What are your dreams? Do you want to be a writer? Travel the world? Get that big promotion? Regardless of socioeconomic status, most of us yearn for something more. It is innately human to aspire for a different life or something perceived as “better” than the present. These utopian castles we construct in the clouds of our minds are often unrealistic worlds of pure bliss and unconditional happiness. With that said, we can attain similar real life versions through active living and hard work.
What is active living? It is purposeful. As Napoleon Hill described in his acclaimed book, Think and Grow Rich, you need to know what you want and then direct all of your energies into achieving those goals. Nothing will come to those who wait. Even the “lucky” or “fortunate” among us have to work connections or otherwise set themselves up for opportunities to experience success. Active living requires a series of goals – long, medium, and short term – and overt steps taken on a daily basis to realize them.
Set Long Term Goals. You first need to understand your big picture. What are your guiding principles? Are you passionate about public service? Do you love to paint, draw, sing, or dance? Are you intrigued by the world of international finance? Maybe you’re interested in improving peoples’ lifestyles by creating holistic and organic products. The point is – you must first know your passion. What motivates you? What drives you to act or gets you out of bed in the morning? Without passion, it will be nearly impossible to master any craft. Once you conclude on what inspires you to act, write down what you want to achieve. These should be long term goals, fairly general in nature, but not so broad to the point they are impossible to measure. For example, if you want to do good in the world, your goal should not be “make the world a better place”, but something more specific, i.e., “start a charity for [insert favorite cause].” And when I recommend to write down your goals, I mean it. Merely thinking about what you want to achieve will not hold you accountable. Your goals should be documented in a central location – I love using the Notes app through Apple. This advice applies to everything I recommend, but especially for long term goals, for if you do not document your big picture vision, you will not have a firm and explicit idea of what you want to achieve.
Set Medium Term Goals. These goals serve as milestones that measure progress over a longer period of time. While you probably cannot accomplish them in a day, after a series of steps, you may be able to complete them in a few weeks or months. They are the mile markers that track your progress to long term goals. If you want to start a charity, for example, medium term goals might include organizing the appropriate legal entity, differentiating the organization from potential competitors, or creating a website. None of these steps will probably happen overnight, but they are all necessary in order for you to reach your goal.
Set Short Term Goals. What can you do now? Short term goals are immediate active steps that will help you achieve your medium term objectives. If you’ve decided that you need professional assistance from lawyers, accountants, etc. to organize the legal structure of your charity, you will need to do some research. Unless you have connections, you will need to do some due diligence to find the best person to guide you through the process. Your short term goal should be to reach out to those people. These goals are all about immediacy. They are aggressive and fast. They have little patience for procrastination or bullshit. So map out the steps for creating your charity’s website, and aim to accomplish at least one step per day. The bottom line here is simple – act!
Take Overt Steps Daily. You should set short term goals on a daily basis. Even if you take only five minutes per day, carve out time to work toward meeting those medium term mile markers. It may sound cliche, but your mantra should be “no days off.” You can spare five minutes even on the most stressful of days. Telling yourself it is impossible is not only defeatist, it’s a lie. People complain that they can never find time in their busy schedules to read, write, or express themselves creatively. When I ask why, the typical answers flood our conversations – my kids take up all my time, my job is super stressful, etc. Commitments, both personal and professional, undoubtedly occupy the majority of our lives. If you allow them to consume you, however, you will only be working for other people in perpetuity, whether at the office or in your house. Overcome this abyss of no return by reserving a few minutes everyday for yourself and your passions.
Review Nightly. When you go to bed at night, take inventory. How well did you do that day? Were you able to carve out some time for yourself? Were you successful in accomplishing a short term goal. Did you inch closer to that mile marker? How many more do you have to go until you reach your long term goal? What can you do better tomorrow? Evenings were made for reflection, especially after the kids have gone to bed, electronics have gone silent, and it’s just you and your thoughts. No wonder guys like Mike Posner recommended listening to their albums “at night, alone.” Reflect in the silence of the night. Envision yourself achieving the steps that will advance you closer to your goals and dreams. Picture yourself amending your long term goal from “operating your charity” to “building it.” Motivate yourself as you drift off to sleep about the promises of the morning and the opportunity it presents. Review and reflect.
Review Weekly. While nightly reviews are for creative and reflective thoughts, weekly reviews are for study, analysis, and planning. What worked last week and what didn’t? How can you be more efficient in the week ahead? How can you force yourself to act with more urgency? Which actions will cause the best results? In your weekly reviews, you should plan meticulously. Map the short term goals that you plan to achieve in the week ahead. Document the steps that will take you to your medium term objectives. Find those mile markers. Write down your strategy. That’s what Sundays are for – devising your attack plan for the week ahead.
Live Purposefully and Well. This is the ultimate goal. Happiness is underrated in a world obsessed with materialism and instant gratification. Do not sacrifice a purposeful and happy life for one intent on superficial goals that will only leave you wanting more (sorry, there will always be someone richer). At the same time though, do not become so obsessed with goals and plans and objectives to the point that you live a rigid existence governed by rules and structure. This guide to active living is not intended to be formulaic or mathematical. It is meant to be fluid. By devoting a little attention everyday to your overall goal, you will surprise yourself with your progress. In the end though, this is only a guide – it is up to you to blaze the trail.