Dream big, start small.

It’s the mantra of the S-personality. As soon as you see it, you should know you’re getting advice from someone who thinks in details and the present tense. Add in the word routine and you’ve likely found yourself an SJ. Even SPs like this tangible advice, although as soon as the process becomes too defined and constrained, they’re liable to skid to a halt.

This can be great, if you yourself are an S.

But there is one thing I come up against constantly as an NP person. I hate small goals. I hate building up a habit through a small, daily action despite the fact that logically, I understand why this is a point of success. It makes sense. Routines become ingrained, people benefit from structure.

I get it.

But I hate it.

And that makes sense as well. NP is a great combination for big picture thinking, vision work and generating ideas. And I love that. But as soon as you ask an NP to come crashing back down to earth and think about this new concept as the daily nuts and bolts… it’s like a horse balking at a jump.

I shut down. I lose interest. The mundane reality of action will never win against the abstract, endless possibility of the 50,000 level view. For an S, this level is frustrating. It doesn’t have any of the details they need to thrive. But for me, it’s as easy as slicing through butter with a hot knife. Or to continue the metaphors, as offering a horse a juicy carrot.

So how do you combine the proven results of small wins and daily routines with the need to set monumental goals?

I cheat and do both. I wrap small, daily actions and the knowledge of how boring I find them, with the exhilaration (and often unattainable) activity of giant goals.

I cut out all sugar. Simultaneously, I start drinking warm water instead of tea, and within a month I’m eating sugar again (though less than before) but I’ve also managed to switch over to drinking 2 litres of water a day without fail or thought.

I cut out all TV. I make it maybe two weeks before I slip into a day where I’m ill and watching a steady stream of shows. But instead of mindful days on end, gorging has made me ill, and I find myself switching things off to read instead. Or clean. Or, heaven help us, write.

I also like to wrap giant goals with one another, especially one that I am interested in achieving and another that would be nice to do.

I did a 30 day hot yoga challenge at the same time as Nanowrimo and managed them both. Yes, it resulted in a final day where I went to a yoga class knowing I was 10,000 words behind. And then 6 hours straight of writing. But it happened. And while 30 days of hot yoga sounds like a lofty goal – the premise is quite simple: attend a class each day. Routine, small wins. And when I realised I was going to win my yoga challenge, I approached the task of writing 20,000 words in 3 days with an attitude of ‘why not.’ If I can do 180 minutes of yoga in an evening, surely I can write.

I can also burn myself out, as the accomplishment of hitting 50,000 words and not writing again for 3 months teaches me. But falling into a pattern of yoga was straightforward after that.

But being able to split my focus and spin between goals, even when they require a simple daily action, helps them stay new and keeps me interested. It’s not for everyone. I wouldn’t recommend it for an NJ type. Nor would I suggest it to most S’s. Imagine you’re at the circus and a woman comes out, spinning plates. As she gets one going, she balances another on a stick and it spins, until she is keeping 7 or 8 plates balanced in the air, moving back and forth from one to the other. Are you impressed? Do you wonder how she does it? Are you worrying one will fall? Or are you taken by the idea that you want to try it?

Big goals require lifestyle shifts. They create black holes when you take yourself out of one space to occupy another. And if there’s nothing to fill the hole, you’ll find yourself sliding back within days.

You decide to give up your morning coffee, but you don’t think about what you’ll have instead. How long before that hole is filled again with Havana Roast? The idea behind small wins and daily routines is that you don’t leave these big gaping holes lying around. Much like a lunar eclipse, things move gradually. You start off looking at an arc of darkness on the edge of the moon, but nothing changes. Eventually you look up and realise the moon disappeared when you weren’t looking. That’s why spinning goals works for me. I jump from one to the other, keeping them all in motion, and that action helps slow my descent into the holes I’ve left behind. One idea sparks another and I’m leapfrogging holes in my pursuit of that lifestyle shift.

I would be lying if I said it always worked. Massive goals require massive energy and make burnout much more likely. But I have a cyclical pattern anyway, and this makes it easier to handle. This is another advantage of years of testing – I know myself. I know how to customise my habits and actions to suit how I use energy.

Focusing on giant goals and forgetting about the daily habits can have another advantage. Four years later, I still drink 2-3 litres of warm water every day.