer size of it. Often, the distance between yourself and your destination can seem so enormous as to feel impossible, and that sense of impossibility can often leave you feeling hopeless which can lead you right toward abandoning that goal.

Perhaps the best single strategy I’ve found for making a goal feel more reachable and approachable is to cut it in half. In other words, I redefine the goal by using half of what I want to achieve with half of the timeline involved. This simple move makes the goal feel more immediate and also makes it feel much more achievable.

So, let’s say I want to save $100,000 in the next 10 years. Cutting that goal in half is simple – save $50,000 in the next five years.

Not all goals are that easy, of course, so let’s walk through some example goals, using my own future plans as an example. I almost always have a big handful of projects and goals that I’m working toward, so I’m going to use these as an example of what I’m talking about in terms of cutting a goal in half.

Here are four such goals that I’m working toward over the next year or so.

I hope to launch a YouTube project. I have a good idea for a YouTube channel that I don’t think is met by anything that’s out there and could potentially be quite popular. A friend of mine is also interested in working on it, but his interest is more along the lines of handling the technical aspects of it. We’d like to turn this into a full-fledged channel with a bunch of videos over the next year.

I hope to design and publish a mobile app. I have a design for a productivity timer that I’d love to see for smartphones and tablets. While I’m an experienced programmer, I have never written a mobile app, so this is in part a learning project for me.

I hope to finish my study of The Art of Computer Programming. One of my favorite things to do is to find thorough but complex foundational books for various fields – the types of books that are highly recommended but may be difficult to dive into or fully absorb for a layperson without some dedication – and read through them very slowly, making sure that I understand them. I’ll usually have a notebook out in front of me as well as some sort of advice with which to look up terms, and I’ll go through two or three pages in an hour, making sure I really understand everything that’s said. Right now, I’m working through Donald Knuth’s The Art of Computer Programming in this way. My estimate is that it will take a year to get through all of the volumes.

I hope to get in the best shape of my life – or at least since college. Not too long ago, I recreated a walk that I used to do every day when I was in college, a rather long loop with a backpack that usually had some weight in it. I was able to do it just fine, but I was slow and I was definitely perspiring and a bit out of breath at the end. That made me quite sad, and I decided after that walk to get myself in the best shape of my adult life by the time of our 2017 family summer vacation.

I also have three longer-term goals – 10 years or so – that make sense to share here.

I hope to reach “near” financial independence. For me, that means reaching financial independence if I were to make significant cutbacks on my lifestyle. For example, if we chose to eat every meal at home, minimize our family vacations, cut back on our hobby spending, and grow a lot of our own food, we would be able to make it work at this point.

I hope to prepare my children to leave the nest. Ten years from now, my two oldest children will be in college and my youngest child will be ready to follow them there. I want to make sure that they’re as ready as they can possibly be for a full and independent life.

Write and publish the first books in my fantasy series. I’ve had a rough idea of a great fantasy series for a long time, chronicling the tale of two people over the course of their lives in a land that’s in the very earliest stages of the industrial revolution except… well, I’ll leave that to the novels. I have this overarching picture in my head as well as a lot of specific scenes.

The question I need to ask myself is this: If I’m on the right path with each goal, where would I be at the halfway point?

Six months from now, I will have made some test videos and given them out for feedback while also assembling a standard operating procedure for videos. These are tasks that are quite doable. I can certainly create some test videos that explore the ideas I’ve been working on and, along the way, figure out a good standard procedure for making them.

Six months from now, I want to know how to write a simple mobile app. By writing a simple mobile app that does something like displaying the time, I’m already halfway to my goal of writing a great timer app.

Six months from now, I will have studied the first two volumes of The Art of Computer Programming. That will take me halfway through the series, which means that it’s a good “half” goal.

Six months from now, I will have reached rung 35 on lifetime fitness ladder. I use the “lifetime fitness ladder” as a powerful tool for home exercise and, six months from now, being around rung 35 of that ladder would put me where I want to be in terms of my fitness pace.

Five years from now, I will have reached “minimal” financial independence. By this, I mean that if I were to live like a monk, I could be financially independent and no longer have to work for a living. My free time would be taken up with a lot of activities like gardening and other things to cover the minimum needs of my family, but I would no longer have to work to keep a nice roof over our heads and take care of our basic life needs.

Five years from now, I will have embedded some core adult life lessons into my kids. There are simply some topics in life that it doesn’t make sense to cover with them right now, but over the next five years, they will mature greatly. Over those years, there are some key lessons I want them to learn about life.

Five years from now, I will have sketched out my full book series in detail, drafted and redrafted the first book, and given it to test readers. This is a very doable goal. I just need to actually sit down at a keyboard and make it happen.

What do all of these “half-goals” have in common? They take something very big and intimidating and make it seem much more approachable. Because I’m also cutting the timeline in half, I’m still going to be on pace for the bigger overall goal, but now it looks more realistic and achievable than before.

Need some ideas for how to apply this idea to your finances? Here are three common personal finance goals, along with suggestions for how to chop them in half.

Paying off all debt becomes paying off your two highest-interest debts. Rather than tackling all of your debts, you can instead focus on the ones with the highest interest rate and get them out of the way first. Then, when that’s done, you’ll have the breathing room you need to make some giant payments to the remaining debts.

Saving for a down payment becomes saving up half of that amount. A full down payment on a house can be most of a person’s salary for a year. Half of a down payment looks more like the income you might make in a few months. It becomes small enough that you can see how frugal choices can actually make a real dent in it.

Buying a car becomes researching a car and saving half of a down payment. Again, when you chop a down payment in half, it begins to feel like a goal that’s approachable. Also, front-loading research onto a goal can make it seem much more engaging while also helping you figure out exactly what you’re looking for.

What if cutting a goal in half still doesn’t make it seem approachable? Cut it in half again – and again, if necessary. The goal is to divide and conquer, and the first part is dividing up the goal until the pieces are small enough that you feel like you can really do this.

Are you ready to tackle some big goals today? Good luck!

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Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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