Next Step: Create an Action Plan
You’ve identified what you’re passionate about accomplishing and visualized the life you want to live. Now it’s time to create an action plan to get you there.
The ideal life that you envision may include some changes to your current career or lifestyle. In order to make these changes, you’ll need to break down each big, long-term goal (like opening your own restaurant, getting your PhD, or owning a house on the beach) into smaller, very approachable short-term goals. You’ll be much more likely to take action toward achieving your big goals if you can break them down into easily achievable baby steps.
When you create your action plan, focus on just the coming year. Look at each of your long-term goals and consider what you need to do this year to make progress toward your vision. Do you need to:
- Start saving money for a future purchase? How will you build this into your monthly budget?
- Enroll in school? When will you apply?
- Get a new job? When will you update your resume and start going on interviews?
- Do more to take care of yourself? What changes do you want to make, and how will you fit them into your daily routine?
When creating your short-term goals, the more specific you can be, the better. I like using the SMART goal approach, attributed to George T. Doran and described in his 1981 paper “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. Way to Write Management’s Goals and Objectives.”
SMART stands for:
Specific: Let’s say you want to get in shape this year. If your goal is to “get in shape,” that’s not specific. To make your goal more specific (and therefore more likely to be achieved) you should specify what type or types of exercise you plan to do (running, weight-training, etc).
Measurable: Make your goals measurable so that it’s clear when you’ve achieved them. If your goal is to “take up running,” that’s not measurable. If you set a goal of running three miles three times per week, you’ll know exactly what you’re working toward and you’ll know when you’ve achieved it.
Attainable: Is your goal something that a human being can accomplish? Is it something that you believe you can accomplish?
Realistic: For a goal to be theoretically attainable is one thing; for it to be realistic is another. If you currently run a few miles once or twice a week, is it realistic that you could be physically ready to run a marathon in two months? Probably not. How about in 10 months? That’s much more realistic.
Time-bound: Set a time by which you want to achieve each short-term goal. For example, “I run three miles three times per week by March 30th.”
Short-term goals should be less intimidating and seem more realistic than long-term goals. Whenever you feel like a goal is overwhelming or impossible, keep breaking it down into baby steps until the short-term goals become approachable.
You’ll be more likely to take action when you set a short-term goal because you’ll know that you can do it. You’ll also have a sense of accomplishment whenever you complete a short-term goal! Feeling successful along the way will keep you on your path toward your long-term goals.
The SMART goal and action plan approach work very well for most people, but above all remember that these are YOUR goals—so write them in a way that is meaningful and effective for you.
Sometimes people feel scared to write down their goals, because they’re hesitant to make a commitment or worried that they’ll fail. But there’s no need to feel this way. Your goals are not written in stone—you can revise them anytime you want (it’s your life, after all). And if you don’t accomplish a goal, who cares? At least you tried, and likely learned something while trying. Some failure now and then is good for us!