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Goals are the way we can follow the wisdom, “begin with the end in mind” articulated by Stephen Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. A goal is different from a wish. If I say, “I wish I could make a million dollars this year,” I’d be fooling myself. But if I say, “I wish I could have a million dollars in ten years” this might not be altogether impossible.

Implicit in the stated goal is the first quality of a goal. It should have a timeline. Without a magic lamp, wishing for the million dollars means nothing. Wishing for it in x amount of years, now there is something upon which to evaluate the idea.

The second quality that makes a goal a goal is that it is realistic. I could switch jobs, cut back on expenses, save vigorously, invest as I save, and I just might save that million dollars.

Another quality that comes with my wishing for a million, but not always as clear with other goals, is that a goal must be concrete and measurable. Money is easy to measure. It comes with numbers already on it. But if I wish to be athletic or I wish to be happy, that is not so clear. How will I know when I’ve achieved it? I won’t. That’s what makes it a wish and not a goal.

We need to spell out what we want. What does it mean to me to be athletic? I can’t take Colin Kaepernick’s definition of what it means for him to be athletic. Our definitions must be different because of our different ages and states in life. What does it mean to be happy? Wherever you glean this wisdom from, it’ll have to become a belief you believe strongly enough go after it. For example, happiness for me means being wealthy…or being healthy…or giving of myself.

When we spell out our goals, making sure they’re realistic, putting them on a timeline and defining them in a way that is concrete and measurable, then we can make a plan.

The ultimate goal is the long-term goal: to reach a state of athleticism which means I can eat ice cream thrice a week without gaining weight and bike for 50 miles at a time in one year. You’ll have to take word for it that’s its realistic. One year is the time line. The ice cream is not the substance of the goal but an extra reward. Some times we want things like that. But the focus is the thing I can positively work on. I’ve indicated how many miles I want to bike.

In order to make my place I create short-term goals that build up to the long-term goal. What will it take for me to reach this goal? I will need to start riding my bike regularly. How regularly? I will need to start riding my bike four times a week at least. I can look online or talk to a personal trainer to find out what is the best regimen for riding my bike in order to reach my goal. Professionals in their field can help me determine a recommended pace.

But I think, four times? That’s crazy. I don’t have time for that. I have to find a way to make time. This process of identifying objections and obstacles is part of the planning process. Think of every possible obstacle: babysitting, laziness, boredom. Brainstorm ways to overcome obstacles. Babysitting: I could bike in the morning before the kids are up and my husband is home. Laziness: I could plan different routes to keep it interesting. Create your short-term goals based on the information you’ve gathered.

Work gradually towards your goal by using the timeline you’ve already established. If I’m going to bike 50 miles in one year, I want to be able to bike 25 miles in 6 months, 15 miles in 3 months, and so on. If I plan it out, write it out, it will be easier to see what arrangements need to be in place to make it all come together.

Becoming athletic is part of good health and part of personal development. There are other equally important types of goals: those related to professional or educational development. I want to graduate college by the time I’m 22. I want to move up to a supervision role in next three years. Setting goals can keep us focused, interested, making what could have become mundane and routine a challenge to overcome. Life and relationship goals are important as well, although they are more difficult to define. I want to be a good spouse. When? Immediately. It might take longer than that. It will be hard to know. Still that doesn’t mean we can’t keep it in mind by considering what qualities make for a good spouse/friend/parent and decide what we need to do. Perhaps it means cutting back on social media in order to focus more on the family. I can make a plan to do that gradually so I don’t binge when I can’t take stand anymore.

Lastly we come to the idea of the bucket list. The Bucket List is a 2007 film starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman on their road trip with a wish list of things to do before they “kick the bucket.” We can start considering these things now and setting goals to achieve them. If life is a road trip, these are the quirky stops along the way.

So whether your considering what you want your life to look like professionally, personally, relationally or for excitement along the way, make the steps you set down realistic, concrete, and on a timeline. Check your progress along the way. If you haven’t reached a short-term goal by the time you planned, there is time to reevaluate and see what needs to change. It’s part of the process. You have not failed if plans need to adjust.

So be sure when you step.
Step with care and great tact
and remember that Life’s
a Great Balancing Act.

Dr. Seuss

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