Get what you want by working backwards

January 08 2013

Big Goals — the ones worth mentioning — typically fall into one of two categories:

1. You really, really want something.

Big Goal: I want to … travel around the world, be the company’s top earner, find a fulfilling relationship, double my savings account, change careers.

2. You want to change your behavior.

Big Goal: I am going to … lose weight, eat mindfully, stop smoking, be independent, make confident decisions, become more organized.

Big Goals sound daunting because they’re not easy (if it sounds easy, it probably isn’t a Big Goal). These kinds of goals often entail major life changes — career, relationship, health — and require concentrated focus and energy.

Lately, many of my meetings have involved some sort of goal setting tirade: how to set goals, frustration with achieving them, fear of failing, uncertainty. Since my days working as a probation officer, I’ve encouraged people to set Big Goals, ones that are both lofty and achievable. The trick to success?

Work backwards.

This may sound counterintuitive, but it works.

After you’ve identified and set your Big Goal(s), you must plan smaller, manageable subgoals that point you in the direction of your identified finish line.

Big Goal: I am going to get fit.

subgoal: I am going to start a food diary.

subgoal: I will pack lunch twice this week.

subgoal: I am going to explore different forms of exercise and find what I enjoy.

subgoal: I am going to schedule workouts into my calendar.

etc.

It’s not enough to write your dream on a board and walk away. Your chances of accomplishing Big Goals proportionally increase with the planning and thought you put into your game plan. Subgoals are essential if you’re looking to knock it out of the park.

Set periodic check-in reminders to help you assess whether you are on track. Think of it as a training plan: no marathoner wills himself past the finish line. Successful race days are the result of many mini-runs, planned efforts set with an end result in mind. There’s a reason step-by-step guides work. They take complex processes and break them down into approachable actions.

Big Goal: I am going to get fit. 

today: I am going to start a food diary.

this week: I will pack a lunch twice this week.

by next week: I am going to explore different forms of exercise and find one that I enjoy.

this month: I am going to schedule workouts.

etc.

Set Big Goals. Don’t cut yourself slack.

Just increase your betting odds by making a plan to get there.