Many people suffer from being rational dreamers. They want to achieve a big dream but hold themselves back by being risk averse. They don’t want to disrupt the status quo and play things safe.
To coax themselves out of their comfort zones, people learn to set goals. I consider the process of goal setting to be like arranging checkpoints along the way to a desired end. Setting and meeting small goals can serve as a thermometer check on progress, measuring advancement and indicating an overall plan’s viability.
Approach goal setting like creating a customized road map to chart your success. Think about when you take a really long road trip with your friends. Most often, you start off knowing the destination, but since road trips can be fairly long, making pit stops along the way is necessary.
Before venturing out, you might decide to stop a quarter of the way along for food, then at the halfway point for gas, at the two-thirds mark to stretch and perhaps 100 miles beyond that for more gas.
You’re meeting smaller, more immediate goals that build on your efforts to reach the final destination.
Wherever your map is taking you, you need to set three different types of goals to ensure success: immediate, intermediate and stretch goals.
- Set a stretch goal.
Start by developing stretch goals, a long-term objective that will take years to accomplish. Determine your stretch goal first because this choice will influence the selection of intermediate and immediate goals.
A stretch goal should be big. Some stretch goals are more specific than others. One person’s specific goal might be “to become the CEO of Google.” Another individual’s vaguer stretch goal would be “to produce a national television show.” An extremely vague goal would be “to work in the fashion industry.”
It’s OK, though, to leave room for interpretation.
- Set immediate goals.
I like to create immediate goals that are small and assign a deadline that’s very soon. I suggest setting up these goals as activities that can be accomplished in a week.
Ask yourself, What do I need to get done this week that will contribute to and move me along my desired trajectory? What small thing can I do this week that will move me an inch closer to my goal?
For writers, an immediate goal might to write six pages of a script or participate in a weekly writing class. It could also be to start reading a book about a field you’d like to enter. Be realistic. Accomplishing immediate goals should be like taking small baby steps: They contribute to your overall development and growth and set you up to complete intermediate goals.
- Pick intermediate goals.
Intermediate goals are broader than immediate goals and can have monthly or yearly time frames for their accomplishment.
Perhaps an intermediate goal might be to apply to an apprenticeship or training program. If a desired outcome requires your relocation, more schooling or quitting a job, set a timeline for taking one of these intermediate steps.
Meeting intermediate goals can help propel you forward along your trajectory. Achieving them might push you outside your comfort zone more than completing immediate goals and that’s great. It’s through discomfort that people grow and become who they want to be.
I originally wrote this for Entrepreneur magazine.