Inch By Inch: The Fastest Way To Your Best Year Yet

02/12/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Mar 17, 2015

A month ago, we began the process of making 2009 your best year yet. If you are just joining us, you may find it useful to read some earlier posts where we introduced the Wheel of Life, the role of imagination in creating significant improvement, how inner visualization supports the process, and last week we touched on being directionally correct rather than trying to be "perfectionally" correct.


Your assignment for this week was:

1. Choose an area from the "Wheel" that you would like to see improve next year
2. Imagine that the improvement has already taken place and create an inner "film" of your success
3. Create a list of activities that you could choose if you were so inclined, activities that would be "directionally correct" were you to enact them

Now that you have an area of focus, some idea of what it would look like and how you would feel when you get there, what comes next?

The tricky part, of course! Now we need to do what it takes to get there.

The even trickier part is that it doesn't have to be terribly difficult.

Why people fail to achieve many of their goals

One of the principle reasons people come up short is the combination of overstating a goal, making the object of improvement so big as to be demoralizing before you even start. Another is the absence of a compelling, exciting "vision" of what success would look and feel like when you get there. (If it doesn't get your juices going imagining your own success, why would you even bother?)

If you have these two out of the way, the next big obstacle, and one that knocks most people off the path, has to do with expectations and demands around perfection. I used to be a distance runner, capable of running several miles averaging under six minutes per mile. It's been 30 years since that was true.

If I were to suddenly decide that I wanted to be "good" runner again, and started out trying to run even one six minute mile, I would quickly run into the difference between current reality (a 12 minute mile might be doable) and some kind of internal expectation or demand that I run as I once did.

It wouldn't take too many trips to the track before I gave up.

The problem? Expecting "perfection" rather than "direction." Whether a six minute mile is realistic or not given my age and assorted body issues, getting there all at once is clearly not going to happen. However, I can make progress toward the goal simply by doing something, just about anything, that moves me in the direction of the goal.

The notion here is one of finding "microscopic" steps or "microscopic" changes that are within my ability to both imagine and to execute.

So, if I want to get in better shape and become a "good" runner again, perhaps a good place to start is to begin walking! That could be a walk around the block or any other distance that gets me moving.

The first micro goal is to simply get moving in the direction I want to go. I get to set a micro goal (walk around the block), do what it takes to complete the goal (go for the walk), and then check off the activity in my mind, or on a checklist. The last part is pretty darn important.

If you set a goal, break it down into a micro step or two, and take the micro step, you then have the opportunity to "celebrate" your success. Now this is where the cynical will jump in with their criticism: "Walking around the block doesn't make you a runner, Russell."

Yeah, you're right, Cynic. However, it does get me moving in a direction and I want to acknowledge myself for at least taking the first step.

A funny thing then starts to take place. Every time I take a micro step, some part of me notices that I gave myself a target, moved on it, and accomplished something I set out to do. The more I move in the direction I'm heading, the more likely it is that I will get there.

Now how amazing is that! If I manage to take a second walk, it becomes more likely that I will take a third. And pretty soon I might start jogging part of the way. And once I try jogging part of the way, I might change my micro goal from walking around the block to jogging around the block.

You get the drift - any step toward the overall goal is better than doing nothing. Sure, the first walk around the block doesn't make me a runner, just a prospective runner in "training,"

How to put it all together

Whatever your goal might be, whether it is about health, or finance, or getting a new job, there's always something you can do at a "micro" level. There's an old cliché I heard many years ago that applies here: "It's a cinch by the inch, and it's hard by the yard."

So take an area of the wheel where you would like to improve, imagine how you would feel if that area were to improve, visualize yourself already there, and then create a list of micro steps you can take. From there, all you have to do is take one of those micro steps, acknowledge yourself for having done so, and stay with the combination of visualization and micro steps.

This is just time worn wisdom. What's your next "inch?"

I'd love to hear from you. Please do leave a comment here or drop me an email at Russell (at)


If you want more information on how you can apply this kind of reframing to your life and to your job, about a few simple steps that may wind up transforming your life, please download a free chapter from my book, Workarounds That Work. You'll be glad you did.

Russell Bishop is an educational psychologist, author, executive coach and management consultant based in Santa Barbara, Calif. You can learn more about my work by visiting my website at You can contact me by e-mail at Russell (at)