I fell short..but ended up winning

I had set a target of swimming 4000 laps during the whole of 2018. The year just ended and I have achieved just 3825. I should be depressed for missing the mark by such a narrow margin, but to put things is perspective….2 years back, my stamina allowed me to swim only 4 laps at a stretch and in 2017 after some training to improve my strokes, I crossed the target of swimming 1500 laps. So 3825 laps this year is definitely a big WIN for me. I am looking at 5000 in 2019 and 6000 in 2020. This might sound very trivial to many of you expert swimmers, but the only person I am competing with here is myself.

This is the time of the year where many people are setting their new year goals. I take goal setting very seriously…but the only difference is I set very long term goals for myself and then work backwards. For example – to have traveled to my target of 150 countries by 2035, I need to have travelled to 125 countries by 2030…which would in-turn require me to travel to about 100 countries by 2025..and while I am traveling in my remaining countries in South America…debería poder hablar en español fluido (I should be able to speak fluently in Spanish)……..so on and so forth.

These long term goals act as my (broad) rail-lines for my shorter term activities. Not that I meet all my goals always, but having these long term goals motivate me to decide what milestones I am going to focus on each year, each month, each week…and how I am going to spend each day of my life. It also tells me to avoid spending time on stuff which are not aligned with my longer term objectives.

Bill Gates famously said

“Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.”

For me setting stretch long term goals act like a hack. In many instances, just like a lot of people I have my own share of procrastination and I would probably be falling short in some of the areas. However these ‘guide-rails’ do a great job of pulling me back up on track. If I stay committed to taking action in accordance with my goals, my longer term achievements would far exceed what would otherwise get done, had the goals not been there. The swimming story above is a great example of how I can gradually train myself to doing something that would be unthinkable just a few years ago….just by breaking up the longer term goals into bite-sized daily activities.

The ‘deliberate practice’ over a long period of time makes magic happen. The long term compounding  effect is often beyond one’s imagination of what one is capable of. At the end of a reasonably long period I would be significantly better off just because I set a goal and bothered to keep my eyes on the target…even though I might have slipped off the rails time and again. The ‘process’ (of setting the goals and working towards them by regular & deliberate practice) is more important that the end result.

So 20-something years down the line….the final achievement may or may not exactly be …..traveling to 180 countries….reading 1000 books….swimming 100,000 laps……visiting 100 remote islands……giving back $  X Millions….but it will certainly be remarkably significant in each of the areas….just because these tangible goals were set 20 years back…and every morning I pulled myself out of bed and took action to achieve the interim (1-Year…. 5-Year….10-Year ….) milestones.