“I’m so annoyed I have to return all these bad wedding gifts,” my friend Erica tells me over coffee one day a couple weeks after her honeymoon.
I fidgeted in my seat while quickly trying to remember what the hell I’d given her. She and her now-husband had just had a lovely intimate garden wedding less than a month prior. What did I give her?? I couldn’t remember. Was it so bad that she was going to return it…whatever it was?
Buying myself some time to think, I asked, “What do you mean bad gifts? What did you get?”
She took a deep breath and dished on all the bad gifts she’d received—everything from pastel floral bed sheets to ugly ceramic vases to one overly graphic Kama Sutra book (the latter of which she didn’t have the nerve to return).
Laughing, I asked, “Where in the world did you register?” Right when the words came out, I remembered what had happened. Erica didn’t register for her wedding. In fact, when I received the wedding invitation, I had no idea what to buy her. In retrospect, I guess I could have asked, but I eventually decided to buy the happy couple a few nice seasonal cookbooks because I knew she liked to experiment with new recipes. (Whether or not she returned the cookbooks or not is still a mystery.)
“We didn’t register because there really wasn’t anything that we particularly needed. I thought people would just get us giftcards or buy something nice we could use. I guess I was wrong,” she said with a sigh. Now she was stuck returning a carful of junk.
Moral of this story: If you don’t know what you want, be prepared to get crap.
If you don’t declare exactly what you want for your wedding, be prepared to find a home for tacky vases, ten duplicates of the same spatula, and maybe a cheap pair of pink fuzzy handcuffs from a crazy aunt.
Here’s what you may not know: Your life works precisely the same way.
If you don’t decide exactly what you want in your life, don’t be surprised if you end up stuck in a day job, without much money in the bank, and clinging onto a lost dream that flew the coop a long time ago.
Yet, just like my friend who didn’t register for her wedding, it’s difficult to feel sympathetic for anyone in this situation, because that’s just what happens when you don’t declare what you want—you get crap.
If you’re okay with living any arbitrary existence from now until there’s a date on your death certificate, just put your head down, go to work every day, and keep paying the bills. Then you can accept whatever life throws at you—the good, the bad and the ugly. Just don’t be surprised when you take inventory ten years down the road and notice you haven’t progressed all that much.
This coming year, will you live 365 days or will you repeat the same day 365 times?
There’s a big difference.
If you’re not willing to settle for a repetitive hum-drum existence, it’s time to take control of your future. It’s time to declare what you want. And the most effective way to do that is to set long-term goals.
Just like you’d plug a destination into the GPS system on your Smartphone before you start driving, you have to plug your long-term goals into the GPS system of your life if you expect to arrive where you want. If you just take off in a random direction, who knows where you will end up? And how will you know if you ever get there if you don’t know where “there” even is?
Creating specific, thought-out, long-term goals will solve this problem.
Right now, take the time to map out your life by making a comprehensive list of your goals. Consider everything that you want to do, to be, to achieve, or to accomplish (not just business-related, but for your WHOLE life). Follow these five simple steps to get started:
#1: Create Meaningful Goals
Accomplishing your long-term goals is going to take time (years, in many cases), so you better be pretty darn passionate about what you want. Otherwise, you’ll risk wasting tons of time chasing after a lackluster goal and then falling short of achieving it when your enthusiasm wanes.
To be a successful goal-setter, you have to align your long-term goals with your values and your dreams.
When you think about each one of your goals, are you excited by the idea of accomplishing that goal? Do you feel strongly enough about it to pursue it for months or years to come? Are you interested in doing the work it takes to accomplish each goal?
#2: Write Down Your Goals NOW
To take control of your future, your goals have to be written down. Period. End of story. No excuses.
If you keep your goals filed away in your brain, don’t be shocked if life knocks on your door one day with: Special Delivery! Sign here to claim a sucky day job, terrible boss, and mediocre life!
Don’t limit yourself to just writing down goals for one area of your life. Consider all the important areas of your life—business, family, finances, education, health, lifestyle, etc. Use these questions to get your brain gears turning:
What work do you want to be doing?
What business goals/projects/undertakings do you want to accomplish?
How many hours a day and/or week do you want to work?
What do you want your personal relationships to be like?
Who are you spending most of your time with?
How much money would you like in the bank?
How much money would you like to be making?
What would you like to learn?
Where would you like to travel to?
What hobbies/activities do you want to pursue?
What do you want to do for leisure?
What do you want your health to be like?
As you answer these questions, don’t filter yourself. And don’t write down what you “think” you should want—write down exactly what you want (and what you’re excited about!), no matter how far-fetched it seems in the moment.
#3: Be Uber Specific
When writing your goals, be as specific as possible and write in the present tense. Don’t scribble down statements like, “I want to make a lot of money” or “I will have lost a significant amount of weight.”
What does that really mean, anyway??
Instead, say, “I am making $100,000 per year” or “I have lost 50 pounds”. These specific, present-tense goals take you out of the mindset of wishful thinking and into the successful mindset of goal-achieving.
#4: Include the Time Frame
Once you whittle down your list to the specific goals you’re passionate and excited about, add a time frame around those goals. Beside each goal, write down when you’d like to accomplish it—6 months? 1 year? 3 years? 5 years?
This will allow you to see the big picture of your life and prioritize your goals so you can begin focusing on the most pressing ones.
#5: Keep Your List Updated
Your list of goals is not set in stone. It’s a living document. Keep your list in plain sight (or near you) at all times so you can check in on your progress and make modifications as needed. Give yourself permission to add, subtract, update or modify any of your goals at any time (or even scrap the whole list and start over).
To receive what you want from life, you have to declare what you want. There’s no two ways about it. You have to plug in your goals into your life’s GPS system to ever have a chance of arriving at your destination.
Otherwise, you might end up forever chained to your awful day job with a pair of pink handcuffs…not a pretty sight.
After you’ve written out your goals, check out this article to learn how to effectively accomplish them: Screw Goal Setting, Practice Goal Mastery