I remember the constant nagging of my teachers all throughout my journey through the draconian halls of public education. Once a year, (although this stopped once I entered high school) we were assigned the task of writing a list of long-term and short-term goals. At the time, I was so short-sighted that I never took the exercise seriously. I would write things like: purchase X video game or purchase X action figure. This utter childlike naivety stayed with almost through my first year of college! I realized at that point that I had no direction in life. Instead I surrendered my responsibility for my future to my parents or school counselors. I was completely passive, until I finally took control of life. The feeling was scary. For the first time I realized that my life was in my hands and that if I failed I had no one to blame but myself.

So how does this relate to goals? Personally, none of my goals were really goals until I took responsibility for myself. Until I surrendered myself to the reality, that someday my parents would not be there to catch me if I fell, that society is too unreliable to trust with my future, and that the world in general is INSANE, my goals would remain empty, substance free ego masturbations.

Here is what is working for me with regard to writing goals and following through on them:

1. Define the Goal

The hardest thing about goals is actually having the balls to write them down. It’s much easier to avoid accountability when you keep the goal in your head and adjust it as perceived circumstances prevent the goal from being reached. When doing this you lose information on what is keeping you from attaining your goal. By writing it down somewhere, you are accountable to yourself. While you can still cheat and erase it and edit it without leaving notes to why you are changing it, it becomes a physical activity and increases the chances of you noticing that you are just procrastinating. Writing it down also allows you to be extremely detailed on what you want to achieve. For example you can break down a complex, daunting goal into more bite sized chunks. For me the more detailed I am in my goal writing the more achievable it seems because it becomes a tangible, solvable problem.

2. Set a Time limit

Time limits make the goal a reality in that they bring an abstract idea in your brain into space-time. Once the goal can be assessed in real time with quantifiable attributes you can begin to determine how prone to procrastination you are. I realized early that if I did not set a time limit I would never accomplish their goals. I think there are some people out there with the discipline to set goals and follow through without tethering a false sense of urgency, but I learned real quickly that I was not one of them. Another prize from setting goals is actually become more self aware of your individual strengths and weaknesses.

3. Assess the goal

It is important to develop a means to assessing the status of your goals. I am definitely a numbers guy. When coming up with financial goals I attach monetary values to the goals to give myself more of an incentive to follow through. For example one of my financial goals was to decrease my monthly expenses by $50 dollars a month. When I multiply that by 12 I realize that I no longer have $600 of expenses for the year. Taking it further, assuming an annual return of 5% adjusted for inflation, I would need to save $12,000 saved for retirement to maintain those expenses. Since I no longer have those expenses that amount can be reinvested or spent in another way.  This thus potentially reduces the amount of time and money I need in order to retire. That is definitely motivating for me.

4. Revise your goal

It is important to constantly revise your goal as you become closer to achieving it. It is a well known fact that humans are terrible at predicting the future. This is especially true with regard to human behavior. As accrue more and more relevant information, it is important to condition and further develop your goal. It is also important to realize that your goals do not exist in separate vacuums. They are interrelated. When revising your goals you may come to the realization that achieving one of your goals is undermining the achievement of a more important goal.

In practice when I first started writing my goals down I felt silly and did not take it too seriously, but when I became more successful at seeing my goals through I became a believer.