Last week I had the rare opportunity to meet one of the top three world’s futurologists (as it turns out “futurology” is a profession!). This highly successful man gets paid $20,000 by such corporations as IBM and BMW for making a 45 minute speech on the future of innovations. We started talking and he said a very curious thing, “People are predisposed to think in two categories: short-term and long-term perspective. I get paid a lot of money, not because I am smarter than most of the innovation consultants out there, but because I am one of the few specialists who makes mid-term predictions. ”
This phrase for some reason stuck with me and made me notice something I have never thought of before. In goal-setting all the “experts” advice us to break goals in two categories: short-term goals and long-term goals. We have all accepted this as a given, because it makes sense to us. And yet how many of us continuously underestimate how much time it will take us to achieve our goals and later feel frustrated about not being able to meet our deadlines?
Maybe the real problem lies in the system itself and not in our inability to plan our actions steps correctly?
Let me explain this…
Short-term goals are generally defined as those that may be achieved in one year or less. While short-term goals are easy and motivating there are a few serious problems:
1. We often confuse short-term goals as tasks on our to-do lists. As a result we set too many of them and later feel overwhelmed and stressed out.
2. Our short-term goals are often competing with one another. For example, you may want to pay off your credit card debt, save money for a car down payment. But at the same time you dream about a two week vacation in Thailand and you also know that you need to buy your mom a Birthday present. These goals do not seem contradictive, but they all compete for one of your most important resources – money.
3. Short-term goals are fragmental. Anything that is worth achieving requires more than one mini-goal. You will get “nowhere” if you only concentrate on “now” and “here”. In order to accomplish something truly meaningful and be able to track your progress, you have to zoom out and see the bigger picture.
Long-term goals, on the other hand, help us see beyond today’s work and remind us that there is greater purpose for the time we are spending on our goals today. They usually require 5-20 years to achieve. The difficulties most of us have with these goals are obvious:
1. Long-term goals are far away in the future, which makes it hard to stay focused on them and easy to procrastinate.
2. Long-term goals are overwhelming. Long-term goals often are our most meaningful and important goals. But they require sustained effort and continuous motivation over a LONG period of time. Such life-long goals may seem overwhelming for most people. That is why motivational coaches suggest breaking them into smaller “baby” steps. This helps to get going, but to me a list of one million baby steps looks just as intimidating as a long-term goal by itself.
3. It is hard to make realistic deadline estimations. We cannot predict or plan ahead all the events, problems, opportunities that we will face over such a long period of time. Our estimated deadlines for most long-term goals are hopeful guesses at best.
4. Long-term goals require disciplined commitment and ongoing motivation. Disciplined commitment springs from a strong desire. A strong desire begins with a positive attitude and the belief that you can accomplish what you strive for. Unfortunately, it is very hard to keep a positive attitude and a high level of motivation over the course of 5 years.
5. We tend to be overly optimistic when we set long-term goals. Many say that they plan on retiring early, or tripling their income, or opening their own highly successful company. It is easy to imagine these things 5-20 years from now and hope that somewhere down the road we will figure out a way to get them. However, if you have no clue how to do it now, what is the guarantee that in a few years time you will know it?
We either make specific plans for the near future, because it has almost immediate impact on our life (“spending holidays with our parent”, “asking for a raise”) or dream about something that will happen in 5-20 years (“Retiring to Florida”, “becoming a certified lawyer”, “having two kids”, “living in a big house”, “writing a book”). What happens in between 1 year and 5 years remain a grey area for most people.
Unfortunately, concentrating solely on short-term and long-term goals is just like walking and looking at the ground under your feet or taking binoculars and admiring the landscape 5 miles ahead of you. If you do not see what is right in front of you, you risk bumping in to a wall.
Mid – term goals combine both: long-term vision and short-term motivation. I have noticed that a lot of my readers are already intuitively setting one to three-year goals. You may be doing it too. If so, good for you. You are ahead of most innovation experts!
If not, try this approach!
Think of what you would like to achieve in a one – two year period? Make sure that your goal is challenging enough to push you slightly out of your comfort zone, but realistic at the same time, so you will not be setting yourself up for a failure.
Write it down!
Your Deadline is 31st of December, 2010.
“Go as far as you can see, and when you get there you will see farther.”– Orison Swett Marden