15 May 2017

Little ways to achieve big goals

From Jesse Mulligan, 1–4pm, 3:08 pm on 15 May 2017

When it comes to achieving big goals, sometimes a nudge is better than a push. 

Losing weight, drinking less, changing jobs; small steps are the way to make big changes according to   Dr Rory Gallagher.

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Photo: supplied

Gallagher, who was part of a team advising former UK Prime Minister David Cameron about the best ways to encourage people to make better choices, has now laid out his tips in a book he has co-authored called Think Small: The Surprisingly Simple Ways to Reach Big Goals

Speaking to Jesse Mulligan, he says when it comes to making changes on a personal level, people often have lofty goals and aspirations, but no clear plan to prioritise how they will get there.

“Whilst we can envisage this future where we have this new fantastic job or family, run a marathon, we don’t plan and prioritise to map out the steps we will take to get there.”

Gallagher says this is illustrated by many attempts to diet.

Rather starting with a general statement such as ‘I will eat better’, people need to make more specific goals, such as making a conscious decision to eat fewer calories on two days a week, he says.

Gallagher recalls setting himself a goal to go to the gym at least twice a week for three months. If he didn’t measure up to that, he had to buy and wear the football shirt of his enemy football team.

His ‘commitment referee’ was also an Arsenal fan and closely monitored his progress.

“We kept a note of that on the whiteboard in our office and I’m pleased to say that I was never forced to wear that shirt in the end.”

Putting his goal on a whiteboard was an important part of achieving it, he says.

“It just sets it up in a publically accountable way.”

The book focuses on seven steps to achieving goals, with three golden rules to each.

“It needs to be specific, it needs to be accountable, it needs to be public.”

The book gives some ‘behavioural scaffolding’.

“Even when we think about the goals we’re trying to achieve, end up focusing on a narrow set of goals, sometimes which won’t actually make us any happier.”

“The real key is to look at those seven steps and then think about, for your particular goal, which is the combination that works best for you.”

And while much of the book’s advice may seem like common sense, he says most of us don’t apply it nearly commonly enough.

Rory Gallagher runs a similar unit in New South Wales and he's the co author of a new book, Think Small: The Surprisingly Simple Ways to Reach Big goals

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