A lot of people talk about having goals: setting goals, achieving goals, goal timeframes, etc. While having goals is fine but goals have to be built on a foundation, and that foundation is your personal vision statement.
A path to your future self
When looking at the future, I don’t think in terms of what do I want to do, I think of who do I want to be. I try to get an overall view of myself such as, I want to be more well read and I want to learn more about a particular field of science.
These are starting points for goal creation.
Why goals alone don’t lead to success
I think the main reason why we set goals and don’t succeed is that we don’t have a vision of what we want to become.
Vision is an overall view of yourself and where you want to be in a defined timeframe (e.g. 1 year, 4 years). Your vision statement is the North Star to your goal.
This means if you want to have goals, you first need to know what general direction you need to go or how you want your life to be.
“Such as are your habitual thoughts such also will be the character of your mind, for the soul is dyed by the thought.” – Marcus Aurelius
Creating your vision statement
Think of qualities you think are important and compare those qualities to the qualities you think you possess. This has to be an honest self-assessment and it won’t do any good for you to over or underestimate your skills or knowledge.
Cultivate a mindset of purpose. Find what you’re good at doing, find what you like doing, see if there is a need for your skill, and see if you can get paid for it. When you can answer these questions, you’ll find a direction for your vision.
Starting small to see incremental gains is, in my opinion, the best way to keep yourself motivated. A good example of this is working out. You set a goal of decreasing your runtime a few seconds each week or increasing the amount of weight you can lift.
This keeps you motivated because you can see in a short time the gains from your goals. Since there are a lot of options for creating a personal vision statement I recommend not trying to change too much too soon.
Because of all these options, people tend to not make changes or choices due to the stresses of trying to pick what to do.
I know I get this way sometimes when I have too many choices that I don’t choose anything. This is called over choice.
“No single worthwhile goal can be successfully pursued by a man who is occupied with many tasks because the mind, when its focused is split, absorbs little in depth.” – Seneca
Start simple, start small
So plan what you want to see in your life in 3-month increments.
Start by writing 3 to 5 things that are important to you today. I recommend using a journaling method to track your progress.
Google is a nice platform to use for tracking progress but I changed to a basic composition book because I like the action of writing things down and flipping through pages to see my progress.
While journaling, this doesn’t have to be a daily event, you can do this 2 or 3 times a week or less if you want. The point is to give you a visual aid on how you’ve been progressing and thoughts on how you do change actions if you’re not seeing results.
Next, write 3-5 things that take up most of your time, I’ve been managing my actions (time management) using google calendar and color coding activities.
Then see if there’s overlap between what’s important to you and things that take up your time. If there’s no overlap then this is an opportunity to change how you use your time.
Next, write 3-5 strengths and weaknesses and 3-5 skills you have or want to have. These will become the foundations of how you want to lead your life.
Your vision statement doesn’t have to be a long essay on your life. It can be 2 sentences.
“Learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience” – Dreyfus & Kelly, All Things Shining
Time is on your side
Given these points, creating and maintaining your vision statement is going to be an active feedback process. This is not something you’re going to complete while drinking an ice cold bourbon (yeah, that’s how I like mine, don’t judge).
As with anything worth doing, it’s going to take time.
Sometimes the most profound things are the simplest. I’ll digress with this example: In 1873 there was an event in Pennsylvania; the Secretary of State delivered a 2-hour speech at a cemetery talking about the ravages of war.
After that long speech, another man spoke. He spoke only 273 words. It doesn’t take long to say 273 words but. those words are the Gettysburg Address. Who remembered the 2-hour long speech?
Furthermore, your vision statement is more about quality than quantity. So taking your time with it is important.
My vision statement is very simple: to be a better, more knowledgeable man tomorrow than I am today. This is my guide on how to make my goals. I think to myself, does this goal make me a better man? Does this goal make me a well-rounded man?
When they don’t, I change them.
Maintaining your vision statement
Maintaining your vision is an active process, it’ll take time and attention for you to evaluate your current actions against your vision statement and to see how you can readjust your actions.
You have to do the work, have the dedication, and be disciplined. Like I mentioned above, you’ll have to monitor your progress (use a journal) and do personal evaluations.
Seeing other students going for a professional degree, I saw that a lot of us want things to be perfect. We think “I want this action to be perfect, I want this project to be perfect”; perfect doesn’t exist.
As a result, when you don’t reach 100% of your goals it feels like a letdown. It’s not.
Mark any advancement you achieve a victory. Learn from what didn’t work and change it. Maybe you need to update your vision statement based on new information. That’s always a good thing and remember things that don’t bend under stress shatter.
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