Setting goals is easy…… keeping them not so. I think the biggest mistake most people make is to set their goals too broad too big. This has always been a mistake of mine and the cause of some of my biggest failures. Not that I like to admit to failures….. let’s just call them deviations from the goals. When you set your goals too broad or too grand they become that much more difficult to achieve.
It is easy to say “I am going to sail around the world” or “I’m going to build a 50 foot sailboat” Not that it is bad to set big goals far from it, this is a very good thing. But the mistake I have made, and many others along with me, is to not narrow the big goals down. If you are to accomplish the BIG goal you will have to first accomplish a pile of mini goals first.
There is a lot written about goals by the so called success gurus of the world and what they have to say is pretty basic. Of all the methods I do like the “SMART” approach best.
Setting specific measureable and attainable goals is good and helpful but I think there is some information left out here. And that is that goals are and time tables and life for that matter are not static. Things change, we change, and everything around us is always changing. We live in a world of chaos and goals have to flow with the chaos around us if we are ever to see them come to reality.
You cannot stop change anymore then you can stop time. You just have to continuously adjust to change like a helmsman adjusts to the changing wind and sea conditions. The key is to adjust to the change to give yourself a mechanism to adjust to the changes. The best mechanism I have found are mini goals.
If we set the goal to say “sail around the world” and then say we are going to set the time table for this goal we are off to a good start. But what happens when we fall in love, or have children or get sick or lose our job or any number of things that happen along to detour us from our goals. This is the biggest reason I think people fail in their goals. How many people do you know that when you ask them what they wanted to do in collage are doing that now? Very few I am sure. It’s not that they made a conscious decision to do something different; it’s just that little things in life just started moving them away from the direction they thought they wanted to go. Like the unseen ocean currents that can take us miles from where we thought we were. And before you even realize what has happened you are hopelessly off course.
The problem is many of us set our goals too big and then just leave it at that. “I’m going to sail around the world in 10 years” that sounds pretty specific, sounds like it should be fairly reasonable. You start a savings and set about work on that goal. For a year or 2 or 3 everything goes fine, then one day something sets you off course a bit, you meet a love or you decide to buy a house. Slowly the currents are moving you away from your goal. You do not even really notice at first you just drift along with the flow. Then one day you wake up and the goal has become a distant island drifting over the horizon, you can still see it but it is no longer directly ahead of you. You tell yourself you will adjust course but somehow it never gets any closer. The currents are stronger than you thought.
When I look back and understand the things I have failed at and those I have succeeded at I begin to see a pattern. It’s not that I failed to set goals or even that the goals were too big or too hard to achieve. It is that they were not backed up with mini goals. Any goal is like a funnel it requires a bunch of smaller goals poured in for it to become real and remain on course. The smaller goals also allow you to adjust for the constant changes reality throws at you.
After spending many years restoring project boats and managing major repair projects I have learned what it take s to accomplish the big goal. You have to attack any big project or goal one step at a time. I have always loved the old saying “if you are going to eat an elephant you have to do it one bite at a time.” No truer words have been spoken. No matter what your goal, you have to break it down to manageable bites or mini goals as I like to call them. If your goal is big and broad and going to take many years, you have to break it down into pieces so small you are doing something every day that will bring you closer to the end goal. This is the mistake I and many others have made, the goal is big and years off so we just tuck it in the back of our minds and carry on. But unless we are slowly working on mini goals we might never get the big goal accomplished.
Time tables are helpful as well. You need some way to keep tabs on where you are and how far you have to go. Time tables also help you avoid the “I will do that later” syndrome. Even the mini goals should be set to a time table. Finish the varnish on the door by Friday; get the boat in the water April 1st and so on. It is so easy to say “I have time I have 2 years to finish that” but if you know you have to finish the varnish job by Friday you may just skip that football game and get it done. I think it is amazing how easily we talk ourselves out of doing something. The problem is if we are truly going to achieve the big goal we have to talk ourselves into doing the mini goals!
You must also complete as many mini goals as you can to get ever closer to the big goal. Even small projects require many mini goals. Take the simple task of changing the oil in your engine. Mini goal #1 buy the oil. Mini goal #2 buy the oil filter, Mini goal #3 get a bucket for the waste oil. You get the point one bite at a time. This may seem simplistic for this task as you do these things without even really thinking about them but it is a good example of how any goal needs to be attacked. Bigger goals will need more mini tasks but the principle is the same no matter how big the goal or project is. One step at a time, one foot in front of the other, but never stop walking or you will not get any closer, the goal will remain a distance vision on the horizon.
A goal big or small is not something you say you are going to do and then move on. If you are to succeed it must be a state of mind. Something you think about and work on every day. File it in the back of your conciseness and ask yourself at the end of the day “what did I do today to bring myself closer to my goal?” It must always be in the back of your mind as you go about your daily activities. The bigger and harder the goal the more this is true. You have to become one with the goal so to speak, make it part of who you are.
So in the end if you are to achieve your goals you need to set your goals according to the SMART system but then continue by breaking them down to mini goals and even those mini goals will have mini goals if your project is big. Set time tables and try to stick to them. But all the time understand that life is chaos and you will need to constantly adjust to changes around you. Stay focused keep the steps moving even if the goal is far off on the horizon. Never stop moving towards it however slow. Make progress every day no matter how small. Once momentum is lost it can be hard to get started again. Make your goals a part of who you are. Keep them in mind with everything you do, become the goal. If you keep your goals in mind you will find yourself subconsciously doing things to bring you closer to them. Think small to complete the big. Elephants are big but CAN be eaten one bite at a time.