Tips and tricks for making and achieving long-term goals
July 14, 2011 9:30 AM   Subscribe

How to set and achieve long-term goals?

I would like to make a 5 year plan, then basically stick to it. I am not so good at that.

I get that to achieve long-term goals you basically to form short-term habits. And I'm actually pretty good at doing that. For example, I started working out a couple years ago (more seriously one year ago) and have really stuck with that and gotten pretty proficient at my sport at stronger and so forth. But I didn't start with any particular goal. I didn't want to lose weight or reach a certain milestone in my sport. I just wanted to get a habit of exercise and I did that. So what are some tools/websites/strategies when thinking about things like, buying a house in 5 years, or having a certain career in x years, or making a film or writing a book or whatever else requires steady effort and commitment over a period of years to achieve a specific goal?

posted by serazin to Grab Bag (9 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
The basic secret is to divide and conquer
posted by w.fugawe at 10:02 AM on July 14, 2011

Set up a Board of Directors for your life. Think about 3 people that you know and admire and ask them to join your "Board" and run it just like a company. Go ahead and develop your 5 year plan and then have monthly Board meetings to chart your progress.
posted by MoJoPokeyBlue at 10:17 AM on July 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

You say you are not so good at making long-term plans and sticking to them. Have you tried before? What went wrong?

Are you able to plan and execute projects that take, say, three months?
posted by stebulus at 10:48 AM on July 14, 2011

Take long-term goal and break it up into smaller, discrete, and concrete reachable short-term goals by asking yourself what it will take to do this thing over however long you want to reach it. This may cause you to revise your timeframe, but that's not a bad thing! Be realistic (but not too lax) about setting the short-term goals. Put these milestones on your calendar. Create a spreadsheet to track your progress. Check these documents everyday so this goal and the upcoming milestone are regularly living in your head. If you miss a milestone, complete it as soon as possible; don't let missing one deadline make you drop the long-term goal all together. And as cheesy as it sounds, remember to visualize yourself after meeting this goal. It will help keep you motivated.
posted by smirkette at 10:53 AM on July 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I suck at even making the long-term goals. I'll get a lot of vague ideas like, "I want to make a film!" or, "I want to buy a house!" and then I sort of fantasize for a while and forget about it. I need some bridge from what I'm doing now (nothing) to identifying and achieving those types of goals.
posted by serazin at 11:23 AM on July 14, 2011

1) Decide Long Term Goals
2) Get more information about long term goals. Are they feasible? Can you reasonably do them with your age? Level of education? etc? If the answer is yes, see below.
3) Make a list on the couple of things needed to get there.
4) Find information regarding the items of your list. Decide which to do first and which to do later.
5) Announce to the whole world that you will be working on said goal (puts more pressure on you, when others keep on asking you).
6) Start working on said list, plan for set-backs and how to handle them. Setbacks WILL happen.
7) Conquer all items on your list.
8) Goal completed (repeat and rise)
posted by The1andonly at 11:43 AM on July 14, 2011

I'm a big fan of inferring and enhancing your long term goals from your current activities. The idea is that you actually DO have long term goals, but they're in the background of your consciousness. If you mine your current activities and project them into the future, perhaps a larger picture will begin to take shape. For instance, there is an implicit goal in your decision to develop an exercise habit. Clearly, good health has value to you going forward. The trick is to couple the overly general idea of good health with something that has personal significance to you. Like you, I started working out because it was a "good idea". As I found my workouts favoring running, I find myself with the goals of a runner.
Basically, you don't need to invent your goals, you need to discover and refine the ones you already have.
posted by Carlo at 3:28 PM on July 14, 2011

Two suggestions:

1. To set your goals, work backwards. Imagine yourself 10 years from now, or 20. Give yourself freedom to really imagine a cool, fulfilling life for yourself. Where do you live? What do you do all day? Who shares your life? Be specific.

When you're done, pick a few of those characteristics (maybe "living in a cool old farmhouse in France," "working as an intermediary between amazing textile artists and buyers for their work," "hanging out with a small group of local arty types") - no more than 5.

Those are your goals.

You probably know that your next step is to figure out what it takes to get there, and break those plans down into small, doable, discrete steps.

Since you're good at forming new habits, form a habit of doing something toward each goal each week. Mondays, do one thing toward the where-you-live goal. Tuesdays, do one thing toward the what-you-do-all-day goal. You can always do MORE than that, but make sure you do one thing toward each goal each week.

After you've solidly formed that habit, add in a weekly check-in with yourself: how are things going? Are you happy with the progress you're making? Do you feel the urge to spend more time, or less time, on a particular goal?

If that all works well for you, think about reading Getting Things Done. It has lots of detail on refining that kind of system.

2. Be aware of the difference between giving up on something because it's a drag and giving up on something because you're naturally changing directions.

I love to plan and set goals. 5-year plans, 20-year plans, plans for the next 5 minutes - I've got 'em all. But my life hasn't turned out the way I planned - and that's a GOOD thing. I really like my life, even though I'm neither a rock star (mid-teens fantasy plan) nor a professional translator/interpreter (my plan when I went to college). If you plan to be a sky-diving instructor and, halfway through your certification, discover you're developing a talent and passion for teaching math instead, THAT'S OKAY. You're allowed to change course whenever it makes sense. Of course you'll want to seriously evaluate whether your new direction really is the right one for you, but don't make the mistake of sticking to something just because it was the plan.

Plans keep you moving and learning. A new plan can do that just as well as an old one.

Good luck!
posted by kristi at 6:09 PM on July 14, 2011 [6 favorites]

I suck at even making the long-term goals. I'll get a lot of vague ideas like, "I want to make a film!" or, "I want to buy a house!" and then I sort of fantasize for a while and forget about it.

Well -- completely seriously -- there's nothing wrong with fantasy. It's just not the same thing as a genuinely desired vision of your future. I've daydreamed about being a filmmaker too, for example, though I'm pretty sure I'll never be one. When I think to myself, "Gee, wouldn't it be neat to make movies -- I could make the kinds of movie I always want to watch but so rarely see. Kind of a hybrid of Die Hard and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. I guess they wouldn't be very popular, but maybe I'd develop a cult following...", and so on, it kind of sounds like I'm imagining a future for myself. But I'm really just daydreaming. (One sign is that, in this little story I'm telling myself, the notion of "making a movie" is entirely abstract.)

It's no good taking something whose proper role in your inner life is a fantasy and trying to make it an actual goal. (Especially if you have a lot of such ideas, as you say above -- they can't all be made into goals, right?) Next time you fantasize about owning a house, for example, being all like, "I want to buy a house, and THIS TIME I MEAN IT *exerts willpower*" is not going to be effective. The question is exactly that: do you mean it?

I find that kind of question hard to answer. It seems like it should need merely a moment of introspection -- "Do I really want to buy a house? Well? Do I?" -- but somehow it doesn't work that way. Not for me, anyway. What does work is lots and lots of reflection, perhaps starting with having the fantasy and monitoring it. What are you imagining owning a house would be like? What satisfaction does it give you? Are you imagining an improvement in your day-to-day experience? Is serazin, home owner, a different person than serazin, renter? Eventually, I find, this kind of reflection clarifies what I really feel about owning a house (or whatever). Maybe it's really a fantasy which I indulge in to handle my frustration with some aspect of my current living situation. Maybe my acculturation included associating the idea of owning a house with adulthood or being a full citizen or some other valued personal trait. And maybe, just maybe, it's really important to me, and an actual goal.

If you get to that point, where you have decided that yes, you really do want to own a house (or whatever), then I think it will be much easier to proceed. You will, for one thing, then have a good foundation for being motivated to do the hard work of figuring out how to get there, and the hard work of actually doing it.

tl;dr: Find out what you really want. How? By thinking about it. When you know, then do it.

But I don't really know what I'm talking about. I do know that there are quite a few books on the subject. You might try Mark Forster's, available online; I haven't read it, but I find he's pretty sharp on the psychology of day-to-day task management (in other books, and on his blog), so maybe he has good insights on long-term goals too. (A glance at the first few pages makes me think he uses dialoguing as a way to do what I call "reflection" above.)
posted by stebulus at 9:15 PM on July 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

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