According to Dr. Benjamin Hardy, PhD and the psychological concept of “prospection,” long-term goals:
- define who we are,
- give us a sense of purpose and direction,
- guide us in making every-day decisions,
- and provide us with motivation and drive.
The long term goals Dr. Benjamin Hardy talks about in his course are 20, 30, 50 year plans. We’re talking, “what do you want to be known for after you die?”
From personal experience I know that lack of direction can be incredibly detrimental to mental health and enjoyment of life. And, I agree that large scale direction is important for helping us make decisions int he present that line up with our values, but long-term goals aren’t always enough to go by.
Everyone has a natural focal point when it comes to thinking about the future. Both Dr. Hardy and David Allen (author of Getting Things Done) maintain that we can improve our ability to dream about the future and plan further ahead, but while we’re building up to that we need something more concrete and closer to home to focus on. That’s where Mid-Point Goals come in.
Natural Focal Point
I think about it in terms of nearsightedness and farsightedness.
Some people are able to clearly imagine far-off goals and can rely on that vision to help them make decisions in their everyday lives, motivate them to push through hard times, and help them navigate obstacles or distractions. They may have blurry or roughly outlined short-term goals but because they know where they’re headed on the larger scale, they’re better able to navigate whatever pops up.
The goals that are most defined are what produce motivation and drive; and it’s best to make decisions based on the goals that are most clearly visible. For those of us better at focusing on the short-term, that means using individual projects or monthly/quarterly goals to guide us in building that image of the far off future as we go along.
The Key is Definition
The key is defining our future just enough to keep us motivated, focused, and on-track. When we lack the level of definition we need it’s easy to get lost in doubts which rapidly drain our energy. We lose motivation, forget what we’re doing, and why we’re doing it. Long-term goals are important, but we still need a clear path to getting there. That’s why we have to start with whatever scale is easiest for us to focus on.
I am nearsighted (both literally and figuratively speaking). That means that while long-term goals give me a sense of excitement and motivation, that energy doesn’t last long. It’s far too easy for me to lose sight of goals that I don’t interact with every day, and doing the work to draw in the details on that blurry, far-off image is just isn’t worth the time or energy. Instead, connecting a vague long-term goal with specific shorter-term goals is what gives me the level of “pull” I need to keep moving forward.
Expanding Our Horizons
Thinking about the far-off future is still important even if it’s a blurry image. Reviewing it regularly helps us make sure we’re still on the path to the kind of future we want and gives us a chance to change our minds about what that future looks like. But in order to do that, looking at short-term goals is necessary.
The Getting Things Done or GTD methodology advises us to work from the bottom up. When you’re living day to day, putting out fires, and doing things reactively rather than proactively, thinking about next year’s goals or even next month’s goals is little more than a distraction. Only by clearing up and gaining control over the short-term can we even shift our attention to the long-term without risking anything. That means filtering out the tasks in front of us, then weeding out our projects, shaving off some responsibilities, and so on, until we’re ready and have the energy to ask the big questions about our career paths, our long-term health, our relationships, and our impact on the world around us. The goal is still to spend most of our time “getting things done”, but we’ll finally be able to look at the big picture and understand it.
We start here, where we are today. What do you want to get done by the end of the day? How can you get ahead by the end of the week? What do you want to accomplish by the end of the month? And how can you change your own life path by the end of this year?
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