When I was an undergrad, I studied Latin and Ancient Greek. One night after I had finished translating a particularly difficult passage I took a step back and read what I had translated. The last line in the passage was so shocking that I remember it to this day. It read “Count no man happy until he is dead.”
At first this seemed morbid and nihilistic, but after I put myself into the writers mindset I realized that this was a beautiful statement about achieving our life’s purpose. To the ancient greeks the purpose of human life is to achieve a state of “happiness” (Eudaimonia). In life we all have ups and downs, and despite how far we fall we have no way of knowing how high we will eventually soar. The true impact of our lives can only be measured once we are gone. We can fulfill our life’s purpose by constantly improving ourselves; by aspiring to be our best selves and encouraging that in others.
There is nothing more daunting than thinking about our highest aspirations. How can you possibly accomplish goals that take years or a lifetime? The key is to break down large goals into small pieces that take 15-30 minutes per day. I have seen this work right before my eyes. For the past few months my fiancee has been learning French with DuoLingo. He spends at most 20 minutes per day on it and he is already able to hold simple conversations. In a year he will be nearly fluent.
Breaking Down Your Goals
Step 1: Determine Your Long Term Goal
Think about your life and your career. What is one thing you want to accomplish in the next year or several years?
When setting this goal, keep in mind the typical aspects of a “good” goal; your goal should be:
However, you may have goals that are not time bound. For me, my goal is to write more. Since this goal isn’t time bound, I focused on the habits and “implementation intentions” I needed to develop in order to achieve it.
Step 2: Set Major Milestones
Once you have determined what your long term goal is, break it into milestones. If you want to achieve your goal in one year, set a milestone every month. These milestones should be like mini goals, and should also be S.M.A.R.T.
Step 3: Break Milestones into Actionable Steps
Now take your milestones and break them into actionable steps. Ideally you will have one, manageable step per day toward your goal.
Step 4: Determine the Habits Necessary to Achieve Steps
Some of the actionable steps you set may require you to develop new habits. For my goal of writing more, I first needed to develop a habit of writing. I did this by taking note of when my energy was highest and what the circumstances were when I was able to get writing done. I found that it was much easier for me to write early in the morning sitting on the couch with my laptop in my lap. Now that I know this, I don’t fight it; I don’t try to convince myself that I need to sit at my desk or in a coffeeshop in order to get work done. I just plop down on the couch and write.
Or, Use “Implementation Intentions"
Another great strategy for achieving goals, especially habit-based ones, is to use “implementation intentions.” These are simple If/Then statements that help you know how to respond when you encounter inevitable obstacles. Michael Hyatt writes:
“Let’s say your goal is to leave the office everyday at 5 pm to be with your family. But you have phone calls, coworkers coming to talk, last-minute meetings, and more. Every new request requires you to decide what matters more: leaving, or the urgent requests that keep coming up. It wears down your resolve, and suddenly you’re now walking out the door at 5:45.
To get past these obstacles, you could create a series of implementation intentions designed to address all the things that might keep you late. Here are four examples:
1. If I get a phone call after 4:45 pm, I will let it go to voicemail
2. If a colleague sees me getting ready to leave and wants to talk, I will let them know that I am happy to do so tomorrow but am expected home now.
3. If I get a meeting request for 4 pm, I will let the organizer know that I need to exit 5 minutes before 5 pm. I will also prepare my things for departure before the meeting.
4. If I have an email to answer before the end of the day, I will do so by 4:30 pm.
- The Two Most Powerful Words for Reaching Your Goals"
The trick is to think of all possible obstacles that you could face and to plan out how you will respond to these obstacles in a way that keeps you on track with your goals.
Start working on your long-term goals today with the help of my handy Goal Planning Workbook! This workbook will help you to take a goal and break it all the way down to daily steps and if/then phrases.
Be sure to get your Weekly Planner as well and schedule time in your day for your goals!