BABY STEPS: How to break big goals into small ones.

You know how a specific scene from a movie or line from a song can get stuck in your head? And those few seconds represents so much more than just a clip or a lyric?

For me, the phrase baby steps doesn’t just imply…well, baby steps, it comes with an entire explanation attached thanks to Bill Murray.

And Richard Dreyfuss.

It’s actually so hard for me to separate out my description of baby steps and their relation to process goals from the description below that I’m just going to include this one. For posterity.

Bob’s outcome goal is getting out of the building, but there are several specific process goals he has to make along the way to get there.

  • How will he make it to the elevator?
  • Should he take the stairs instead?
  • Et cetera, et cetera

When it comes to goals:

OUTCOME GOALS are the most common.

They encompass larger “project” type goals and are great as an endpoint for determining the effectiveness of your process goals. (i.e. Did you really go in the direction that you wanted?)

You can be a bit more vague about these goals if needed. Simply having a goal of winning the game is fine because your process goals will tell you HOW you’ll go about winning the game. Plus, winning is pretty specific and measurable anyway, right?

PROCESS GOALS are the most effective.

They help you break down your outcome goals into ‘next actions’ and allow you to evaluate where you can focus your efforts next to better reach your outcome.

Outcome goals and process goals are intertwined. You need an outcome goal to help you determine the process you want to use and you know if your process is working by how close you come to your outcome.


Take a minute to think through all the things that you want to accomplish and pick out an outcome-based goal that’s important to you. It doesn’t matter how big, unattainable, or scary this goal is. You’re about to make it a lot less terrifying.

#1 — What are all of the skills/tasks/etc. that need to be completed to reach this goal?

List them out. Even relatively small ones.

This is a common outcome goal that I see from teams: “We want to win the game.”

Great. Awesome. What does your team have to do to win the game?

Get lead jammer at least 50% of the time. Stay next to our fellow blockers. Switch from offense to defense more quickly. Guard the lines. Stay out of the box. And so on and so on and so on.

Really commit to list-making here. Write out everything until you literally cannot think of anything else.

#2 — Are any of the things you just listed ‘next actions’?

A ‘next action’ is something you can act on immediately. You don’t need to break it down further because it’s pretty clear what that specific skill or task is.

In the example above, none of the things on that list are next-actionable. Which is fine. It just means that I have to take each one back through the list making process again.

There’s a pretty easy litmus test for determining if something is a ‘next action’. If you don’t have to ask HOW then you’re ready for action.


Successfully execute an apex jump.

This goal is not a next action, right? Because HOW do I successfully execute an apex jump. What else do I need to learn how to do? Depending on where you are specifically with this skill there might be a lot of things you have to do before you can hit this goal or there might just be a few.

Practice apex jumping 100 times before/after every practice.

This is a next action. It’s specific to my outcome goal in that if I practice apex jumping that many times, I’ll probably get better at doing it. It’s measurable because all I have to do is count my practice jumps. And it’s manageable because all it’s saying is that I have to try.

You don’t have to land 100 apex jumps. You just have to practice them. And as you go through the process, you approach your outcome.

#3 — Put your ‘next actions’ in order.

You’ll likely notice that your ‘next actions’ or process goals lead to other process goals. That’s great! It means you’re always making progress towards your outcome goal.

Rearrange them so that you are conquering the most important next action first. Once you’ve experienced success and small wins with that action, then you move to the next one.

You’re essentially building a goal ladder.

You’ll climb to your goal by moving up the goal ladder one rung at a time. Sometimes you might be able to skip 1 rung, but you can’t skip 4.

#4 — Climb your goal ladder.

If you’re a visual person or you like checklists (like me!), I highly recommend re-writing your goal ladder on a piece of paper and hanging it up somewhere. Your first process goal (i.e. your first  ‘next action’) goes on the bottom.

Each time you complete a process goal, you check it off and climb closer to your outcome goal.

What goals help you do…

Usually, when I ask skaters to start setting goals to anchor their mindset and mental toughness to, they balk. It’s a long process. It’s not super sexy. And the return on investment seems particularly small.

After all, goal setting isn’t something that you can show to your team or your friends that proves you’re getting better/faster/stronger.

But that’s what goals help you do.

Use those mindset skills you’ve been practicing to actually take yourself through the process. It matters.

The goals you set will be the things you return to when you’re having a bad day or struggling with a skill. Your goal ladder will illustrate how far you’ve come and that you really CAN do the things you’re setting out to accomplish.

When you have your eye on the prize, it’s a lot easier to ignore the distractions.

Want More?

This blog post is an early edition excerpt from Train Your Brain to Shut UpA book developed specifically to provide athletes with the tools to improve their mental game. This journal gives you the tools to build an athletic mindset that supports—instead of sabotages —your performance.

Just like your physical training, your mental training is integral to your success in-game. And it takes practice and training to get it the way that you want you. With this journal, you’ll learn:

  • What mindset is (and what it isn’t).
  • Why (and how) to build an anti-anxiety pre-game routine.
  • To recognize your negative thoughts without letting them sink you.
  • Tricks to flip your thoughts into something less negative.
  • Ways to turn around “bad” practices or games.
  • A consistent way to PRACTICE your athletic mindset.

Focused journal prompts to work on your mental game all wrapped up in a package you can fit inside your kit bag.



About IronOctopusFitness

Online athletic training and nutrition coach, full-time mom, okay skater, and connoisseur of all things tea, chocolate, and roller derby. I'll help you unleash your inner athlete by building a strong, capable body that can withstand whatever life throws at you.

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