One thing I wanted to do for the first time was to set some long term goals. My anxious brain being what it is, the first step was obviously to research ad nauseam about goal-setting. Not finding a lot of good articles or first hand info on setting long term goals, I decided to come up with some strategies of my own piecemealed together from what I read, and from personal experiences from the last ten or so years of setting annual goals.
In the last decade of annual goals I’ve set, I have learned a lot of lessons, mostly by repeated failure. Things like keeping the number of goals reasonable (My first year I had over 150), and setting SMART goals being some of the bigger lessons. Along the way I’ve also learned to pick up digital mentors and “The Seinfeld method” as a way to keep up with the daily grind.
Step 1 – Set your goals.
One of the most important factors is to narrow down the list of what goals you should go after. Coach Dan John often says “Only chase one rabbit at a time”. If you’re trying to hit too many diverse targets, you’ll never hit any of them. If you’re having trouble narrowing down the list, try to group the goals into categories and see if there isn’t an over-arching goal that combines several goals.
Another important aspect is the degree of ownership you have on your goals. A goal like “I will be married in 5 years” seems like a losing proposition to me – you can’t control how other people feel without gross manipulation. However, “I will have $50k in my retirement account” is something you have much more control over. Limit your failure points when possible.
Lastly, your goals should be relevant to you long term. To that end I think the priority with long term goals should focus on big picture ideas – finance, career, health, lifestyle choices, etc. While choosing an arbitrary number of books to read is a great goal for personal development that could lead to many wonderful things, deciding on a career path is going to have much more impact on your life (and likely will include reading a lot of books if you set your sights correctly).
For this first experiment, I’ve decided to set 3 long term goals, with a “deadline” of 3 years from now – August 29th, 2023 – My 37th birthday.
Step 2 – Set sub-goals with deadlines.
Once you’ve decided upon the goals, the next step is to set sub-goals. Breaking the goals up into manageable chunks is the only way to keep yourself motivated and on the path. When you can measure your progress against sub-goals you can much more readily feel the progress being made. The sub-goals also allow you a chance to change course, or dial up intensity. While the long term goals should absolutely have some wiggle room in them, these sub-goals can be much more rigid in adhering to SMART criteria. (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound).
To set your sub-goals, figure out the stepping stones you’ll need to achieve to reach your goals. Sometimes this is easiest to work backwards from the goal itself. Don’t get too hung up on the sub-goals, you’ll very likely have to change them. The key is just to break these massive tasks up into smaller pieces so you can start to go after them.
Step 3 – Find a coach.
One helpful, but not entirely necessary step is to identify “Coaches” – People that can mentor or inspire you. These people don’t even need to interact with you – they may not even be alive anymore. You can learn quite a lot from people’s books, videos, tweets, etc. Hell they don’t even need to be a real person. You can gleam a whole lot of insight from fictional characters. Let these people set the example for you and take what you can from them, we only see far by standing on the shoulders of giants.
Step 4 – Choose your weapons.
Once you’ve got your goals, and broken things into sub-goals it’s time to get to work deciding how you’re going to tackle them. I call these strategies your “weapons” and you can learn about your options from your mentors and research.
A weapon could be anything you can use to attack the goal – If you’re trying to save money, it could include using apps to round up purchases and dump into a savings account. It could be cutting non-essential services like netflix. It could be finding a side-hustle to bring in more money that you save. It could be asking your boss what you need to do to receive a raise. The more weapons you have at your disposal, the more likely you are to achieve your goals.
One side note – While I personally prefer the shotgun approach and achieve “accuracy through volume”, this may overwhelm some people. If that sounds like you, my best advice is to waste no time weighing options. Pick 2 or 3 and go. You can’t steer a parked car, and if you never use your weapons you’ll never make any headway to your goals. If you get down the road and feel like something you’ve chosen isn’t working great, feel free to switch it out.
Likewise, if you get bored easily, perhaps focus on one weapon at a time and frequently rotate through them. Be a scientist, do tests, collect data, report results and then argue on the internet with people about what you’ve learned. Anger and spite and the need to prove some jackass online wrong is one of my favorite weapons.
Step 5 – Create Habits.
Once you have your weapons at the ready, you can start to develop habits – your actual implementation of the weapons. This would ideally be something that you can do on a daily or weekly basis to push the needle on your goal. Consider the Seinfeld method – decide on a use case for a weapon that you can do every day (or week in some cases) and then do your best to not break the chain.
Be sure to design your environment around your habits. James Clear’s Atomic Habits has a wealth of information on this (and other strategies for habit building) but for the sake of brevity – if your goal is to learn an instrument, than keep your instrument out of it’s case and in a prominent place.
While Atomic Habits lists a number of great strategies for habit building, I’d like to touch briefly on two other techniques I find useful – Inversion and Phoning it in.
Inversion is simply figuring out the worst thing for your goal and NOT doing that thing. If you want to lose weight, don’t eat ice cream. Often times you’ll find avoiding these little traps makes up a giant portion of the battle.
Similarly – “Phoning it in” is just that. If you don’t feel like doing something, then phone it in. Give a half-assed effort and show up for 5 minutes. If something is truly worth doing, it’s worth doing half-assedly. Think if your goal is weight-loss and you don’t feel like working out, but you walk around the block anyway. Maybe you finish the lap and call it a day and burn just a few calories, maybe you finish the lap and find your motivation. Either way, it doesn’t really matter because you stayed on the path for another day, and staying on the path day after day is what brings you to victory.
My Goals for the next 3 years.
Now that I’ve shared my method, I’d like to share my goals for the next 3 years and how I’m planning to implement these methods to achieve them.
1) Disaster Proof My Finances.
This one is a bit vague in title, as I’m still working on what actual success will look like. However the first half of 2020 made it abundantly clear that having a financial safety net is hugely important.
In addition to the pandemic, I also ended up needing surgery on my foot in march which left me unable to do much work. I was lucky in that I had wrapped up a few big jobs and could afford to coast a bit. Additionally I had some available credit on credit cards and wildly supportive parents who offered to bail me out should I need it.
Thankfully, work has still been trickling in, so I haven’t needed to resort to credit cards or asking parents for help. My recovery was also quite speedy – I was actually up and walking around a few hours after the surgery and back to most normal work duties about 2 weeks after that. However, I am very aware that this whole thing could have played out very differently.
Here’s what I came up with sub-goals for this goal:
Low Debt – Having Credit cards to use as a safety net is generally frowned upon financial advice. Of course having a high balance and paying interest on that is an even worse situation. Being at a low-debt level or even debt free is there-for the most important condition towards disaster proofing finances.
I’ve always had a problem with credit cards, constantly making new gear purchases. While the investments have generally paid off, I think it’s time I get off the credit card treadmill once and for all.
Liquid Savings – Most of my savings is dropped into the stock market, in the hopes that the compound interest will help me reach my retirement goals. Of course when the shit hit the fan, that proved to be a poor solution as my stocks got rocked hard. Selling them when I could have needed them would have meant taking a massive loss on a few of them. So to hedge against future disaster, I’d like to build up a more traditional liquid emergency fund with 3-6 months worth of expenses.
Client-free income – And here we are, the catalyst for me starting to blog (and youtube) – I’d like to develop an income stream that doesn’t rely on clients.
During this pandemic and my foot recovery I’ve been fortunate to still be bringing in a few jobs from my regular clients, but it could have just as easily gone the other way.
Being able to earn income on my own has always been something I’ve been interested in and allows me to be much more flexible with my career. As much as I love working on video projects with clients, it can often be stressful and inflexible. Being able to earn income from my passions would allow me to focus more on the projects and clients I work best with.
Mentors For This Goal
When I think of mentors for finances, I often think of Ramit Sethi, author of I Will Teach You To Be Rich, which is one of the best personal finance books I’ve ever read. Gary Vaynerchuk’s attitude towards building an audience is another great mentor, as is Matt D’Avella whose message of minimalism has me rethinking how little I really need to buy to be happy.
Weapons for This Goal
The basic targets for this goal are quite simple, spend less money and increase income. When it comes to specific weapons, we see “The Snowball method” for paying off debt (pay the smallest bills first, roll monthly minimum payments into next largest). Creating a “Spending log” much in the way of a food log to become aware of how and when I’m spending money. Developing new skills and side hustles to increase my income and many other avenues to improve my financial well-being.
Habits for This Goal
So with those weapons established, it seems quite apparent what needs to happen habit wise – I need to create content, expand my network, learn new skills and build an audience. So the measure of a successful day is quite binary – Did I make anything today? Did I learn anything new? Did I practice my new skills?
2) Buy a house
I’m starting to get to that age where living in an apartment isn’t my ideal. I pay about $1,000 a month for my one bedroom apartment. While it’s quite nice, I’m starting to get sick of the loud neighbors and parking issues. Having a little more room would also be great. We can argue back and forth all day on whether or not a house is the wise financial move, but all of that is secondary to my reasons for wanting a house anyway.
Build a wish-list for “dream house” – I think one of the most important things here is figuring out what I actually want in a house. I already have some specifics as far as location, and number bathrooms, but there’s so much more. Building a wish list will give me a more firm idea on what to shoot for down-payment wise.
Increase Income – I’ve gathered that being a self-employed freelancer who lives alone maybe not the best candidate for a house loan. As a way to combat this, I think both having a solid down-payment and a few solid years of income to back my loan will give me the best chance to obtain a loan both in general, and for an amount that satisfies my fancy bitch tastes in houses.
Disaster Proof Income – Making the long-term goal a sub-goal here is no accident. If I want to buy a house, I’m gonna need a safety net. While I don’t think I need to go full bore at this point, having some steady income from client-less sources and having low debt seem like very smart moves to obtain the loan required.
Once again, I’ll be leaning on a lot of the same mentors, along with some wise folks I know personally – realtors, people that bought more than one house and people that do contract work on houses.
Weapon wise, it seems like increasing my income through content production and networking will be big keys. Increasing my skill set to make me more applicable to a wider range of jobs is also on the list, really not much is different than the previous goal.
Simple enough. Just need to keep making content and take some time out every week to learn new skills I can use to earn money. In addition to that, taking a good chunk of money and sticking it aside every week or month will help build up the down payment required.
3) Put Diabetes into Remission
This last one pretty much goes against everything in SMART criteria and my own thoughts on goal setting. I’m not even sure if it’s totally possible.
Earlier this year I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes – which is likely a large reason why I required surgery on my foot. I’ll spare the gorey details and get on with the goal.
According to Dr. Jason Fung and a small sub-set of diabetes focused doctors, a majority of people can reverse their type 2 diabetes and functionally put it into “remission”. Dr. Fung notes that some 90%+ of bariatric surgery patients achieve diabetes remision and he has helped people achieve it with some fasting protocols. Other doctors have recommended a healthy-fat keto diet and have achieved the same.
The problem is, diabetes effects everyone differently and to different levels of complexity. The basics of it seem simple enough – reduce body fat (especially in the mid section) and reverse insulin resistance. Simple, but definitely not easy. There’s a lot of things at play and the information seems to conflict at every turn.
The subgoals are similarly nebulous for this goal which has me worried about the likelyhood of accomplishment – but if you don’t go for the occasional moon-shot, what’s even the point of goal setting?
Doctors I’ve been following agree, that diabetes is principally a diet based problem. Correct the diet and improvements happen. I’ve already been on a long process of correcting my diet over the last several years, having dropped nearly 130lbs at this point from my heaviest weight around 2012.
Now that I’m winding down to a healthy weight, and running out of low hanging fruit, I’m having trouble getting good info on how to step it up Seems like many diabetics just give in to their diagnosis and don’t attempt to go for remission – which makes sense considering how the disease comes about. It seems the only real agreed upon thing is to limit carbs and saturated fats. Everything else is up for debate and likely it all works, you just have to find what works for you specifically.
The A1C is a blood test that measures your average blood sugar over the last 3ish months. It does this by looking at hemoglobin which glucose attaches to. These cells tend to live for 3 months. That’s about all I know about it. An a1c below 7 is considered “controlled”, I believe since my diagnosis I have achieved this based on my daily blood glucose readings. To get to remission I need to push it down below 5 though – a number that may or may not even be possible. For context, In march of 2020 I tested at a 11.4.
The mentors for this are very different than the previous two goals. Dr. Jason Fung and Dr. Bernstein are two diabetes doctors I’ve been following that offer a ton of sound advice. In addition to that I’ll be following a lot more fitness coaches, like Dan John and my buddy Aleks Salkin. I’m also going to be following with the discipline teaching of Jocko Willink to help keep me on the path.
The weapons against diabetes are just as vague as the sub goals unfortunately. At the base-line we have a diet that is low in carbs and medication to help improve insulin sensitivity. Exercise and good sleep are recommended, as is proper hydration. I’ve seen Keto and Intermittent fasting come recommended for those seeking remission, so that’ll likely be my diet game plan.
There’s also some less-well researched “Glycemic blunting” techniques that have been researched and shown some success in extremely limited trials. Things like pre-meal supplements – vinegar, almonds or fiber pills, methods of eating – such as eating carbs last – post meal activities like gentle exercise, hand warming and gum chewing. If you’re interested I can dig up sources for these, but I warn you that most of them are quite science y and they go over my head. So I don’t understand a ton about why they work.
Without knowing what works best, the plan is to hedge my bets and use the motto of the gatling gun – “Accuracy through volume”. As many of these weapons are inexpensive, there’s no reason not to try all of them and see if they have any good effects.
So there we have, my 3 long term goals and how I set them up. For a TL;DR refresher:
1) Pick the goals.
2) Set up sub-goals by reverse engineering your end points.
3) Discover mentors and weapons.
4) Turn those weapons into daily and weekly habits.
If you have any questions or just wanna talk goals, feel free to reach out. I’m on Twitter and Instagram @BenSemisch or you can reach me by email – Ben(at)BenSemisch.com