If you haven't read the related section about writing down your goals, we recommend you do so immediately before or after you read this section. The concepts covered in these two articles are closely related.
Whether setting personal goals, professional goals, sales goals, or any combination, it's important that you begin with the end in mind, i.e. start with the big, longer term goals.
Long term goals are relative. A two year goal might be long term if part of a three year plan, while it would be a short term goal in a twenty year plan. The first thing you need to do is put a start and end date to your entire goal plan. For the purpose of this article, let's assume a twenty year personal goal plan.
Assuming a twenty year plan, your goal setting strategy should start with the really big stuff that you want to accomplish. Dare to dream, even fantasize. This is the fun part. Just start writing down all of your dreams; things you want to own, see, and become; places you want to go, people you want to meet. There are no limits to what a person can do in twenty years so don't hold back during this part of the planning. You will have plenty of opportunity to inject reality as you start breaking these goals down in to smaller goals and, eventually, daily tasks. Long term goals need to excite you, to motivate you. Include pictures and as much detail that your mind holds. The more detail, the more real these goals will become to you over time.
In setting long term goals, there is more risk in setting them too low than too high. Long term goals are often meant to always outdistance you. They are meant more as motivation than as destinations. By reaching for your long term goals, and breaking them down using goal setting tools and strategies, you will achieve things you never dreamed of, even if they aren't exactly as defined in your long term goals.
Achieving your long term goals too soon, and without a subsequent goal plan, can cause a psychological deflation. This may be confusing but it's really a fundamental in human behavior. It's inherent in the human condition that we like to be moving towards something, to be working towards a goal. Once the goal is realized, there must be the next thing. An extreme example is the Apollo astronauts who had to go through depression therapy when they returned home from landing on the moon. They had achieved their life goal and had trouble finding meaning in living on. A simpler example is the NFL team that wins the Super Bowl. Most players only dream of a Super Bowl ring. Once they get it, what's next? The band Bad Company sings about a young rock singer in "Shooting Star" that reaches the top too soon and commits suicide when he could not cope when his star began falling.
This may all be a little confusing since we're taught from a young age to be achievers and that setting goals and not reaching them is not a good thing. These people do not understand the concepts of goal setting and they're giving us all bad advice. What will become crystal clear to you if you continue with this article series on Goal Setting Theory is that what you get as a result of goal setting is much less important than what you become. And, as you're "becoming", you're going to "get" a lot... more than you ever imagined.
As you master the art of goal setting, you'll learn that goals change daily. A long term goal that you set today will likely change as you continue your journey. The things that motivate you today will not likely motivate you somewhere in the future. So, you see, long term goals are motivators. When they stop motivating, you must change them. Make a commitment to look at your long term goals every day. When one of them is no longer motivating, replace it with a new one.
Achieving your long term goals too soon, and without a subsequent goal plan, can cause a psychological deflation. The band Bad Company sings about a young rock singer in "Shooting Star" that reaches the top too soon and commits suicide when he could not cope when his star began falling. After viewing this video (rocks, pebbles, sand, water video) illustrating the importance of starting a goal setting plan with the long term goals, i.e. the big stuff, be sure to read the section about short term goal setting. This is where you will break down your dreams into manageable daily tasks. If you're serious about goal setting, you're going to need tools to aid in designing, refining, and following your plan. We've developed a tool we call the GoalTender but there are many others available on the web and we encourage you to research several articles and tools before investing your money. What works for one person may not work for you.
You must have long term goals to keep you from being frustrated by short term failures.