I’m really bad with long term goals. I know that they’re good to have and that they give one a sense of purpose, but I’m poor at creating them awful at sticking to them.
There are two traps that I tend to fall into.
- Moving the deadline backwards. This is all too easily done – if you want to achieve something “in 2 years” it’s all too tempting to retain the idea of “2 years” and forget about the start date and, more importantly, the end date.
If you’re going to achieve any sort of timed goal then you must set and stick to a deadline.
- Failing to plan. Having an idea of something that you want to achieve that is a long way off is a noble thing, but you must work out how you’re going to achieve it. If you don’t then you tend to drift haphazardly doing little bits here and there that are of no real consequence.
Then there is the goal itself. Unless I can see a major benefit for me then I find it hard to get motivated about something for which I have no passion. If I set a goal then unless it’s something that I really believe in or something that is going to make a profound difference to my life I’m going to have motivational problems.
Despite the above I have a pretty good track record of achieving goals, and how I do it is really quite simple.
Step 1 is to sort the wheat from the chaff. What goals are actually important to you? A common mistake is to set goals of things you think you should achieve rather than things that you actually want to achieve. The difference can be subtle: career advice might tell you that you should be looking for a promotion in 5 years but if you like your job, if you’re earning enough to fulfil your future plans then you heart isn’t going to be in it. If you have a passion for horse-riding and you really, really want your own horse but you can’t afford it then you have a good driver to get a promotion, but the goal here is not the promotion but the horse. The promotion (or change of job) is just the means.
So now you know what you actually want to achieve don’t be tempted to put a number of years next to it, what that does is to dull the passion – it allows you to think that you’re working towards your goal when you’re not.
Instead of setting time limits start planning. What do you need to do? What do you need to do it? Break down large tasks into their component parts, things that have a definite start and a definite end so that you can tick them off.
Consider risks and alternatives. If you’re waiting for something to happen and it doesn’t, or if something goes wrong, what are you going to do? What are the alternatives? How do you mitigate the risks?
Lastly assemble the tasks into a time line – how long will it take? What slippage are you prepared to put up with? This is often a great moment, when you look down and it dawns on you that the goal is not only achievable, but achievable much, much faster than you’d anticipated.