When I made the decision to move to Japan, I did it with all the adrenaline and passion of a young 20s-something with big ambitions and the desire to turn them into reality. When I packed my bag, I was making a conscious decision to leave behind any and every item that might get in the way of me achieving my dreams. Standing before the security gates at the airport before flying to Tokyo, I turned to wave goodbye not only to my parents, but the monotony, routine and familiarity of everything I had ever known.
I am, without a doubt, a ‘goal oriented’ type of person. Some of the targets I’ve set myself (such as losing weight, receiving a university acceptance at 16 or moving to Japan) have been huge, life changing ones. Others have been smaller and allowed me to gradually form productive routines (studying for 1 hour every day, getting up at a certain time each morning, etc). Big or small, simple or challenging – if it weren’t for the aims and goals I set myself, I doubt I would ever have gotten as far as I have.
I haven’t always been this way. For a long time, I simply passed through life at a comfortable pace without any desire to push myself (or the be pushed) towards ‘success’. In fact, until the age of 15, it was almost impossible for me to find the motivation to do anything even vaguely challenging or difficult; only a looming deadline and the thought of punishment would convince me to complete a homework assignment or even turn up for school on time.
Then, one day, everything changed. Stuck in a poorly-performing school and considerably unhappy with my life, I stumbled across the perfect escape: university. My country’s law that meant that it was perfectly legal to leave high school at the age of 16, and with a bit of research I discovered that universities only required students to be 17 or above. The school year began in September, right after my birthday – my 15 year old self quickly realised that if I took extra classes and received the right grades, I could be finished with high school and accepted to university within the next year.
I had finally found a goal worth striving towards.
The Problem With Long Term Goals
While I was fortunate that my university ambitions came true, I have since learned an important yet frustrating truth: long term goals are the hardest to achieve.
When we set long term goals, we’re usually aiming for something big and important and truly life changing, such as losing 15kg or buying a house. Such goals are made with the greatest and most ambitious of intentions; they become targets for us to strive towards, or something to keep us going even on the darkest of days. The problem, however, is that the deadlines that we set for such goals are often vague or far in the future. A date set months or even years from now presents the illusion of ‘time to waste’; we fall into the trap of taking a day off from a diet or study plan because we feel that one lost day is nothing when compared to all the time that remains before the day we aim to achieve our goals.
Unfortunately, one skipped day can soon become two skipped days, a skipped week or even a skipped month. We continue to delay our progress under the guise of ‘time to spare’, then suddenly the deadline has come and gone and we realise that we’re no closer to achieving our goals than we were when we began so long ago.
Split It Up
By setting a deadline far in the future, we run the risk of completely ignoring the practical organisation that our big ambitions require. Long term deadlines present the opportunity for long term procrastination, and the instant gratification that comes from a special ‘cheat meal’ or study break with friends will always seem more attractive than the distant joy associated with achieving a goal set months or years into the future.
When you have a large goal in mind, it’s important to think about the steps that you must take to achieve it. Take ‘buying a house’, for example. If you want to buy a house, then you need to save for your deposit. To save for your deposit, you may need to take on more hours at work. To take on more hours at work, you may need to talk to your boss. Once you’ve saved for your deposit, you’ll need to sort out a mortgage, look at potential properties…there’s a lot that goes into buying a house, but saying “I’ll buy a house before the end of this year” makes it sound as though it’s a simple, one-step goal to achieve.
The same goes for losing weight. To lose weight, you need to cut down on snacks and alcohol, introduce more exercise, reduce your calories, and perhaps even join a weight-loss club. Cutting down on snacks is an ‘open’ goal that doesn’t set any concrete deadlines, as is introducing more exercise. Instead, you need to split each part of losing weight into even smaller sections. So, for example:
Week One: Limit myself to one chocolate biscuit a day, and one glass of wine on Saturday
Week Two: Limit myself to one chocolate biscuit every second day and skip the wine this week
Week Three: Take the dog for a walk every night and eat only one chocolate biscuit on Saturday
Splitting a long term goal into a series of smaller, easy-to-achieve challenges is a simple step that not only increases the chance of success, but also feels easier and far less ominous than meeting a distant, looming deadline with no concrete plan and nothing to help keep you on track.
Hold Yourself Accountable
Even small, short term ambitions require a healthy dose of motivation and willpower to achieve. For this, the ability to hold yourself accountable for your own failure and progress is vital.
Personally, I find that I am at my most successful when I know that others will witness my failure. For that reason, I often share my biggest aspirations with friends, family and even colleagues – I can rest assured that they’ll ask about it again in the future and as I don’t want to experience the embarrassment of telling them I wasn’t successful, this drives me to work hard and achieve my goals.
This technique may not work for everyone, but there are plenty of other options. Whether you have a dream board hanging on your bedroom wall, a calendar alert on your phone or something else that I’m yet to consider, surrounding yourself with reminders or motivators that encourage you to keep going is necessary if you truly wish to achieve success.
While I feel confident enough in my goal-setting abilities to be sharing advice with you all here on my blog, I’m no stranger to unfulfilled dreams or missed targets. No matter how hard you work, there are times when things just do not go as planned. Any number of circumstances out with our control can get in the way, and it’s important to remember that this is not failure – it’s simply an unavoidable setback. Nothing more.
Instead of feeling frustrated, upset or embarrassed, it’s important to instead focus on what you did manage to achieve and to think about other, more attainable goals that you may be able to work on instead.
Whatever happens, stay positive and don’t allow your motivation to slip. Everything happens for a reason and hard work will always be rewarded eventually – even if not in the way you originally planned.