By Rhonda Collins, I Start Wondering Columnist
With so many demands on our time and attention – many of which fall into the category of “must do’s” – sometimes it’s near impossible to work on our “want to do’s.” Yet when you lose touch with your priorities, your life’s dreams tend to fall by the wayside.
Last month’s column discussed the notion that success is simply achieving your goals or life’s dreams. Achieving your life’s dreams comes from deliberate navigation – mapping out the journey and steering your life in the direction you choose. Navigation involves four actions: setting priorities, making wise choices, letting others help and persevering despite delays and setbacks.
Unfortunately, if we don’t make our passions a priority, our daily obligations will continue to overwhelm us and we will never make headway on our long-time, perhaps God-given, dreams. At home we have our grocery lists and our household chores list. At work, we make lists of activities and projects that need to be completed. Are you also making a to-do list for your dreams?
A is for Accomplishing Your Goals
So how do we begin to move something on our life stovetop from the back burner to the front burner? I have five steps to help you get your life’s dreams back on your to-do list. Because A is the first letter of the alphabet, this is the letter I’ve chosen to help you remember the five steps to making and keeping your dreams first in your life.
Step 1: Antecedence
The first step is antecedence, the act of going before. You know that thing you are passionate about, that thing you have been talking about doing for as long as you can remember, that thing for which you wonder if you’ll ever get around to doing or seeing? Well, that thing has to become one of the “firsts” in your life if you are to bring it to fruition.
You must determine whether this goal is worth being on your front burner. To do this, find some alone time, close your eyes and envision your life’s dream as fulfilled. Then ask yourself, “Relative to all my other goals and ideas, how important is fulfilling this one? Will I be happy in my old age if I never do this thing?”
In short, you must decide whether it is truly a goal you want to pursue. If you determine that this is a nice idea, but you have other things that will make you just as content, maybe it’s time to say “I will let this one go.” Ending pursuit of a goal is not a sign of failure. It’s a sign that you are saying “no” to one journey in order to say “yes” to another.
In contrast, if after meditating on the dream, the notion still resonates with your soul, you must make it a priority. You must declare that it will “go before” other things in your life.
Step 2: Articulation
The next step is to articulate your idea. You need to have a clear vision of exactly what you desire. We often say we want to do something, but we don’t define the goal in specific enough terms to know how to navigate our way to success.
For example, typical goals might be one of the following.
- I want to write a novel.
- I would like to have a better relationship with my sister.
- I dream of living by the ocean someday.
- I need to lose weight.
- I want to ensure my child can go to college.
Precisely articulated goals would be one of these.
- I will write a little every week in order to complete a book in the next two years.
- I will have a relationship with my sister that allows us to spend time together enjoying each other’s company and not fighting.
- I will find a job in a coastal city, move there and buy or rent a house within three blocks of the beach.
- I will lose 20 pounds by changing my eating habits and exercising three times a week.
- Within the next six years, I will save at least $10,000 to go towards my child’s education and I will research the best classes to prepare her for college.
By getting more exact on what you want, you can determine what actions you need to take each year, month and week to achieve your goals.
In addition to verbally articulating precise goals, you can prompt yourself to keep it a priority with a visual articulation of your goal. Find a picture of what you want and put it in a place (your mirror, your screen saver, your appointment book) where you will see it every day as a reminder.
Step 3: Action
Managing your time and developing good habits are the keys to moving forward step by step toward your goals. Whole books have been written about this one topic and we have all read a few of them. We know what to do:
- Take care to schedule the most important things first (most important doesn’t mean most urgent).
- Develop the habits necessary to accomplish your goals (saving money, exercising, finding time every week to research, write, plan, draw or create).
Let’s say your goal is to have a better relationship with some family member. Ask yourself if you schedule time to work on the relationship. We schedule appointments with the dentist and hair stylist. We put our exercise and our book club on our calendar. But we often forget to put those things on our calendar that we say are priorities to us. Similarly, we often don’t consciously work to develop habits (calling, writing letters) that will support those goals.
Step 4: Attitude
Developing the right disposition is essential for making your life’s dreams a priority. You must start to see the goal as your destiny.
Sometimes, sadly, we believe we don’t deserve to spend time on our life’s dreams or we think we aren’t good enough, strong enough or qualified enough. If your dream passed my antecedence test above, you must put aside any negative beliefs. You are enough. Your dream is worth your time.
Another psychological challenge is that our ambitions and ideas seem to loom so large that we just feel completely overwhelmed and don’t have a clue how to bring them into existence. If this is happening for you, make a list of steps to take, the smaller the better. Then tell yourself you MUST do one tiny step every day. Get a friend to hold you accountable or reward yourself with a small treat (dinner at your favorite restaurant or a pedicure) each time you complete a milestone.
Step 5: Abstinence
From what are you willing to abstain? None of us have more than 24 hours in a day and must of us are not millionaires. So, if you decide you are committed to your dream, you need to ask yourself: What am I going to give up in my day to make room for working on this goal? What am I willing to stop buying to pay or save for my dream?
When I was working toward my master’s degree, I gave up television completely. I wanted to complete my degree in as short of time as possible and I knew watching my favorite TV programs would be a distraction for me. Also, I was trying to get through school with as few loans as possible. Not having cable meant I could put more toward tuition costs with my limited budget.
When I think back now on those days, I don’t feel deprived. I remember making new friends, having lots of good times with my classmates. Mostly, I feel good that I was first in my cohort to complete my degree and I didn’t graduate with a mountain of debt like some of my friends.
Too many of us have left our personal goals on the back burner of our life stovetop for so long that the pot has boiled dry. If this is true for you, it’s time to move your life’s dreams to the front burner and start cooking again. You may have to continue watching a few other obligation skillets, but don’t ignore your passion pan. Keep stirring it.
Are you ready to make your life’s dreams a reality? If so, remember: Antecedence, Articulation, Action, Attitude and Abstinence. These are five ways to make your goals a priority in your life. Once your dream is one of your “firsts,” you are moving toward the final words starting with A: Accomplishing, Attaining and Achieving.
Do you have questions or challenges in your efforts to navigate your life journey? If so, I would love to hear from you through your comments on this blog. Let’s start a conversation.
You also can contact Rhonda at collinscareercounseling@yahoo.