Goals are an integral part of changes that we want to make in our personal or professional living. We measure our everyday actions, trying to cross off to-do list items, taking stock of daily tasks and targets, so we can strive to achieve our desired outcomes. However, we are kind of bad at committing to things which don’t have a system of accountability or those that aren’t easily measurable. We tend to focus more on goals that are measurable or those with immediate rewards and this can often come at the cost of achieving our long-term goals.
This is the reason why most of our personal growth goals always seem to be left for someday. Not committing to your long-term goals may make them seem out of reach and disempowers you to tackle them overtime.
“If a goal is worth having, it’s worth blocking out the time in your day-to-day life necessary to achieve it.”Jill Koenig
Why is it important to commit to your long-term goals
Most of us are good at following through our goals when it is required by social expectations. When nobody expects you to stick to your writing schedule, start your own business, efforts to learn a new skill, and so on that things get hard. And not all of our goals can be short-term. Some of our objectives can be only achieved over a considerable period of time —months, years or some time in the future and require consistent work.
Whether it is to start rolling out a new app or a product, or obtaining a new skill for your dream job or career, or pursue a new degree, improve your work-life balance, or be it as simple as a fitness goal or a new habit, getting there to those dream scenarios requires you to work with sustained effort. For instance, starting with a new business idea requires time for planning, learning period, building up on your idea, and implementation in order to be successful.
Sometimes, it might take years from your initial interest to getting to a point where you could really see the outcomes. And when it comes to achieving such long-term goals, there is more likelihood of having major, unexpected interruptions and one needs to be more intentional about choosing to commit to them. However, no matter how difficult or easy a goal is, if you aren’t able to commit to it or consistently work to develop the required skills, it could result in a wasted effort or would still remain on your to-do list.
Long-term goals give our work a purpose, direction, help make better decisions, and provide us with intrinsic motivation. Aside from helping you achieve difficult things, they act as a useful tool to structure or prioritise your work, to think strategically, to plan and kill procrastination. Instead of working aimlessly, they give you positive focus and ensure that the work you do is meaningful.
Why is focusing on your long-term goals so difficult?
Even though committing to long-term projects or tasks has a huge benefit, it is not our default behaviour. It is often quite difficult to get ourselves go after our most cherished big goals as we give into certain mental traps or cognitive biases in the process of achieving them. Knowing what’s getting in your way of achieving your long-term goals can help you make a meaningful change. Here is what makes your long-term-goal-achievement more taxing.
Most of us spend too much time and effort on short-term goals, like today, tomorrow, a week, without taking time to check back on long-term goals. This is because as human beings, we are biased towards completion of things or tasks and to move onto the next thing. On a daily basis, it is common to face a stream of difficult tasks competing for your time and attention. Completion bias only makes you focus on easy-to-complete tasks. But the time you spend doing your immediately measurable or near-term tasks only results in not taking your long-term goals more seriously.
The present bias is our tendency to choose tasks with immediate reward over a larger reward in the future or to take most seriously that are visible in the present. It makes us see things that are better for us in the long-term are a drag in the short-term. This leads us to consistently choose instant gratification over working on harder things. When you get overwhelmed by the options available to you, you are eager to focus on small tasks and ignore working on larger, or more complex ones.
Our tendency to favour the present also makes us choose to use tools that measure the immediate progress. For instance, whether it comes to your fitness goals, career or professional growth goals, you might choose to measure what most likely aligns with the immediate outcomes rather than long-term.
Planning fallacy is a common cognitive bias and is the reason why we are bad at judging how long something will take to do. When we are overly optimistic about the time taken for a goal, or underestimate the time it will take to complete a future task, then it is also natural that we underestimate the resources needed to achieve it, be it time, motivations, costs or effort. Missing deadlines, delayed projects or underestimating the amount of time you will need to learn a skill, all these are because of not having an accurate understanding of how much work and time would be required at the start.
False hope syndrome
With false hope syndrome, we tend to set unreasonable goals and quickly give up when we fail to reach it. Setting too ambitious or unrealistic long-term goals can lead to discouragement if the results aren’t apparent. We are likely to abandon if faced with unexpected obstacles or not prepared to work through them.
Progress bias is when we overestimate the effects of our goal-supportive behaviours but underestimate the effects of behaviours that don’t support our goals. For instance, if your goal is to lose weight, then you work out for three days, and forget the other three days where you were tired and binged on your favourite desert. When you think of only the outcome and not focus much on the process, you fail to progress on your long-term goals.
Our tendency to prioritise urgent tasks over non-urgent tasks constantly results in putting off our long-term goals. We often prioritise tasks that are perceived as time-sensitive over tasks that aren’t, even when the rewards of the non-time-sensitive tasks are objectively greater. This is the reason why, despite our best intentions, we give into tasks that feel urgent. But as a result, we tend to put off our most important long-term goals until later because we feel there are no immediate consequences.
This is the tendency to quickly return to our normal levels of happiness after both positive and negative external events. When we reach our goals, we get a temporary bump in our happiness, which is not the case with our long-term goals that seem very far off. This is the reason why we work on far-off goals, only once in a while and fail to pursue them on a regular basis. Instead we choose to spend time pursuing a short-term goal to experience happiness that we reached the outcome.
Sunk cost fallacy.
This is the tendency to continue to work towards a wrong goal because you’ve already spent so much time on it. For instance, if your long-term goal is to design a product, but you came across a major flaw after working on it for sometime. Continuing with it because you are going to lose time you spent on developing it will only lead to further failure. Instead reassessing and starting over on your new design proves more worthy.
How to reach your long-term goals
One important factor in achieving your long-term goals is to commit to them even though, in the short-term, you’d rather do something else. Moving from task to task each day leaves you with little room to be strategic about your big goals. Being aware of your mental traps is a good first step in staying committed to your long-term goals, but is not enough to keep us from failing to work towards them. We need to put in place certain mindsets and habits to overcome them. Here are some strategies in reaching your long-term goals successfully.
Break your big long-term goal into sub goals.
Taking action is the most important step towards achieving any of your goal, be it personal or work. Having a far off goal or a complex goal might make it overwhelming to start working on it. However, by breaking your goal into specific short-term goals, small tasks and milestones, you can make it less daunting and can be accomplished over time. If you have a five year dream, break it into one year goals, half-yearly goals or quarterly or monthly goals. This not only makes your long-term more manageable but also makes it easier to track the progress you are making on them.
Find out more about how to live life with congruence.
Devise your next action steps for your sub goals.
Identify the different components of your goal to devise a plan to accomplish each of those smaller tasks. Plan on your daily action steps to achieve your monthly goals on a daily basis. These little sub goals of your overall goal will allow you to focus on one area at a time and gradually accomplish the larger goal. Break down the bigger actions further into smaller tasks or as to-do list items. Aim to do one small task, everyday or at least every week that is related to your long-term goal. If you have small action steps planned on a weekly basis, it sets momentum, increases your motivation, and leads to more action ideas.
Prioritise your sub goals.
Assign a way to prioritise and measure your daily and monthly goals. The point of breaking your long-term goal into manageable tasks is meant to prevent you from getting overwhelmed, but focusing on too many of them can be equally unproductive. Analyse your list of smaller tasks and see which ones are more important. Use Eisenhower Matrix to prioritise your tasks. It is framework for classifying tasks as urgent/not urgent and important/not important. This helps you decide what to do with your tasks and which tasks are more aligned with your long-term goal depending on which quadrant it falls into.
Time manage your goals.
Set a deadline for achieving the overall long-term goal and mini deadlines for daily or weekly goals. Scheduling how long and when you will work towards your goals helps you overcome planning fallacy. Break your long-term projects into smaller parts and estimate how long each will take. The more detailed you become in your planning, the more realistic are going to be your time estimates. Pad your tasks or goals with more time than you think you need to.
Overcome Urgency bias.
Setting aside specific time blocks for your tasks like replying, mailing or messaging so that it does not interferes with your work regarding your long-term goal enables you to follow through on most or all of your goals in your prescribed time periods. This is where you can overcome urgency bias or overwhelm of making a choice each day and whether or not you are working towards your long-term goals.
Focus more on the process than the outcome.
Find ways to make your daily or monthly goals more pleasant and rewarding in order not to give into instant gratification biases. Reframe how you think about rewards. Focus on how rewarding or motivating it is once you work towards your daily goals that lead you into your future big goal. When it comes to accomplishing your long-term goals, enjoying the process is far better predictor of success rather than obsessing over outcomes or immediate rewards.
Envision your future self or the outcome
Envision your future self of your long-term goal. This can be a great motivator to choose long-term payoff’s over immediate gratification. Ask yourself, What exactly is your goal? What would be the outcome of it? What potential obstacles will get in the way of achieving it? How do you plan on working through these obstacles? By aligning your long-term goal with your core values, you are likely to be more inclined towards being authentic and consistent in your efforts.
What makes many people fail at their long-term goal commitment is being too rigid with their initial plans or goals. Overtime, when your long-term goal may not remain relevant or needs to change with new ideas or information, you either get stuck or might give up working on them. Being flexible can help you change the terms of your goal allowing to reframe or redirect your efforts so as not to give up on your core long-term goal. This also helps you overcome sunk cost fallacy.
When you execute your sub goals or daily action plans, sometimes unexpected obstacles come up where things become harder than you imagined. In such scenarios, you can change your direction and incorporate new ideas and set off working towards your main goal. But at the same time, constantly changing your short-term plans, you rarely see progress. Have enough detail to inspire, but not so much that you are stuck pursuing things that don’t matter when conditions change.
Question for self-reflection
How consistent are you in your efforts to reach your long-term goals?
How much time are you spending on things that aren’t central to your long-term goals?
How do you measure your progress on your big goals?
What goals do you tend to prioritise – Urgent/important/—near-term/long-term?
How do you balance your long-term goals with daily onslaught of urgent tasks?
How many of your to-do list items are aligned with your long-term goals?
How congruent are your long-term goals with your values, habits or behaviours?
How do you plan on committing to your long-term goals starting from today?
We all set long-term goals and think that we have life time to reach them. However, we hardly make an effort to reach them either because we lack motivation or give into our biases. Making meaningful progress requires more intention than just mere checking off items in your daily to-do lists. You can be more successful in committing to your long-term goals by having a clear end goal and take time to plan short-term commitments or individual steps as what exactly do you have to do to reach it.
It is worth reminding yourself what your long-term goals are from time to time and asking whether you are making progress towards those goals frequently. Being committed to the process rather than the outcome motivates you to work consistently towards your long-term goals.
More Reads on goal-setting:
Know whether your goals are congruent or conflicting
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