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When I wrote about my New Year’s resolutions for Invibed earlier this year, I briefly mentioned my weird habit of making goals only for the next 90 days of my life. Like most human beings, I have a stash of ambitious long-term goals. They’re important to me and, without a doubt, give me a sense of direction that’s useful from time to time. But just over a year ago, I repeatedly found myself mulling over how challenging (and even implausible) some of them were. Whenever I concerned myself with these goals, I’d get caught up in how much work they entailed, run through all the reasons why I might not achieve them, and then be left with that gross feeling. It wasn’t fun, and probably not very healthy.
The thing about long-term goals
There are loads of benefits associated with making long-term goals. They can help with decision-making, give you something to daydream about, and force you to remember the bigger picture when times get tough. They work extremely well for certain people, with some fans going so far as to say that not having them is like “playing basketball without the basket.”
But here’s the thing about long-term goals: When we endlessly focus on achievements that are ten, twenty, or possibly even forty years down the road, we not only cause ourselves at least some unnecessary stress. We forget that every single ambitious goal requires dozens — sometimes even hundreds or thousands – of smaller, more tangible “baskets.” You can spend so much time thinking about the distant future that you a) forget to live in the present, and b) forget to put in the actual work. (And depending on your goal, there might be a lot of that involved.) We also forget that life isn’t all that predictable. Your values and hopes for the future could look very different a year from now, as could your circumstances.
Devising a better system for myself
While it may sound counterintuitive, my long-term goals were stressing me out, killing my productivity, and stifling me creatively. I should note here that if you’re someone who works best on long-term goals, that’s fine! No need to fix a system that isn’t broken. But personally, I was in desperate need of a new one. So, with all of this in mind, I made what for me was a brave decision: I filed my long-term goals away deep in my brain and decided to forget about them… at least for now.
Instead, I asked myself: Where would I like to be three months from now? I went through the different areas of my life – my career, health, social life, finances, and so on – and considered what I wanted each to look like in 90 days. I made sure these goals were simple but still challenging enough to necessitate a decent amount of hard work. Under each goal, I then made a list of what I’d probably need to do to get there.
Since I was looking for any sort of motivation, I gave myself a start date and an end date. This made everything feel more official and gave me some incentive to see the 90 days through to the end. I also made a promise to myself that I’d be open to changes along the way. If a goal didn’t seem to be working, I’d tweak it. If it still wasn’t working, maybe it would be a sign.
And then, put very simply, I started making my way through the lists.
Even within the first week of doing things this way, I found that I woke up feeling less drained at the thought of sitting down at my desk. Because I only needed to concern myself with the task at hand, I was able to minimize a lot of the stress I’d been feeling. (As well as the rate at which I have existential crises.)
By the end of that first summer, I’d finally started working on a major creative project that had been brewing for years. I’d learned that what I thought was my dream job probably isn’t for me. And most importantly, I realized that I’d actually been enjoying my day-to-day work instead of operating on autopilot and fantasizing about the future.
When it comes to a lot of goals, the secret to achieving them is that there isn’t really a secret. It’s usually a matter of identifying what exactly you need to do and then doing it. Want to write a 5000-word short story in 90 days? That’s about 416 words each week. Want to run a 10k race in 90 days? Try and get to 3k by the end of the first month.
Now that I’ve been separated from my long-term goals for over a year, I sometimes wonder what I’d be up to these days if I’d never kicked them. If you’re feeling unmotivated or struggling with creativity, consider whether you could benefit from thinking more short-term. After all, you can revisit your long-term goals anytime you like.