66 Day Challenge Tip #1: Set Bigger Goals, Focus on Smaller Habits

Jan 23, 2020 | The ONE Thing | 0 comments

We are the sum of our habits. Behind our success and failures is a collection of routines that powers our results. And while many of these routines are built unconsciously, the ones that we build with intention can propel us toward extraordinary success.

This is where taking a 66 Day Challenge can transform your life.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably aware of what a 66 Day Challenge is. For the uninitiated, in The ONE Thing we discuss it takes 66 days (on average) to build a new habit. This means that at any given moment you are only a couple of months away from kicking an old habit to the curb and putting a new one in its place. By taking a “challenge,” you’ll make a game of keeping track of your daily progress as you work toward transforming your habits. It’s both fun and effective.

It’s been almost seven years since the release of The ONE Thing. Since then, we’ve learned a thing or two about how to successfully navigate the 66 days it takes to build a habit. One of our biggest realizations is that the success of a 66 Day Challenge can be determined before you’ve even started.

Goals, Take the Wheel

Years ago, in my healthier days, I focused on and successfully built a habit of working out three days a week. It took me well over 66 days, but after sticking with it, I had constructed a nice routine for myself that left me feeling fit and healthy. Then, later in the year, I decided that I wanted to do more. I thought of something I had never been able to do and set my sights on it: I wanted to do ten pullups.

I continued to work hard and a few months later, I achieved that goal. But something didn’t feel right. I felt like I hadn’t achieved anything at all. By all means, I was stronger, but I felt like the same person I was before I had set the goal.

That’s when I realized two things:

  1. I didn’t really know what a goal was.
  2. I made the mistake of beginning with an end goal that was too small.

There are goals and then there are goals. Know what I mean?

When a goal is set, we’re recognizing that there’s a gap between who we are and where we want to be. It’s an acknowledgement that our habits aren’t working for us—and may actually be working against us. So, we make a commitment to change our habits in a way that will push us in the right direction.

Doing 10 pull-ups wasn’t the large end goal I needed. It was simply a continuation of a trajectory I was already on. It was the equivalent of setting a goal to travel to Hawaii while sitting on a plane, mid-flight toward Hawaii. Even though I hadn’t done those pull-ups yet, I had, in spirit, already accomplished them because of my previously established fitness habits. I had the routine already in place, all I needed was time for them to take me where I wanted to go.

This was only half of the issue. The other half was that the original goal I had set for myself was too small. My one and only goal was to build a habit. That was it. By setting my sights too low, I left myself without much room to grow. Accomplishing that goal didn’t line up any future dominoes for me to achieve. Once I was exercising three times a week and doing pull-ups like a champ, I didn’t have anything larger in mind that I wanted to strive for.

Ideally, when you accomplish one goal, it should naturally snowball into an equally challenging task. The lesson I had learned was that in order to grow, I needed to set a BIG goal that would stay ahead of me and continue to guide better habits and results.

Our goals determine our habits and it’s our habits that determine our outcomes. That’s why, when it comes to succeeding in your 66 Day Challenge, the first step is to set an end goal that you can grow into. Not one that you’ll grow out of.

Big Habits Have Small Beginnings

If you’ve done a good job of setting a BIG goal for yourself, you’ll be naturally inclined to want to do everything at once. And when it comes to habit building, that’s a recipe for disaster.

Don’t get ahead of yourself. The adage that “the first step is the hardest one to take” is a bunch of malarkey. The hardest step to take is the second one—especially if you make the mistake of skipping the first.If you have any control over the journey ahead, the first step should always be the easiest step to take.

Like big goals, big habits come packaged with a number of smaller habits that are prerequisites. In order to build your ultimate desired habit, it’s likely the case that you need to build a number of smaller habits that will support that big habit first.

For instance, if you want to build a habit of waking up at 5:00 AM, but you have a habit of staying up until midnight every night, what habit should you focus on building? Waking up early or getting to bed early? And before you go to bed early, you may need to focus on the tasks that allow you to succeed at an early bedtime, like turning off your electronics ahead of time or focusing on the things that will help you wind down in the evening instead of rev you up.

Sure, you might set your alarm for 5:00 AM without doing those first steps. And you may wake up at your newly determined time after getting fewer hours of sleep than necessary seemingly alright at first. New experiences are invigorating, after all. But how well will you fare after getting less sleep than you need for three nights in a row? Four? Five?

At some point, you’re going to snooze your way back into an old habit. In order to succeed, you’ll have to take a step back and go smaller.

Going small isn’t always easy, but it’s easier—I can promise you that. Studies have shown time and time again that small goals—like those built around habits—propel us toward long-term successes. While it might not have all the glory wrapped up in the habit you eventually hope to build, it will serve as a platform for that habit to stand on.

So, before you begin your 66 Day Challenge, have a little brainstorm session.

Challenge your existing routines and do your best to mark any potential, habitual land mines that are waiting to cause you to fail. And even then, don’t be afraid if you fail anyway.

It’s sometimes the case that you won’t know your eyes have gotten bigger than your stomach until you try to take a bite. You might feel like you’ve failed your challenge if that’s the case. But in our eyes, by coming to that realization, you have, in fact, experienced your first success with a 66 Day Challenge.  Using this knowledge, you can then revisit your ultimate goal with a new approach.

The greatest, smallest habit you can build for yourself is to build a habit of failure. After that, the habit of getting back up and pursuing the next, smaller piece of success.

It may sound a little cheesy, but it’s true. With those two habits in hand, you’ll always find yourself being steered in the direction toward eventual success. All you have to do is to keep on challenging yourself, 66 days at time and you’ll get there.


If you haven’t gotten started on your own 66 Day Challenge yet, today’s a great day to start. Go ahead and download the 66 Day Challenge Calendar to keep track of your progress. Then, join our ONE Thing community to receive the support you need to build better habits!