My first guest post for the Life List Club. Yay! And of course I'm a day behind. My apologies. I'm posting over on Jess Witkins' blog this week. She runs a wonderful blog and I encourage everyone to check it out. Thanks to Anne-Mhairi Simpson for today's lovely article.
Why do we make goals? Especially when, so often, we fail to meet them. Our lives are full of “I want…” but the world still abounds with people who are miserable because they feel they haven’t met their potential. People who look back and regret not doing certain things. Often they have any number of reasons why they didn’t do these things, but they are still resentful of their lack of achievement, as though they know, deep down, that the reasons aren’t quite good enough.
I find a good thing to say to myself when I am on the brink of doing something that I really want to do, but which terrifies me, is “will I look back at the age of 93 and regret not doing this?” The answer is usually yes, which is all I need to know. But that’s when I’ve already worked towards something, when I’m on the final straight. What are goals for?
There are different kinds of goals. There are the big ones. “Make a million by the time I’m 30.” “Run a marathon.” “Lose 50lbs.” Make no mistake, these are big goals. Apart from inheritance, a high level of fitness or liposuction, there is nothing that enables the average person to achieve any of these goals overnight. These are the big boys. The things we really want to achieve.
The smaller goals are the key, though. These are what enable us to achieve the bigger goals. These mark the steps on the way to achieving our dreams, to fulfilling us in ways we always wanted but sometimes never dared hope. “Learn about investing.” “Walk a mile.” “Lose 2lbs a week.” These goals are the important ones, but so often they are ignored in favour of the big ones. We focus on the big picture, when sometimes you need to focus on the smaller details.
Imagine doing a jigsaw puzzle. You can look at the box and see the whole picture, but try working it out from just looking at the pieces altogether and putting it together from that. I can’t do it. For most people, it’s simply not possible. But if you focus on small details, it’s manageable. First the edges. All the pieces with a straight edge belong at the sides, which narrows down where they can go. These are your small, simple goals. Lose 2lbs a week – perfectly doable. Walk a mile – likewise. Same goes for learning.
Then, when your sides are done, you have the foundation necessary for building up the picture. The shapes of the pieces already laid in place enable to place other pieces that don’t have straight edges. Every piece you put in gives you more information with which to build the picture. The same goes for your goals. Losing 2lbs a week is fine for the beginning, but once you’ve lost some of the weight, you can start going to the gym and speed up that process. Once you can walk longer distances, you can start running, because your body is more used to moving. Learning about investing gives you the tools you need to start making that million (yes, I’m sure there are other ways – it’s not one of my goals so I haven’t looked into it).
There’s an oft-quote Chinese proverb – A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Tell me you wouldn’t look at a journey on foot of a thousand miles thinking, oh my god, what the hell have I got myself into? I added ‘on foot’ because I travelled about three and a half thousand miles yesterday and it didn’t take that long, but I don’t think that’s what Confucius had in mind.
The small goals are the single steps, the tiny milestones which are many and varied on our personal journeys. But they are there, and we should never forget them, nor should we forget to reward ourselves as we pass them. Every day that we achieve something in pursuit of our goal, something that takes us closer to our dreams, every little thing we do which knocks another chip off the massive granite block that is our goal, all these things should be celebrated. A few words written, a healthy meal, a walk around the block, a saving of $10 into a separate bank account. These are all steps on a journey, and especially at the beginning of a journey, it is most important that we reward ourselves for these tiny steps, as without them we will surely never get anywhere. The best thing? You may not think you can walk a thousand miles, but you can certainly take a single step.
And then another.
Real life is just too real, which is why Anne-Mhairi writes fantasy, preferably for teenagers because they’re closer to her mental age. This can, and often does, involve griffins, unicorns, werewolves and/or vampires. And because she likes a laugh, there are also pink mice and gods with faulty moral compasses. But whatever she’s writing, there’ll be a lot of blood and a LOT of magic, because that’s what makes her worlds go round.
She’s been to six schools (seven if you include university) and lived in four countries on two continents. She speaks three languages and bits and pieces of three more. She once galloped a horse into a cow (by accident) and she’s been to Machu Picchu three times. Apart from writing, she likes pretty shoes, making jewellery, films, dancing, reading and chocolate. Don’t forget the chocolate.
Her first book, For The Love Of Gods, will be available in August 2011.