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How Can We Achieve Our Dream Lifestyle

A hiker climbing a mountain

In a word – goals. Just set them and then chase them with pitbull-like tenacity. Sorry to remove all the suspense but that is all it takes. Simple, right? Absolutely. Easy? Absolutely not. It is all in the execution. As the old saying goes: “The longest journey begins with a single step.” But what happens if you never take that step? How can you find the treasure when you don’t even have an ‘X’ on a treasure map?

Dan John is an elite weightlifting coach who espouses the concept of “pirate maps” in the context of goals. He credits Pat Flynn with the term. This idea really provides a great visual – your goals should be the X on a pirate or treasure map.  

The Need for Goals

So first things first – you need to define the goal, the ‘X’ on the treasure map. But how do we do that? Some goals are easy to define. Let’s say you want to go to the newest and hippest restaurant in the city.  You can try opentable.com or another website, or simply try calling the restaurant yourself. Good luck with a restaurant like French Laundry. I am convinced that mere mortals without any connections could call exactly 30 days beforehand when reservations open and still not get a seat.  Not that I am speaking about my own experience when I tried to schedule for our anniversary or anything.

But what about grander life goals? Those are typically harder to define. Perhaps you became a doctor, or a lawyer or an investment banker because you always gravitated to that line of work from the beginning. For you, the goal was easy. Thank the heavens for your good fortune. For those who struggled to decide on a career, they may recall multiple, painful attempts at figuring out what ultimately they should do with their lives. Let’s see if we can make the process easier and more pleasurable.

When we take a broad 30,000-foot view, we ultimately realize that our values play a large role in defining our vision and our goals. For instance, if you value courage, strength, and helping those in distress you may choose to become a firefighter rather than a CPA (no offense to CPAs, since there is a lot of heroism in getting hundreds of tax returns done before the tax deadline). But how do you define your values? For most of us, our system of values results from a complex interplay among family, friends, religion, and life experiences. Some take Friedrich Nietzsche’s approach and set about to choose and articulate their values as adults (though many would argue the subconscious effects of prior experiences will still color much of your thinking).  This articles will not be a philosophical thesis on how we acquire values. Suffice it to say, take the time to really sit down and think about your values and then it will be easier to define your goals.

Defining Your Goals

So if you are struggling with setting a goal try some of these questions to get you started (and remember if you seek a better answer try a better question):

  • What am I good at?
  • What do I enjoy?
  • What do I gravitate towards?
  • What is my personality like? Am I outgoing or am I introverted?
  • If I were 10, 20, 30 years older, what would I want to look back on and be proud of? (Tony Robbins has referred to this as the Dickens process)
  • What do I want to accomplish professionally? Personally? Spiritually? With regard to Family?
  • What do I need to do in order to feel fulfilled?

This is just a sampling of questions to help you get started, but obviously feel free to use whatever it is that inspires you. One last thing – the time of day may also help you get your creative juices flowing for this exercise. You could try a brainstorming session first thing in the morning (before you read the newspaper or the internet or review your emails) when the brain may still be in a creative state. This is the technique that Julia Cameron advocates in “The Artist’s Way.”

Others may find that the afternoons or early evenings may be best for a goal-setting exercise. Daniel Pink, in his book “When: the scientific secrets of perfect timing,” advises doing creative sessions in the later afternoon, when we are in the “recovery phase” after the post-lunch trough, and our moods tend to be more conducive for right-sided brain activities.

How Do We Reach Our Goals?

I personally advocate for one grand overarching goal in perhaps each of the important sectors in life – professional, personal, family, fitness etc. The one thing you don’t want to do is get inundated with chasing too many goals.  Choose the most important and focus on that – there will be lesser goals that you may feel you are neglecting but those oftentimes will get accomplished as you seek your larger goal.

A treasure map and compass

So let’s go back to the pirate map analogy for a moment. We talked about the X where the treasure can be found. This will be one of those goals that we set in previous exercises. What we need next is the path to get to the X. If you recall the old pirate maps in cartoons or movies, usually there are directions that state something like “take 5 paces north then 5 paces east then 10 paces south. In real life, we need something similar – we need directions (i.e. a plan) to achieve those goals.

Perhaps the best way to develop a plan is to model it after others who have already achieved what you are trying to achieve. Use their ‘plan’ as your own plan – i.e. mirror the moves they made to achieve their success and very likely you can too. If they approachable, even better. Speak to them, ask them questions and listen carefully to their answers. Just make sure to be sincere, courteous and respectful. Perhaps they can even be a mentor to you, and can serve as an invaluable resource.  Sometimes finding someone to serve as a role model is difficult. In that case, you need to be more creative. Read all the books and get all the information that may be useful for your particular goal. And don’t be afraid to experiment.

Pressure Is Your Friend / The Importance of Deadlines

One of the main reasons we often fail to achieve our goals is we don’t put enough pressure on ourselves to get the tasks done. It is well known in the psychology literature that as humans we tend to produce greater results when pressed for action – so for instance, publicizing on social media that you intend to lose 20lb will more likely lead to you actually losing the weight than if you hadn’t. Another critical means to really get things done is to give yourself a deadline – stating EXACTLY what you intend (not hope) to achieve by a specific date is much more helpful than simply stating “I will do this someday.”

Remember though, you must be specific both in defining your goal and defining the timeframe to achieve that goal. Put some pressure on yourself to achieve it!

Final Thoughts on Goal Setting

Seems silly – but yes, write those goals down … now! Writing them down on PAPER, with your own hand, is probably the most effective way of getting it to resonate with your inner being (while this may seem a bit too New Age, I didn’t know how else to express it). You can do it digitally, but I personally never found it as effective as actually writing it down with pen and paper. I also like getting a whiteboard and writing my goals on that and reviewing those goals regularly (since that whiteboard sits on my desk). In addition, there is a satisfaction when you complete a task or a goal and you see it checked off.

This all leads to another important concept that must be considered if you wish to achieve your goals – regular review.  You should aim to review these goals weekly, monthly, and yearly. See where you stand now, and chart your progress. Are you getting closer to that X on the Treasure map? If not, ask yourself if you are really trying or not? If you can honestly say you are, then ask why you haven’t gotten any closer to the treasure? If need be, change your approach and see what that can do.  In the end, if you are committed enough, you will achieve your goals! Just remember to NEVER give up!

Summary Points

  1. Achieving a dream lifestyle means achieving smart, meaningful goals
  2. Define your goals by asking the right questions
  3. Execute and achieve your goals with careful planning and by mirroring those who have already achieved what you are seeking
  4. Get leverage on yourself (do something that will hold you accountable) and set a deadline
  5. Review your progress periodically and adjust your approach as needed
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