Here’s a little story about long term goals. Imagine this…
It’s sometime in the future. You’re about to embark on a spaceship into the deep, dark abyss of space. You’re an explorer.
An explorer with a lofty long term goal. A goal that you want to find a planet made entirely out of gold.
Because gold is still very valuable on Earth and you have a hunch that there’s probably some planet out there that is made up entirely of that material.
You chart a course through space and time and figure it will take 30 years to discover the planet and another 30 years to harvest the gold and bring it home.
60 years total. That’s a long time. But you’re only 25 so time is on your side.
Checkers and boredom
Off you go. Navigating through the cold void of space.
Year after year go by and you haven’t found your golden planet yet. You think about quitting. You think about giving up. But you set this long term goal for yourself, for your crew, for your better future, and you’re determined to reach the end destination.
Years continue to fly by. Your days, filled with checkers, boredom, and staring out into nothingness, are dragging. But, you’re determined nonetheless. You won’t give up.
You’ve put in too much time, too much effort. You vow to never give up on your long term goal!
And then one day… 28 years in…. you find it. The golden planet.
You’re ecstatic! It took you 28 years but you finally reached the halfway mark of your very ambitious goal. You’ve found the planet that is going to make you crazy rich.
You’re 53 and have no time to lose. So you and your crew get to digging. And digging. And digging. Five years go by and your excavations are finally complete.
You’re ready to head home. You’re 58.
You pack up your things, wave goodbye to the planet that will inevitably make you a quadrillionaire, and head home with your ship filled to the brim with gold.
Revel in the glory
Time goes by once again.
You know how long the journey home will take and are more impatient than ever. You’ve been working towards this one long term goal for so long and you’re so close. Victory is within your grasp.
You can’t wait to cash in on what is surely to be the biggest discovery of all time. To revel in the glory. You literally discovered a planet made of gold!
But you have so much longer to still go.
32 years go by. And… You finally see the big blue marble of Earth on the horizon. You’re home.
Cracked the code
You land your spaceship and hobble out. You’re prouder than ever and are ready to cash in on the payday of the millennium.
You slowly make your way to the Evaluator – the person responsible for valuing and pricing out any discoveries you come across in space. Beaming, you walk up to the Evaluator and tell her what you’ve brought back with you.
More gold than one could possibly imagine.
The Evaluator, unamused, looks at you dead in the eye and explains that scientists cracked the code for gold years ago.
In fact, they can create pure gold whenever and in whatever quantities they’d like. They don’t need your gold because the world now has too much. They’re overrun with the stuff.
Shocked, you ask when the discovery was made.
20 years ago.
20 years ago!!
You’re crushed. You wasted so many years of your life pursuing something now deemed totally irrelevant. You’re frustrated, annoyed, sad, the whole range of emotions.
Luckily though, people live to 150 nowadays so you still have plenty of life to live.
You go home, rest up, and vow to only set short term goals from now on. You’ve learned from the mistakes of your past and are ready to go back into the world with your shorter, more flexible plan of attack.
Long Term Goals: Do You Really Need Them? [Goals Explained]
This was a long story and was my way of explaining that… long term goals suck.
Now the reason they suck is that you are essentially guessing what the future will look like based on the present conditions today. And if you decide to set some long term goal for five or ten years from now on the assumption that today will look the same as tomorrow, you are setting yourself up to fail.
Because life is constantly changing and long term goals don’t account for that. Long term goals lock you into a future way down the road. A future that 20 minutes in, you may realize isn’t the path for you.
But you set this goal for yourself and now what? You’re going to give up? Quit?
That logic right there is the problem with long term goal setting.
You’re determined, you’re driven, you can achieve anything. So when you discover that your long term goal isn’t one you actually want, the never-giver-upper in you forces you to keep going.
Even when you lost interest days, weeks, months, or even years ago.
It’s the sunk cost fallacy.
An overview of goal setting
Now, whether or not you find long term goals valuable (which I don’t), goals in general are incredibly helpful for steering your life in a positive direction.
Just like sailing a ship, goals give a direction and purpose to your time. Like navigating with a map and compass, goals help keep you on course when you get knocked off your path.
GOALS ARE POWERFUL. That’s why I created my goal setting course, after all.
And as far as your goals go, you can really set short term goals, medium term goals, or long term goals. Goal setting, in any form, is incredibly valuable when it comes to how you spend your time.
I know that’s a little contradictory.
But to reiterate my point, having goals in any capacity is better than having no goals. And while I don’t recommend setting long term goals, if that’s the only way to get you to set some goals and create a better future for yourself, so be it.
With that in mind, to help you decide if long term goals are right for you, let me break it all down.
What are long term goals
If you didn’t already gather from the name, long term goals are goals set in the long term. But how far out does the timeline need to be for something to be considered long term?
Well, opinions differ but the general consensus is that long term goals are anything that take 12 or more months to complete.
However, that definition is not set in stone. You get to decide what long term goals are for you.
For me, long term goals start around the 18-24+ months range. Anything less than that would be considered a short or medium term goal.
However, one important thing to consider when deciding which bracket your goals fall into is context. Yes, context.
Context plays a large role here.
For example, if you want to save $300 within a month, your:
- Short term goal could be to save $10 a day
- Medium term goal could be to save $150 by day 15
- And your long term goal could be to save the full $300 by the end of the month
So as you can see, when you take context into consideration there is a lot of variability. If you’re looking for a hard and fast rule though, I consider long term goals to be anything that take more than 18-24 months to be completed.
My long term goals beef
Before we move any further, I should probably go into more detail as to what my issue is with long term goals.
The answer is simply because they are out of your control.
I like control. Controlling my time, my schedule, my nutrition, my finances. I like focusing my time and attention on things that I can directly own and positively impact.
And long term goals don’t fall into that category.
They are the opposite. They are more like an affirmation. A hope that in five years, I will achieve that thing that I think I want today.
It assumes that in five years I’ll:
- Want the same things I want today
- Won’t learn anything new or change my opinions at all
- Be the same person that I am today
But none of those are likely to be true. Long term goals lock you into an unwavering and uncompromising vision of the future. A future that you have no control over.
Ok enough venting from me. I just wanted to give you an insight as to my attitude towards long term goals so that you could take my bias into consideration when deciding for yourself.
Short, medium, long term goals – what’s the difference?
You may be wondering, so what’s the difference between short, medium, and long term goals?
The simple answer is that they are a function of time.
Short term goals take less time to achieve than medium term goals. Medium term goals take less time to achieve than long term goals.
If long term goals are those that take more than 12 months to accomplish, the general rule is that short term goals are those that take less than 12 months to accomplish. However, I tend to view goals as anything that can be accomplished within the following range:
- Short: 3-6 months
- Medium: 6-18 months
- Long: 18-24+ months
You can base your own goal setting terminology off whatever feels best to you. If short term feels more like 6-12 months and medium term feels better at 12-18 months, more power to you.
Again, the difference between short, medium, and long is a function of time and context. Short term goals will be accomplished sooner than medium term which will be accomplished sooner than long term.
Examples – a long term goals list
Whether for work, health, financial, or really any other category, there is a seemingly endless list of potential long term goals you can set for yourself. Let’s take a look at some long term goal examples.
- Health: Lose 10lbs of weight over the next two years
- Financial: Within six years, save up for and purchase a condo
- Career: Double your client base every year for the next five years
- Social: Over the next two years save up $5,000 to go visit friends in another country
- Personal: Start a family within the next eight years
As you can see, the different goal categories and things you may want to achieve can vary drastically. The one thing these goals have in common, however, is their duration of time.
Because each goal is set years out and would fall into that long term goals category.
Now that you have some examples to work with, the thing that you need to figure out is whether or not long term goals are right for you. Let’s look at the pros and cons to help influence your decision.
The pros of long term goals
So, what are the particular benefits of long term goals? There are several. For instance, they:
- Allow you to see the big picture
- Give you an overall sense of direction
- Provide an opportunity to spot roadblocks ahead of time
By setting goals for yourself that are based in the long term (for example, more than 24 months away), you are allowing yourself to zoom out from the normal day-to-day to instead focus on the big picture.
This big picture viewpoint will allow you to gain a better understanding of yourself and where you want to go.
Plus, doing so will enable you to chart a course forward and provide a direction for you to head in.
And as an added bonus, by mapping out your future so far ahead of time, you will be able to spot and handle potential roadblocks before they become major issues. Thus heading off any problems that may arise.
The cons of long term goals
While goals in general are good to have, there is one major con to setting long term goals that I’ve already touched on but will mention again because it’s important.
The future is always changing.
Yes, that is a con when it comes to your long term goals. Why? Because setting a goal to accomplish something by the end of five years sounds great, but life changes quickly and with it, your plans.
For example, let’s say you set a goal that by the end of three years you want to put on 25lbs of muscle to compete in a bodybuilding championship.
So you create a detailed plan to achieve that goal by combining various workout schedules and nutrition programs.
You have your entire fitness life planned out for the next three years and you get to work.
You start hitting the gym and putting on muscle, but six months in you realize you don’t like feeling heavier, or having to get new clothes, or needing to work out for so many hours each day.
In fact, you realize that you actually enjoyed having a slimmer frame like before.
And because things have changed, your goals will now need to change as well. But what about all that work you put into planning out your next three years of workouts? Well, it’s no longer relevant to the new lifestyle you are trying to build.
So you scrap it.
That’s the big problem with long term goals; you set out with good intentions, but as you try new things and push yourself in new arenas, your interests, understandings, and desires may change.
And while it’s great to look at the big picture, setting specific long term goals may prove to be more frustrating than helpful.
What should you do instead? What you need is a long term vision.
Instead of setting long term goals…
Personally, I rarely set long term goals. I’ve found that time and time again the plans I create for myself are constantly changing as I learn new things.
I may set a specific long term goal every so often, but I always do so with the understanding that things can change at any moment and my plans may need to be adjusted to match.
So instead of setting long term goals, I set a long term vision.
A long term vision is similar to a long term goal but the difference is that a long term vision is more broad.
A long term goal could be that you want to run your own pizza restaurant within two years. Whereas, a long term vision could be that you want to be running your own business within two years.
Both look at the big picture, but one forces you down a specific road, while the other gives you the flexibility to change course as needed.
Simple long term vision
To continue with our pizza example, if you set that specific long term goal, you may find that eight months in you don’t enjoy making pizza and would rather be making burgers. In that case you would have to trash all your plans and start over.
Conversely, if you had a simple long term vision of running your own business, you could try your hand at pizza, find that you’d rather make burgers, and simply transition into that space instead.
Having a long term vision still allows you to envision a brighter future, it still gives you a direction to head in, but it doesn’t force you down one specific road like long term goals do.
Instead, it gives you the flexibility you need to adjust course when things change.
Then with your long term vision in mind, you can set a series of short and medium term goals to guide you along the way.
How to set and achieve your goals
At this point, your question should no longer be how to achieve long term goals, but instead how to achieve your long term vision.
Well, now that you recognize the importance of a long term vision and how your short and medium term goals relate to it, you can go about setting effective goals for yourself. There are a lot of resources to do just that.
First and foremost, if you are serious about goal setting and are ready to start making real progress forward, I highly encourage you to enroll in my goal setting course.
Not ready to enroll? No problem! Check out some of my free posts on the matter of goal setting. Posts like:
- How to set goals
- How to achieve goals
- Goal tracker tools
- How to overcome goal setting adversity
- And how to achieve your daily goals
With your goals in place, you can then start to do more with your time so that you get even more done each day. The more you get done, the sooner you will achieve your goals, after all.
With that in mind, I recommend these posts:
- My guide to productivity
- Productivity hacks
- Time management skills
- Tips on how to be productive
- Time management tips
Moving forward with long term goals… or should I say long term vision
Try setting a long term vision for yourself that allows you to chart a course towards a better future. Create a big picture plan for yourself that allows you to be flexible, but still have a direction.
Then, set short and medium term goals to propel you forward. Use the information above to enhance your goal setting efforts and get to it.
As long as you keep taking positive steps forward, you’ll get there in no time.
And if you’re not sure where to head next, check out my goal setting course!