Our parents always told us to think ahead. We tell our kids to think ahead. But how much do we as adults think ahead? Not just a week or a month down the road, but a year or two… or three or five. I’m not saying we all need a personal 10 year strategic plan ready for action at any given time, but I am saying that we need to put more thought into where we’re headed. We all want the best for ourselves and for our families, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into the way we live our daily lives. It’s very simple (annoyingly simple, in fact); the way we live day-to-day either helps or hinders us achieve where we want to be.
January is right around the corner along with its perennially-popular New Year’s Resolutions. Those resolutions are often short-lived and unfruitful because they focus on the here-and-now while missing the long-term picture. That said, having some goals and a plan is a good thing. So, how do you decide what’s worth pursuing? Here’s my two cents for what it’s worth:
A BASIC QUESTION: The most basic question I come back to time-and-again is, “What, for me, will have been a life well-lived?” Too many times we ask, “What is it that I want?” But when we only think about what we want, we limit ourselves to the present and frequently miss the long-term picture. By framing our day-to-day efforts in the broader context of “a life well-lived” we gain insight and purpose in the way we live our daily lives. By thinking about where we want to be once we’ve succeeded, we can work backwards as to how it can be achieved.
For me, a life well-lived is 4 things:
- consistent, quality time with my family;
- a career that’s rewarding, but not overwhelming;
- enough income to be relatively comfortable; and
- some time here and there to pursue my interests.
Obviously I have more specific goals under those 4 headings, but those 4 simple things give me a framework for how I live and make day-to-day decisions.
A “life well-lived” will be different for everyone, but you simply won’t accomplish what you truly want if you don’t consider what the meaningful goals in your life will have been from a long-term perspective.
YOU CAN’T DO IT ALL: We all want to do a lot. We want an extra graduate degree, or to pay off the mortgage early, or a lot more time with our family, or more time for our career… add it all up and we’d each need a 40 hour day to fit it all in. Be pragmatic. Think through what you’ll regret not accomplishing at some point in life. Take those items and do some serious soul-searching on what’s worth your time and what isn’t. Weigh it against what time you have and prioritize.
ONE STONE, LOTS OF BIRDS: What goal of yours will help accomplish many others? For instance, working hard now to become self-employed may help achieve your other long-term goals of having more time with family and being in a better place financially. It’s a short-term tradeoff of your goals for a long-term gain. Think about this, the order in which you tackle your goals matters. Each goal accomplished either opens of closes doors for what’s next.
THE IMPACT OF PLODDING: Say you want to finish your Master’s Degree, be self-employed, and lose 40 pounds. Add your current family and career to the picture and that’s not going to happen in just a year or two. But, what could you accomplish if you devoted even :45 minutes a day, 4 days a week to something? You fill in the blank. That time adds up and it’s a drip-drip-drip effect to accomplishing things long-term. And it’s not as hard as you may think to find that time. For instance, how much TV do you watch? Lose 1 show a night and you’ve found your time. Or get up :30 minutes earlier and whittle away at a goal.
You can’t accomplish something if you don’t start it, and even a little bit of consistently devoted time can pay big dividends in the long-term. Success is mostly about showing up. If you show up consistently you will accomplish something.
IT REALLY IS OK TO BE AFRAID OF CHANGE: I’ve come to the conclusion that people are afraid of success. It’s the prospect of success that keeps us going; but in the face of actual “so-close-I-can-practically-taste-it” success, we panic. “Why would someone pay me money to be their consultant?” “Why would anyone buy that product from me rather than someone else?” Don’t sell yourself short. It’s ok to be afraid. It’s an unknown. But the opportunity to reach your goals is a good unknown. If you have the true opportunity to take advantage of good change in your life than do it. It’s ok to be afraid, you’ll adapt!
As we approach a new year, don’t get stressed over resolutions. Instead, spend some time thinking back from a long-term perspective, order your actions accordingly, and discipline yourself to spend consistent time on your goals. You’ll be surprised what you’ll achieve!
Image by: Gözde Otman, SXC
Ben Murphy, founder of The Father Life, is an Adventure Athlete, Writer, and Wellness Advocate who used to be obese. You can ask him your questions at www.BenMurphyOnline.com. He lives in upstate New York with his wife and three daughters.