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How to choose goals: pick the right battles

One of the most striking things about life is that we must make choices. Everything in life is limited. Time, resources, opportunity, and so on. You can’t be everything you have ever desired to be. You can’t do everything you’ve ever wanted to do. You need to pick and choose. Which dreams are going to be the lucky ones that will become goals, and then plans and projects to have a chance to see the light of day? This seems so obvious, but my experience tells me another story. I frequently encounter people that show me endless lists with all the goals and dreams they want to achieve, many of which would require a great deal of effort and time to be accomplished.

I would not recommend following multiple goals even if you could live forever! One of the most important aspects of having goals and striving to reach them is to become successful in your field. Most of our goals are related to our professional and financial life. That’s natural. Professional success, however, requires focus on just one area (maybe, maybe, two or three when they are complementary). You could be an astronaut and a writer, but you couldn’t be an astronaut and a lawyer, without giving up one of the two careers. There’s a lot of things that are indeed complementary. I can be a writer and a life coach while travelling around the world. I couldn’t maintain this lifestyle, however, if I decided to start a business in the real world too. I would have to make choices. I would probably have to stop writing, travelling, and coaching for a long time to focus on my startup. If I didn’t do that, all my activities would suffer, and so would my personal life.

Success is also the pinnacle of long-term dedication. If you keep jumping from one goal to another, most likely you would never reach success in anything. I’m not talking about reaching several specific goals within the same area. I’m talking about having multiple goals completely unrelated to one another. I’ve known very successful people that start businesses and take them to IPO, selling them, and jumping to another project right away. They become experts in building successful businesses. They don’t do that once or twice and then go into a completely different career. Yes, there are career changers and that’s ok. The problem is jumping indefinitely between completely unrelated areas and not sticking to anything long enough to reap the benefits of success. The problem is wanting to do too many different things, all at once. Having too many goals is never a good thing!

Sometimes the difficulty is choosing among options within the same area. If I start writing five books at the same time, and each book takes me one year to write, I wouldn’t finish the first one before the end of the 5th year! The most reasonable thing to do would be to focus on just one book, write it as fast as I could, and then while I work on the second one, that first book would be paying off. On the third year, after having two published books, I would be in a much better place while working on my next one and so forth. People that “discover” the wonders of an internet business usually fall into the same trap. They want to start multiple websites on different niches, all at once. One day they work on one site, the next day they work on another site and so on. They don’t realize that the fastest result are reached when you focus efforts on just one direction. By working simultaneously on multiple projects, we just delay success altogether.

Wanting to do too many things is like going to a buffet and putting too much food on your plate. You would like to eat it all, but you can’t! You have to make choices considering the specific limitations that you have in your life. Don’t let goal gluttony take control! Pick and choose your battles. If you still want to achieve many different things, prioritize. Choose which goal is going to be accomplished first and don’t start working on the next one until you’ve reached the end of the “heavy work”.

You still may have maintenance activities while you’re working on other goals, but you’ll be enjoying the results already. Many goals require permanent up keeping, like a website for example. In your project, you’ll define the “end” step, which determines when your goal is considered “achieved” and you can move on to the next, even if you’ll have to put time and effort on it forever. The more permanent effort goals you have, however, the less goals overall you should have. I can write 50 books, not simultaneously, of course! Once a book is finished, technically, it’s finished. I can work on further editions if I want to, but I don’t have to. Once I finish a book, I can move on to the next project without having to spend time taking care of the previous ones. I couldn’t maintain 50 websites, though, because each one of them would require permanent upkeeping. I would have to abandon some of them or just do a very poor job at updating them, producing garbage articles, and not paying enough attention to my readers. The results would be weak and diluted.

Every big goal is a battle you choose to fight. You’re going to strategize your plan of action, you’re going to develop targeted habits to optimize your performance, and you’re going to fight for it, from beginning to end, and beyond. If you’re going to put so much effort into something, you’d better choose carefully! Not only that, but you should pick only a few battles that are worth fighting for. Your time and resources are limited and precious. You can’t afford to waste them on projects that are not coming from your heart.

So, how exactly should you choose goals?

Of course, different people use different methods. This is not math! Some people are more intuitive than others and choose based only on how they feel. I prefer to use a mix of intuition with goal analysis, a study that envolves probability, statistics, and scenarios.

The first thing I do is a good ol’ list of pros & cons. I don’t base my decision on these results, but it’s a good start. It’s a way of mapping the elements surrounding the goal. Then I start to dig a little deeper searching for numbers. I collect whatever statistics I can find on the goal, and people that have achieved similar things. This helps me understand the “topography” of the path (what kind of obstacles should I expect? How difficult it is?) and the results that I can expect realistically. This naturally takes me to a probability analysis. How likely am I to reach this goal? How likely am I to get the kind of results I’m expecting? This is what I call “wishful thinking killer”. This goes against most of what’s out there in the self-improvement literature right now. This tells you to put your feet on the ground and stop fantasizing about things you’re very unlikely to achieve. If you really want something that’s our of your reach, you’re gonna need a hell of a plan! Just wishing won’t cut it! This process has helped me shape my goals to my reality. Some people don’t like to hear this because they prefer to believe they can change their reality to whatever they want, that they should be able to just dream and conquer the world. It doesn’t work that way. Even people that have literally conquered the world started with timid steps and small goals and climbed the ladder slowly. So using successful people as examples of how wrong I am doesn’t prove anything. Every (solid) success case I’ve studied started with simple plans and small victories, and a lot of focus and persistence over a very long period of time. Not only that but the goals that we choose to pursue must match our personality. Without a careful analysis of what it really takes to get it and what kind of person (in terms of personality) makes it, we risk chasing things that “are not for us”.