Every morning when I arrive in the office, I have a similar routine; I set my laptop down, grab a coffee, go through e-mails, and then check my to-do list. In my to-do list I have four different sections, high priority, medium, low, and long-term goals. Honestly, on the occasion that I would glance down at my long-term, I would get a bit disheartened to see I haven’t done anything to get closer to achieving these.

My long-term goals include skills I want to improve, any passion-project I want to get started, or something that is too time-consuming to fit into one of the sections where I actually tick things off. Writing these goals down was almost having the opposite effect on me, instead of helping me to do them, or acting as a method towards achieving them, it was a daily reminder that I’m not working towards these things I say want to do.

But fear not, I have found a method that has actually helped me start working towards these goals, without over-working myself, and it has stopped me from getting that wave of guilt when seeing my to-do list.

Write it down

If you don’t already write down your goals, let me start by asking you to start. It is proven that by writing down your goals, you are more likely to achieve them. If you’re not sure where to get started, there is a great article by Science of People linked here that can help get you started. This method helps you assess your current life across five different dimensions, you can rate yourself on how you are doing in these areas and use the results as a guide for setting up goals to improve upon them.

An example could be, as one of my personal passions, I would like to become a professional pianist.

Refine it

Most of us are driven by the need for self-actualisation; the need to fulfil our potential. Based on our talents and interests, or social influences, there is that one north-star we each aim for. Not to worry, if you don’t have your north-star yet, know that if you explore new areas and pursue different interests, you will find it.

When writing out a set of goals, it’s easy to get carried away. I mean, it takes a lot of work to get to that north-star right? If you want to make progress on your goals though, know that it’s incredibly important to be realistic! Being realistic doesn’t mean don’t aim high. Give yourself something to push your boundaries, but not so far that you won’t actually be able to achieve it, and then feel demotivated.

If you’re not familiar with SMART – it’s a great method for defining goals. If we take my piano example, saying “I want to be a professional pianist” might be a bit too much if I have no experience. Starting with “I want to learn to play the piano” seems a bit more realistic right? It is, but let’s follow SMART and make the goal more specific and measurable. A better goal that is realistic and follows SMART would be; In three months I’d like to learn two intermediate level piano pieces.

Do something now

This is the trick, the method that made me start tackling that long-term list which kept making me feel guilty. Once you have your goals set out, they’re clear, and they’re achievable; what can you do this very second to start making progress on this goal?

For example, if your goal is to go back to college, you can go online right now and do research on which college you would like to enrol in. If it’s to get more fit, you can find a local gym and sign up online. If it’s to learn a new programming language, go and find the best tutorial available.

Back to my piano example, I could start by doing research on piano teachers in my area. It’s a simple task, but that first step is going to motivate me to take more steps.

This first step towards your goal is going to give you a dopamine rush, that small sense of accomplishment is going to make you want to do more. It can be a building block, if for the rest of the week you don’t do anything more towards the goal, at the end of the week look at your goals again, and ask, what’s the next step that I can do right now? Keep going, and your steps will start getting bigger, before you know it you’ll be at the finish line!

Let’s look at the evolution of the piano goal:

  • I want to be a professional pianist
  • I would like to learn to play the piano
  • In three months, I’d like to learn two intermediate level piano pieces
    • Right now, I’m going to go online and find piano teachers in my area

Now we have a clear goal, and we know exactly what needs to be done to get it started.

Have you tried a method like this before? If not, give it a shot, and let me know how it goes! If you found this post interesting, you might also like Delaying Gratification for Big Goals

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