The Power of Setting Achievable Goals: How Lowering the Bar Leads to Success

Exploring the transformative power of setting achievable goals, this blog post delves into the art of breaking down grand ambitions into manageable tasks to foster progress and reduce stress

The Power of Setting Achievable Goals: How Lowering the Bar Leads to Success
The journey is worth enjoying. Image generated using DALL-E

Setting the bar lower often enables progress and helps avoid needless stress. Let me tell you why.


Progress requires action. And action requires clear goals and objectives. Having big and hairy goals is beneficial, as it creates a vision, brings clarity, and sheds light on the path ahead.

As Gate's Law states:

Most people overestimate what they can achieve in a year and underestimate what they can achieve in ten years

But long-term goals, by definition, take a long time to achieve. They require a ton of efforts. Those will be spread long periods of time. It's worth noting that putting a lot of pressure on yourself or your team to make a ton of progress in a short time is rarely a good idea...

If you want to make progress, you need to set the bar lower when you're down to the day to day work level. This is because setting the bar too high tends to be overwhelming. It leads to doubt, fear, procrastination and, as a result, inaction. This is a trap that many fall into, and it kills their ability to make tangible progress.

Let's dive into the importance of setting manageable goals and the profound impact they can have on your journey toward success.

Understanding the value of Smaller Goals

Lowering the bar means working on small chunks, one at a time. Even if you have a big and hairy goal, there are always opportunities to decompose the work to be done in small chunks in order to make progress.

Progress doesn't need to be spectacular. All that matters is that it moves the needle forward, even a tiny bit.

For instance, if you want to write a book, then it can feel daunting at first. But working on a book is a process. It takes time. And the work required can (and really should!) be spread over a long period of time. That big objective can be decomposed in many small, but meaningful steps.

Supposing you're working on a non-fiction book, you need to:

  • Brainstorm about your target audience
  • Identify their pain points, the problem you want to tackle, and how you're going to help them solve it
  • Write a sales copy
  • Brainstorm about the topics to cover and content to include
  • Create a high level outline (i.e., think about the chapters and sections)
  • Prepare a marketing plan
  • Iterate over the outline to go deeper and deeper into the subject matter
  • Write one section at a time
  • Write a summary of each chapter
  • Edit each chapter
  • Proofread everything
  • ...

The above is a simple Work Breakdown Structure (WBS). That structure is key, as it helps to identify the small wins that are within your reach. As you tackle each item on that initial list, you can continue lowering the bar. Instead of having one big and hairy goal (i.e., writing the whole book), you need focus on many well-defined and accessible tasks to execute.

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Why Focusing on Less Leads to More

You need to keep lowering the bar to get to a point where the tasks you identify can be completed in a few days at most, and ideally in a few hours. The smaller the chunks the better. Although, each task should remain meaningful. Each task should bring you some satisfaction when you complete it. Don't lower the bar below that point. Otherwise it will be hard to motivate yourself to work on those. You need regular dopamine hits.

Lowering the bar doesn't mean setting your sights on mediocrity; it means recognizing the power of incremental progress

Lowering the bar is also about managing your expectations. Instead of hoping for exceptional and/or lifechanging results, you need to hope for less, and be happy about each step you took forward. That way, even if the end results are not epic, you will not be disappointed. Anything better will be a good surprise, making you happier. Instead of thinking "I still need many months to complete this book", you can instead think "Cool, I've made great progress on the first chapter".

Along the way, you also get to make smarter choices to move forward. When you only look at the big and hairy goal, you can make decisions that negatively impact your progress (e.g., a more complicated path). When you instead focus on smaller problems, you can make choices that help you move faster. The strategic and tactical views are complementary. It's always useful to think about the end goal, but it's also useful to think about the reachable small wins.

From Complex Goals to Approachable Tasks

Lowering the bar makes complex goals much more approachable. In the previous example, instead of writing a book (which will remain your actual end goal), you will work on paragraphs and sections, which will end up forming chapters, and ultimately a complete book. Making work approachable has tons of positive side-effects. Small wins will keep you motivated, and will make it easier for you to celebrate your progress and feel proud.

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Boosting Confidence and Reducing Fear of Failure

As you complete small chunks, assuming those are still meaningful, you get the satisfaction of making actual progress. That progress helps you move towards your goals in a meaningful and tangible way. Those small wins will boost your confidence. This will keep you motivated, and will help you keep going. Each step will reinforce the belief that you can actually achieve your end goal, which will help you show up every day and keep pushing forward.

Encouraging Experimentation and Creativity

We all despise and fear failure. From the youngest age, we're all taught that failure is bad, that it is nothing to be proud of. In reality, that is completely wrong, and education systems should actually help us celebrate failure. Unfortunately, we're not there yet. Because of those, we all end up with a deeply rooted fear of failure. The more ambitious our goals are, the more frightened we tend to be. This is also linked to self-confidence and to our belief systems. Ultimately, this leads to procrastination and pushes us to give up on our dreams.

Lowering the bar and our expectations helps us to focus more on the path and less on the distance of the final goal post. When you decide to climb a mountain, each step counts, and each step looks manageable.

When you focus on small wins, you get to discover sub-problems you can either simplify or ignore. For each low-level task, there are often many ways to move forward.

The best task is the one you can skip entirely, without affecting the grander scheme of things.

When the bar is set lower and when you focus on making meaningful progress, step by step, you get to focus more of your attention on how to more forward more effectively. This encourages experimentation and fosters creativity.

As your attention is focused on a narrow context, you get to explore each separate sub-problem without being burdened by the "noise" of the whole problem space.

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The Role of Good Habits and Solid Routines

When you remove the burden and the stress of the big and hairy goal, motivation is generally not an issue anymore. All you need to reach the end goal is to show up again and again, enjoying your progress. In turn, showing up is all about developing sane habits and a solid routine.

Sane habits will help you avoid procrastination and behaviors that tend to lower your overall productivity (e.g., not sleeping enough, not eating well, etc). On the other hand, a solid routine will make it a breeze to get back to work, create or restore the mental context you need and to get into the zone, doing your best work.


Lowering the bar is not about diminishing ambition, but about redefining the path to success. By focusing on achievable goals and celebrating the small wins along the way, you can reduce stress, boost confidence, and make your dreams feel more attainable.

Remember, the journey to achieving your biggest dreams begins with a single, manageable step

That's it for today! ✨