It’s not always easy to picture yourself in six months, let alone years into the future. A great way to get started is to look at what motivates you right now. If you jump out of bed excited to play basketball that day, you can probably get excited about a dream career or an accomplishment that involves physical activity and teamwork. If your favorite part of the day is returning home to your family, maybe that’s the part of your future to focus on. If you’re well-prepared, you may be able to set a goal that’s just as fulfilling to work toward as to achieve.
Brainstorming Life Goals
Write down how you enjoy spending your time. Begin your brainstorm by writing down what you enjoy doing. Don’t limit yourself to activities or experiences that you think are productive or “worth doing.” The point of a brainstorm is to get down as many ideas as possible, and this list will be useful later on in the process.
Think of activities that motivate you. When do you go to bed excited for what you’re about to do the next day? What activities have you poured extra effort into, and felt it was worth it? Write a list of these activities, or specific events that fit this description. The goal here is to look at your life honestly, and see what actually excites you. Don’t include activities or projects you didn’t enjoy, even if you put in a lot of extra effort due to other motivating pressures, such as workplace demands or a relationship.
Add a bucket list to your brainstorm. This is the last idea generation step before you begin evaluating and narrowing down your options. Write down anything that comes to mind that you would like to do once in your life – a “bucket list.” These can be specific events, progressing in a skill, or even the kind of major accomplishment that might become a major “life goal.” Here are some ideas to get you started:
Traveling to a foreign country.
Flawlessly completing an activity you currently struggle with.
Talking to or working with a specific role model.
Find the themes in your list. Go through your entire list and try to figure out common characteristics between what you enjoy, what you find motivating, and what you look forward to. Consider how many items on the list involve physical activity and health, mental challenge, helping others, creativity and artistic expression, learning new skills and information, or spending time with family and friends.
You may be able to identify other themes of your list. If you notice a trend, write it down.
If money or career is a major theme, find the underlying motivation. Money and career goals are a recurring theme on many people’s lists, but they can show up for many different reasons. In order to set more specific goals, consider the following statements and decide whether each one describes your perspective:
You want economic security and safety for you and people dependent on you.
You want to be able to choose experiences and objects without being limited by money.
You desire influence, or you wish to be respected and treated well.
You have a specific hobby, business venture, or leisure activity that is limited by your current finances.
You enjoy or take pride in your current job, or look forward to a dream career. If this is true, add specific reasons for this, or specific tasks within your job, to your brainstorm.
Write down possible life goals focused on these themes. Now is the time to sweat out a list of possible life goals, hopefully armed with a more clear perspective on the kind of life that would motivate you most. Start a new list this time, although you may copy over some of your larger “bucket list” entries.
If a goal does not excite you, cross it off the list. Even a goal you have been considering for a long time may need to be set aside if you are no longer looking forward to it.
Avoid writing down “negative” goals, which focus on what you dislike instead of what excites you. For example, “stop getting into bad relationships” is less effective than “find a fulfilling relationship.”
Narrow the list down to just one goal. Don’t worry, it’s possible to achieve more than one goal in a lifetime. But for something as big as a life goal, stay focused on one at a time. Ideally, select a goal that is specific, achievable within ten years, and which you can make immediate progress toward. If you don’t have a goal that matches this description, you can pick any goal and use the advice in the next sections to break it down into more manageable parts.
Forming a Plan
Define a specific goal. It’s much easier to attain your goal if you know exactly what you are working toward. Your goal should be specific enough that you will know you’ve achieved it the exact moment it happens. For many goals, a way to measure your progress and eventual success can be very helpful. For example, the goals “become a runner” and “run faster” are too vague. “Complete a marathon” is specific, and lets you measure your progress as you are able to run longer and longer distances.
As another example, “get a career in animation” is a little too broad. “Become a permanent member of an animation studio” is better. If you have a specific type of animation or media you want to work with, including that detail in your goal is even better.
Make your goal attainable. If the task requires more than a few years to accomplish, or has been achieved by only a handful of people, it’s will be easy to lose motivation before you achieve it. Focus on a smaller goal instead, preferably one that starts you on that path, but is also an achievement in its own right.
If a difficult life goal has an education requirement, this can be an excellent place to start. Achieving a goal such as “earn a PhD in physics” or “earn a Spanish translator certification” might help you reach your far-off goal, but are also major accomplishments that can open up other opportunities.
Find out as much as you can about your goal. Research everything you can about your long term goal, and try to talk to people who have accomplished the same or similar goals. You might find there is more than one path to your goal, or there are obstacles or side goals you never even considered. This goal could change your life after all; it pays to be informed.
Break the goal down into milestones. Once you’ve selected a goal and done your research, list all the steps you need to accomplish along the way. For goals without a clear series of hoops to jump through, such as “run a marathon,” break it down into a series of smaller goals instead, for instance running 3 miles (5 km), then 4 (6.4 km), then 5 (8 km), all the way up to the distance of a marathon: a little more than 26 miles (42 km).
Consider setting deadlines. Some people find deadlines provide additional motivation for reaching your milestones. However, studies show they are also capable of harming the motivation that comes from your own passion, especially if they restrict your ability to direct your own efforts as you choose. You may wish to try working for a few weeks with deadlines and a few weeks without, and see which one works best.
Come up with a plan for achieving the first milestone. Focusing just on the first milestone, come up with a plan for working toward it. Ideally, this plan involves an activity you can work on every day, or at least every week, so you can form long-term habits.
If you aren’t sure how to accomplish your first milestone, it’s too difficult to be your first milestone! If you can’t identify the first step toward that goal, research the topic online or at a library, or talk to an expert in the area you’re interested in.
Set a start date at least a few days in the future. Mark a day on your calendar when The Plan begins. If it’s a goal you’re passionate and excited about, the building anticipation will help get you motivated and enthusiastic for the first step.
You can also use the downtime before the start date to tweak your plan, talk to people for advice, or acquire any tools you need to achieve your goal.
Achieving Your Goal
Start small and ramp up slowly. Achieving a life goal can take months or years of effort. While you may be enthusiastic at the beginning, don’t overstretch yourself. If you stick to a small amount of effort each day or each week, and forbid yourself from doing as much as you want to, you may be able to turn that impatient passion into a slow-burning energy boost. Increase the amount of effort you put in at regular intervals, such as each week, and you’ll give the habit a chance to form before you exhaust yourself. For example, if your eventual goal is to publish a novel, start by writing for just ten minutes every day, and don’t allow yourself to write more. Next week, write for fifteen minutes each day. Continue to ramp this up until you’ve reached a pace that’s productive, but not overwhelming.
Make yourself accountable. Tell your friends about your goal, including the specific plan you are holding yourself to. Find one or more people who will stay supportive and positive, but who are also comfortable pushing you further and telling you when you need to step up the effort. Ask them whether they can help keep you on track, and set up a regular check-in if possible.
If you aren’t comfortable sharing your goals with your friends, look for an online community for people working toward similar goals. If you can’t locate one that matches your goal, find a general purpose motivation community, such as the SuccessVibe forums or the HabitRPG habit-building game.
Check your progress regularly. Review your progress often, ideally once a week. Remind yourself of the milestone you are working toward, the eventual goal that you will achieve, and, most importantly, why you want to achieve it. Plan out the near future, considering whether there are any opportunities you can take, or busy periods during which you may need to take things slowly.
Inspire yourself. Motivation ebbs and flows, even for goals people feel passionate about. Read books or watch films about the efforts of people you admire, whether or not they are directly related to your goal. Close your eyes and visualize the journey you will take to reach your goal, each accomplishment along the way, and the end result.
Alter your plan if necessary. If you miss a deadline or don’t achieve as much as you would have liked one month, stay focused and don’t use it as an excuse to give up. However, if you are failing to make progress for several weeks or more, take a moment to consider these courses of action:
If you are losing motivation, but are still excited about your end goal, raise the stakes. Announce your next deadline publicly, or choose a big reward that you’ll only give yourself if you complete your progress goals for the next two weeks.
If you are no longer excited about your progress or your end goal, think about what’s changed. Repeat the exercise in the brainstorm section, and take a look at the “themes” that show up. Consider tweaking your goal, or coming up with an alternate course of action towards it, that better fits these. Talking to someone who has achieved the goal may help you find another path.
Reward yourself. After each session working towards your goal, give yourself a small reward, such as a cup of tea or ten minutes of a fun activity. When you reach a milestone, give yourself a more unusual treat, and let your friends know so they can congratulate you. And when you reach your life goal at last, the celebration will be once in a lifetime… until your next achievement.
Goals often change along with life experiences. Make a conscious effort to think about your goals regularly, instead of blindly following a path you decided on years before.
How to Achieve Something in Life
How to Figure out Your Life
Sources and Citations
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