Goal-setting in reverse

Setting goals for yourself seems like it should be a no-brainer, right? In essence, all you have to do is identify what you want out of life. Technically, this is true, but we all know there’s so much more to it than that. By identifying goals, we’re giving ourselves a lot of homework, and not just in the sense of having to pursue and realize said goals. Before we can even begin to move towards what we want, we have to create a roadmap of how we’re going to get there – and that can be very overwhelming on its own. Often it can seem a lot like standing in the middle of a maze; so many possible routes, no idea where exactly they go, and the looming knowledge there are definitely a few dead ends.
Because of this phenomenon, and the inability to identify the “correct” path, many people stop before they’ve even started., often referred to as analysis paralysis. To shake this up, what if we started at the end instead of the beginning?

Logic dictates plans should be created chronologically, starting with the first thing and working your way up from there. This is not necessarily a bad approach, but to an imaginative mind daunted by the many variables at play this approach can seem frustratingly narrow and simplistic. Before you know it, you’re losing sight of where you want to get. You’re so caught up in figuring out step four, which you can’t even fathom because you spent all your energy concocting steps one, two, and three, and the game isn’t fun anymore. It’s no long about the goal; it’s an exercise in how frustrating and unreachable your goal is.
If you resonate with this experience, a better option for you may be to start at the end and work your ways backwards.

The first and primary advantage to this approach is that it keeps your eye on the prize. Identify a clear vision. When we lose sight of where we want to be, we lose our motivation. That’s the problem with the traditional “start at the beginning” maneuver; you’re placing your goal out of reach and struggling to get to it. You’re going to have to do that in real life anyway, so why would you start by replicating that experience hypothetically? By starting at the end, you’re creating the sensation of having already arrived where you want to be. It’s exciting! It’s joy-inducing! And, most importantly, it’s motivating. Now you’ve had an imaginative taste of the thing you want so badly because you’ve put yourself there mentally. With that sensation as part of your sensory memory, you’re better equipped to put in the actual work. From this place of excitement and imagination, you can start planning more effectively.
Now that you’re good and hyped, you’re in the perfect position to ask yourself what makes up the bridge between you and your prize. I call the approach working backwards, but it’s more akin to dumping all of the puzzle pieces on the floor in order to see them more clearly. Stream of consciousness writing is actually a great way to observe this step. Grab a pen and paper. You might write, at the top of the page, “In order to get my dream job I will need…”. Then come the answers: references, an updated resume, to put myself out there, to call in a favour from so-and-so. Get all of your pieces out in the open where you can see them. Before you know it, nothing’s a secret anymore. Your options are out there. Now you just have to put them in the right shape.

As much as possible, order your “pieces” into steps. Avoid getting into the mindset of organizing according to how easy or hard they are; instead, decide what needs to be done most urgently, regardless of difficulty level. If you’re supported by the feeling that it has to be done, you’re more accountable to actually do it.

Voila, you have your plan! What now? Follow it. Do the steps, put in the work. This is the part that will test you. When things get tough, the best motivator is to return to that place in your imagination where you already have what you want. Keep that in mind and you will succeed. Step by step, and never taking your eye off the prize.

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