In this blog, and in my book, How to Organize Your Work and Your Life, I spend a lot of time discussing goals. I suggest you identify the goals you’re most interested in, I encourage you to work more consistently toward those goals, and I give advice on breaking down those goals into a series of steps you can take to get there.
But I’m getting a lot of feedback from people who want more advice on selecting those steps. So let me give that question a try right now:
There are as many ways to get to a given goal as there are people who want to get there. This is because each person will:
- Bring a different set of strengths and weaknesses,
- Choose a path on the basis of a different set of interests and preferences,
- Have access to different resources, contacts, knowledge and experience.
Regardless of these differences, and regardless of what a person’s goals may be, everyone will have the same important condition in common: they will all have the option of breaking down their goals into steps that are very easy, challenging, or impossible for them to accomplish.
Take the Challenges
I am here to tell you that the best possible path toward your goal is the one that takes you through the steps that are neither easy nor impossible. It’s the challenging tasks that get you where you want to go.
To understand why, consider the following:
Easy tasks are easy for a reason: they generally don’t accomplish much and don’t move you very far along toward your goal. You can complete easy tasks for days, weeks, months, and years, and at the end of all that time still find yourself discouragingly close to where you began.
On the other hand, impossible tasks are just what they’re called: impossible. Sure, we can play semantic games, like the fabled “SeaBees” (U.S. Army Construction Battalions) that for many years claimed as their slogan: “The difficult we do immediately; the impossible takes a little longer.”
Sounds great, but not accurate, because the impossible is just what the label says: Not Possible.
So while you and the SeaBees may be capable of amazing feats of triumph and success, by definition those feats never were impossible.
And when you make the mistake of trying to reach your goal through one or more steps that is/are literally “impossible,” you can bet your bottom dollar that you’re not going to get there.
Steer a Sensible Path
This analysis leads to a fairly simple but effective guideline:
Find a path that leads to your goal through a series of challenging – neither easy nor impossible – interim steps: steps you have a reasonable chance to complete.
Challenging steps toward your goal have several advantages over those in the other two categories:
First, when you complete a challenge, you’ve generally made the most of your capabilities, in terms of progress gained for effort expended. You’re not spinning your wheels, going nowhere. Neither are you butting your head futilely against a granite cliff.
Second, accomplishing challenging goals usually makes you stronger. To accomplish each of your challenges, you’ll almost certainly have to improve your skills, your knowledge, and your character. This will allow you to select and complete an even greater challenge in the future.
Third, forging your way toward your goal through a series of challenges will help you gain important experience, build your reputation, and accumulate contacts and other resources that can prove invaluable later on.
So let me answer the question of “how to break down a goal” very simply: you will inevitably make the steadiest, most rapid progress possible toward each of your most important goals by navigating in that direction through a series of judiciously chosen challenges.
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