Long-Term Goal Planning

This article is about recognising a long-term goal and doing something about it. Long-term goals often require a lot of effort to bring about and you can avoid waste by being methodical and taking your time in the planning stage.

goal planning photo: David Ruck
photo: David Ruck

The Stages of Long-Term Goal Setting

Stage 1 – Recognising a Goal

Ruminating on a subject or wishing for different circumstances might indicate a desire for something you need or want and think probably won’t happen. If you are doing something similar then:

  • Something is missing from your life
  • You have some idea what it is
  • It’s currently out of reach

For simplicity, I will call this type of thing a wish. A wish is a call to action that has a destination. 

It can…

  • Provide the raw material for your subconscious to trace a route make from where you are to where you want to be.
  • Allow you to consider if your wish might be achievable in part or in whole.
  • Reveals your true desires.
  • Orients you towards activating that goal.
  • Free you from logical thought which can shut down your options before they have had time to form and develop.

If you allow yourself to have and maintain potentially bizarre ideas while knowing they are fairly unrealistic options you have a much better chance of hopping out of your current situation into new solutions. If you adhere to strictly realistic thinking, you will limit yourself to solutions with a tight connection to your current situation, and you may miss a good alternative.

Stage 2 – Determining Goal Quality

We live in a consumer age – wishing for more of everything will probably reduce your happiness. You may already have what you need.

our wants are many but our needs are few.

Charting a worthy course requires a degree of clarity about your feelings. Apply this filter to the desired outcome and see how it stacks up:

  • Is it part of a deep-rooted need?
  • Would it be healthier not to have it?
  • Is the cost and risk of failure worth the potential gain?

If your wish passes the above filter then we will have identified something that:

  • Is persistent.
  • Is consistent with your values.
  • Is worth responding to.

Stage 3 – Selecting What’s Important

Now that you have a identified a meaningful need, its time to get specific. Right now the goal might be unrealistic, have no limits or be very generalised. The best way to make it realistic is to carefully chip away the non-essential elements without damaging the core meaning. The way to do this is to repeatedly ask yourself

  • Why do I want this?
  • What are the most important features?
  • What is the minimum I need?

What you don’t need to do at this stage is to make it too realistic. If you put the brakes on too early you can lose important side issues that haven’t had time to be developed. For now, just bear in mind that the key part of this stage is honesty, not realism.

It helps to reassess this goal over time – perhaps a long time. You could be thinking in terms of days, weeks or months. For difficult questions, you may need to ask the opinions of others to get a fresh angle or a potentially more accurate assessment. It is important to avoid negative comments from others, you could easily be derailed by them.

Do not rush this stage, its the most crucial part. You would benefit from making notes, lists and diagrams to create a clear picture of what your goal entails. That will allow you to dig deeper into the concept and find things that might sway you for or against the end goal. Save your judgment for a later part of the process.

Researchers say that once you have identified a goal and have written it down, you are already on the most effective path to achieving it.

You should stay with this stage until you feel you are truly finished with it.

Stage 4 – Developing Goals

Now you have a goal that has been pared down to its minimum essential parts and you are clear on what it is. What you are trying to do now is chart a course that leads from where you are towards completion.

At this stage, it’s best to make a written note of some kind to refocus your mind.

  • What are all of the potential alternatives?
  • What intermediate steps are there?
  • Who or what could help you with the goal?
  • What are the obstacles?

At this stage you will be looking for:

  • Realistic solutions
  • Vaguely plausible solutions
  • Unrealistic related ideas that promote novel solutions

One way to do this is by letting your subconscious do the work. Start by considering the initial list, think about what’s possible and don’t worry about it too much.

  • Daydream through various scenarios.
  • You will research ideas.
  • Building a written list of all the things you have considered

Stay with it for as long as it takes. Eventually, you will see something that starts to make sense and you will know when you have truly exhausted all avenues.

Stage 4 – Don’t Rush

Once you have found one or more solutions take a break and let the ideas settle. It is important to put the results to one side and do something else for a while. It’s also a good time to celebrate the fact that you have made progress.

After a several days break, you go back to your plan you will be able to see its strengths and weaknesses much more clearly.

Stage 5 – Refining the Goals

When you are ready you can ask the following questions:

  • Are there any intermediate stages that can be treated as significant goals in themselves?
  • Are there any useful variations?
  • Can I easily expand the solution to make it bigger or wider than the one I first thought of?
  • Can I reach the exact same goal via a completely different route?
  • Can I make a goal fun to achieve?
  • Can a sub-goal be a useful rest point to recuperate and reassess?
  • Can I make a sub-goal useful independently of the end goal?
  • What is the best possible outcome?
  • What is the worst possible outcome?
  • What is the most likely outcome?
  • What do I have to lose, pay or commit to?
  • How does this affect my current circumstances?
  • How does this affect other people?

Answering these questions may require research, conversations or quiet contemplation. You should take as much time as necessary. Do not move on if you feel the ideas are not completely settled. Isolate the parts that are troubling you and do more research.

Stage 6 – Examine the Solutions

The final filter you need to apply to each solution will be:

  • Is the cost too great?
  • Am I happier the way things are?

This is something that you will know the answer to and your feelings will tell you. Does the solution make you uncomfortable? If so, you need to iron that out or find a new solution – do not ignore it.


If you have followed all of the above, then at this point you will have:

  • Identified a goal
  • Decided that it is consistent with your values
  • Refined the goal into specific targets
  • Found a realistic solution to making it happen
  • Looked for effective improvements
  • Decided if it was worth pursuing

You will have converted wishful thinking into a realist route to making a change in your life for which you have already accepted the negatives should they happen.