How to Accomplish Long Term Goals

Long term goals tend to be hard to accomplish for people – they usually require investment over a significant amount of time, which is why they’re not short term goals. Long term goals are usually pretty easy to derail, as well, because things that come up in the short and medium term might be higher priority at that moment.

Imagine setting a goal of saving up 50,000 dollars for your child’s education. This isn’t something you can reasonably do in a short period of time, so you decide to invest 200 dollars per biweekly paycheck into a savings account. I’m going to forgo interest rates for the sake of simplicity. At 200 dollars per paycheck, you invest 400 dollars a month – at 12 months a year, you’re saving 4800 dollars a year. It will take a little more than 10 years to save up this money, assuming you save diligently. Now imagine you run into an unexpected medical expense.

Your insurance will cover most of the costs, but you have a deductible of 3000 dollars that you need to hit before they cover you. If that extra 400 dollars a paycheck is the only spare money you have, you’ll be behind 7.5 months to pay off the medical expenses before you can go back to investing in your kid’s college fund. But because you’ve dropped the habit of putting your money into your kid’s savings for 8 months, you kind of drop it. You become used to the extra income that the money helps with. You have other bills that need to be paid. You think, “I’ll get back to it eventually.” But you don’t. Your long term plan failed. What went wrong, and how can you fix it?

  • Your plan is too ambitious – you need to break down the big goal into smaller pieces to reduce scope. (Setting a 50,000 dollar goal over a period of 10 years is way too long term. You can break this down as small as you want – think more short term. If you save 14 dollars a day, you’ll still reach your goal in 10 years, but it’s a lot easier to quantify saving that 14 dollars a day than saving 4800 dollars a year or even 400 dollars a month.
  • Remove all processes that require manual intervention on your part. If you’re taking 200 dollars out of each paycheck to put in your kid’s fund, you’re wasting precious mental cycles each paycheck thinking of this account and debating whether it should still be prioritized. If you have the bank automatically move this money out for you, you’ve removed all friction from accomplishing your savings, barring a financial emergency. Out of sight, out of mind.
  • Don’t punish yourself for missing your goals. This makes you less likely to continue on following through. Try to think of ways to mitigate any obstacles that block you from delivering.

Break up the big plan into smaller pieces and do the small stuff. Once you finish all the small goals, the accumulation of all the small stuff should equal the one big goal. I.E “I want to learn how to speak Spanish”

Being broken down into mid-term goals:

  • I want to carry on a conversation about the weather in Spanish
  • I want to order from a restaurant using only Spanish
  • I want to go on a date using Spanish
  • etc. etc.

Broken into smaller goals:

  • I want greet someone in Spanish
  • I want to ask someone out on a date in Spanish
  • etc. etc.

This is pretty hard to do, because it requires a lot of upfront thought about what you actually want from your long term goal. The long term goal is obvious, but why do you want to learn Spanish? What are the use cases that this goal is trying to meet? If you only want it to order food from restaurants, this is a much easier and concrete goal that can be reached in a shorter time. The idea is simple, but far from easy.

That’s pretty much it.


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