Think back to your last vacation and what made it possible. It started with dreaming about the places you might go, then selecting the destination, and finally putting a plan in motion. You made reservations, booked a flight, and so on. In the days and weeks leading up to your departure, you began to experience the simmering pleasure of contemplating the joys to come.
Now compare your vacation planning experiences to your efforts to solidify your career, support your family, or secure your financial independence—concerns that will perhaps affect you as long as you live. How much thought and planning have you devoted to these and other important areas of your life? Be honest. Just like that vacation, none of these goals will be realized unless you first connect to whatever is most meaningful to you, and then lay out a sequence of short- and long-term objectives that will bring your vision to life.
The truth is that the magnitude of your success is directly correlated with setting and achieving goals. Everyone knows this truth. Yet very few follow through on it. Why is this?
Perhaps the very notion of planning sounds intimidating. But it needn’t be. It can be done in three simple steps: Dream, Declare, Do.
Step 1: Dream.
Start fresh, blank canvas. What would you like to accomplish a year, five years, or even ten from now? Envision exactly what you desire. What would you wish for? Maybe you want to learn to speak Italian, run a marathon, or just lose 20 pounds.
Dream big. Allow your imagination the freedom to play. Your dream could be something as grand as heli-skiing in the Himalayas or racing a Formula 1 car to victory at the Italian Grand Prix.
Now, dream even bigger. Dream of a future unencumbered by the past. Be willing to conceive of something that might take longer than a lifetime, something greater than you alone can manifest. Make 50 billion dollars and then give it all away. Create a foundation to bring clean water and sustainable power to every impoverished village in India.
As you begin to formulate your vision, imagine what might be possible if you were to discuss your ideas with others and find ways to collaborate. A good vision will memorialize your dreams, but a great vision inspires others to act. Such a vision not only galvanizes existing allies but emboldens stakeholders who have been waiting to show up—stakeholders whose roles support your vision, and who feel pride in their connection to it. Who knows—instead of just fulfilling your own dreams, you might actualize ambitions that will echo onward through time.
Step 2: Declare
Whatever your vision, speak it—or even better, write it—to give it life. Making it explicit and concrete transforms a dream into a real possibility.
A declaration can be as practical as describing what you will do in the next hour or the next week, or as audacious as what you will accomplish over the next ten years or even in a lifetime. If, for example, one aspect of your dream is to become physically fit and healthy, you can focus on the precise steps you can take today to advance toward your goal.
Today I will go running with a friend.
Today I will choose to eat healthy foods.
Today I will share my fitness goals with my family.
Setting and achieving measurable daily goals not only builds the confidence that you can achieve the same goal tomorrow but maybe even a greater long-term goal.
Step 3: Do
Talking and brainstorming is easy. Without action, though, goals and intentions are nothing more than passing dreams. “Action” describes more than physical movement; yes, action can mean walking, writing, creating, destroying, building, healing, or protecting. But action also involves heart and mind—committing to a clear path toward accomplishing something important. Your vision declared, begin each day by reflecting on your short- and long-term goals, and then committing to action.
For example, if you start by saying, “Today I will choose to go running with a friend,” then commit to that choice in concrete ways. Set aside an hour for that run. Bring your running shoes to work with you—and call your friend a few hours in advance. Clear a path for yourself, starting now.
That’s all there is to it. You’re on your way. In effect, your plans serve to create a call from the future you desire, while marking the path toward your destination.
With clear vision, you are better able to avoid crises, as well as overcome your fears of the unknown. Stick to the plan…and then one day look up and find that what once was a dream has now come true.