Action Items Attaining Life

The illusive long-term goal

Outcomes. Objectives. Outputs. Goals. All big work words, all floating about and seeming at times highly interchangeable. While I agree with the idea behind setting goals, of knowing what we are working towards, there are times when I do get overwhelmed with all the verbiage. Are my goals merely activities or do they result in a purpose or a change? Sometimes, I just don’t want to think that much.

Yet, life without goals can have the effect of leaving us standing still, stuck in a rut, doing the same thing (positively or negatively) repeatedly. Routines become boring, and boring routines leads us to hedonic adaptation (yeah, it’s a thing…check out how it can decrease our motivation, in this NY Times article). Therefore, regardless of how much brainpower it may require, thinking about goals, and not only thinking about setting goals and achieving them, but also revising and changing goals and setting new goals, is a beneficial activity we need to engage in to keep redefining and reinventing ourselves. To be intentional about our lives, to live them with meaning and purpose, requires us to partake in goal making AND goal achievement.

No one said life would be simple. In the scheme of things, making goals isn’t any more painful than drinking bitter black coffee without hazelnut creamer. As I wavered between refusing to think about goals and measurable successes, I found myself staring at my front yard (my best mental “wavering” usually occurs as I sit on the Adirondack chairs on my side deck, overlooking my front and back yards). The sensation of overwhelm rushed over me as I saw only all of the effort that I would have to exert to get the garden cleaned up from its winter dormancy. Listing the tasks mentally, I began to ponder about the purpose of the front garden, and the location of several plants. All of these thoughts lead me back to goals.

Strange squirrel detour there, I know, but as I pondered and looked at two tall bushes I had placed at the top of stone steps, I realized that unconsciously, when I had designed the front garden, I had added design elements that would lead the eyes to places beyond the garden. A bit of hide-and-seek, mystery, and intrigue. A bit of short-term goals – planting the grass seed, leveling the front yard; mixed with some medium-term goals – waiting for the two bushes to grow to their full 4-feet heights would take some years; and finished with a long-term goal of a complete set of outside garden rooms, going from the front yard, to the side walk beside a river crook, to the back, informal relaxing garden, to the stone patio for outdoor enjoyment underneath the stars.

Pondering all that – while also making a note to trim those two tall evergreen bushes back into beautiful spheres – reminded me that some long-term goals stick, meaning we remain true to them for the years and energy it takes to achieve them, and that some long-term goals change. My need to have beautiful outside spaces around my house still remains but nature also has a voice in that decision, and as my neighborhood redwoods grow and grow, the possibilities of my outdoor spaces change.

The agility of goals

Looking back on my life, I admit that long-term goals have eluded me. I cannot say with true sincerity that I always opted to stick it out and complete my long-term goals. It would be more honest to state that I have shrugged my shoulders, held up my hands, and merely thought that I didn’t need to exert energy into working towards a goal that either was so far off in time or would become irrelevant, or worse incorrect, with time.

But I’m in my fourth decade in this world, and if I keep moving and eating okay and driving within the speed limit, I’m hoping to be around another four decades at least. Being in that age group forces me to think more stringently about those long-term goals, like what do I want to be when I grow up (is it just me or does it take some life experience under our belts before we can truly, honestly answer that question?), or where and how do I want to “retire” and what does retirement mean for me, how do I define it?

Which leads me back to objectives, outputs, measurements, goals, and in particular long-term goals. Pondering in the teak chairs will only get me so far (and that’s not very far). The reality of action and implementation, and asking some good questions that help me identify the purpose and intent, and eventually, the aspired end-result, of my short, medium, and long-term goals is no longer just a work language I need to drudge through to earn a paycheck. Goals have always been, consciously and unconsciously, a habit in my life. I’m just recognizing how intentionally important they truly are.

How do you utilize goals in your personal development “strategy”? Chime in on the comment section below.