“The most reliable way to predict the future is to create it.” — Abraham Lincoln
Where do you see yourself in a year? How about five years? This dreaded question gives some great insight to your long term goals. Maybe you’d like to have finished a degree, started a family, or have a better financial situation.
Do you have a plan for getting to that one-year or five-year vision? If not, it’s time to set some long term goals. It’s not as scary or overwhelming as you’d think.
Chances are you already have some long term goals set, even if they might just feel like ideas you have in the back of your mind.
Sometimes they don’t always align with your current situation or they’re just vague enough to be difficult to create a plan for. That doesn't mean that they can't become clear, intentional, long term goals.
Here are some common long term goals that make resonate with you:
- Land your dream job
- Finish a degree
- Buy a house
- Save enough money for retirement
- Start a business
- Become an expert in your field
- Learn a new skill
- Move cities
- Pay off debt
- Meet a fitness or health goal
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle
- Conquer a fear
No matter where you see yourself in the distant future, there’s no time to start like the present. Here are some tips that experts swear by for setting a goal you likely won’t reach for months or years.
Make a plan
Long term goals require time, so it’s important to have a plan. When you're working on a long timeline, it's easy to think that you either need to lock in the next 5 years perfectly, or on the flip side, to think that you can wing it and figure out your plan later.
What you really need is to accept that you'll most likely land somewhere in the middle. You need a plan for the short term, a general vision for the future, and a willingness to be flexible and allow your plans to change along the way.
Think of your plan as an outline or a map. You need to know where you want to end up, but be open to seeing what route makes the most sense along the way.
Remember: you’ll be better off for starting now!
Even if you have a clear picture of what you want to achieve, writing through it can help create a practical plan that is fully engaged in your mind.
This will also help you track your progress. Think about what steps you’ll need to take to make your dream become a reality. What obstacles will there be? How will you define progress? What motivates you to reach this long term goal?
The premise of SMART goals is really helpful whether you’re planning in the short or long term. This free worksheet will help you make sure your goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time bound.
Next, break down your goal into more manageable steps. Long term goals can easily become overwhelming. After all, they’re long term goals for a reason. If they could be accomplished by tomorrow, you probably would have already done it.
If, for example, you want to build your savings account by $10,000, make a road map. Maybe you can save $200 per month right now. Begin by setting that smaller goal, which is more manageable and clear. From there you can start adjusting your weekly budget, think about how to get a raise at work, or create a side hustle for increased income and savings.
Short term goals are an important part of setting long term goals. They keep us on track and give a sense of direction and motivation, especially when we want to give up.
This means you should also keep track of your milestones! Long term goals can sometimes feel like pie in the sky, so it's important to take time to appreciate the work you’ve put in. A regular assessment of your progress will be helpful for your motivation and helping you to reassess your road map if need be.
Start by starting
No matter what your long term goal is, you have to start somewhere. After you’ve written down your goal, laid out a road map, and found some motivation, the only thing left to do is to begin.
If that means applying for that dream job or setting aside $50, start there. Do one small thing today to start making progress, and don't worry about how small it seems compared to your bigger, long term goal.
Even applying the 10-minute rule — committing to working on that long term goal for 10 minutes before you let yourself switch tasks — can have a positive effect. When it comes to long term goals, micro-progress is just as important as hitting the big milestones. Don’t overlook the small steps just because your dreams feel far out.
Psychology researchers even believe that these bite-size efforts can make you happier and more motivated.
“...ordinary, incremental progress can increase people’s engagement in the work and their happiness during the workday,” according to research published by the Harvard Business Review.
Playing the long term goal game
When investors talk about “playing the long game,” they often mean that they’re looking years, sometimes decades, down the road. Wealth is very rarely created overnight. Investing takes time, and if you’re patient, it pays off.
The same is true for long term goals, and we can even borrow some advice from the financial world. Just like investing, setting a goal and sticking to it are key. There may be setbacks, but don’t let it keep you down. Pulling money out of the stock market because of one blip would be unwise. Don't overreact to failure; accept it as normal and stay the course.
None of us know for sure what the future holds, and so long terms are always subject to change. Too rigid of a plan can be difficult to keep on top of, which is why micro-progress becomes so important.
Once you hit a milestone, reflect and ask yourself:
- How did reaching this milestone feel?
- Is this pace sustainable?
- What do I need to reassess? Changing direction isn't failure; it is reacting to what the facts of your situation are showing you. Be flexible!
- Does my next step still make sense?
With all things, we learn along the way, and allowing a little flexibility and room to adapt as we grow is vital when it comes to long term goals. The journey won’t always be easy or predictable, but a plan can make those curveballs much easier to maneuver.
The fear of failure can hold us back, but the unknown is worth it in the end when you’ve reached your long term goal.