At some point in your life, possibly in high school, you were taught how to set goals for yourself. Parents and teachers like to teach this because it’s an important skill for adolescents to have as they go into independent lives. It pushes them to think more like their future adult selves and to look beyond just the present moment. But if today I were to look at a list of goals I’d created as a teen, I’m certain that few of them would be relevant to me now as an adult. Why is that?
When we set goals without a unified vision to lead our choices, our goals are quite likely to be out of step with the overall path of our lives.
If you, up until now, have been setting goals according to your whims and fancies, without a specific, measured direction, having nothing truly leading and guiding your choices, your goals are very likely to be disconnected from and unrelated to each other. They’re not working together towards any one thing.
Most goal-setting exercises are created around relatively short-term, vague visions of the future. What is your two year goal? What is your five or ten year goal? In my experience these short term goals are just as likely to totally shift and morph as you grow older and more mature. This is why the five year plan that you set when you were a precocious ten-year-old looks ridiculous to you now as a mature adult. Your plans lack cohesiveness because they are not pointing to and directed by what I will call an end term goal.
Yes, that’s right. I’m talking about end of life goals. My technique for creating your own vision starts with end term goals; death bed goals. I know it may seem a bit morbid to imagine yourself reflecting back upon your life as it is coming to an end, but there’s good reason to do this.
Many people facing the end of their lives have great clarity about what is truly important to them. All of life’s distractions and the meaningless fluff we get caught up in tend to be stripped away in these final moments. People are able to reflect on things they wish they’d done, things they wish they hadn’t done, relationships they wish they’d taken care of. They’re not thinking about the fabulous cars, clothes and sex they’ve had over the years; they’re pared down to the nitty gritty, the things that really matter. Isn’t it a shame that we waste this clarity? We can be a bit more forward thinking and try to capture some of it to apply to our lives right now.
End term goals are your starting point to creating a clear vision for your life.
Once you begin to see your own pathway clearly, you’re then able to start stripping away things that are distracting you from your vision. You can choose short term goals with the confidence that they will be working towards your ultimate goals in life. You will be less likely to get bogged down in irrelevancies. You will also have more clarity about the things that are standing in your way. Truly, setting end term goals can be life-changing.
Activity: List your death bed goals
This is a simple exercise but it may be unsettling for some people. If you find that this exercise or train of thought causes problems for you, you may simply choose to stop reading this article here.
To list your end of life goals, I want you to imagine yourself on your death bed. Really think hard about what things will be important to you looking back, and write them down. Consider all aspects of your life; home, family, financial, creative, social, spiritual and so on. How would you want your relationships to look? What state do you want to leave your finances in? Where would you like to have been living leading up to the end of your life? What would you have spent your later years doing? Who do you want around you as you pass on? What things would you truly love to have achieved in your life? Make this picture as clear and thorough as you possibly can, and write it down. Allow yourself to feel the emotions that are associated with each thought.
These are some items from my own list of end term goals:
- Have paid off mortgage and living completely free of debt
- Have downsized to reasonably-sized, easy-care, low maintenance home close to amenities and health care, somewhere near the ocean
- Still creating art, with a high level of skill learnt over the years
- Have plenty of time for and good relationships with loved ones and relatives
- Interact freely and easily with others, with a minimum of anxiety
- Still led a fit, active and healthy life in advanced age
- Living with minimal belongings, ie not leaving behind junk and clutter
- Have a nest egg to share with loved ones on my departure
- Have published work
- Have had thriving business that provided income
- Have given assistance and guidance to children and grandchildren
- Have been an independent and strong person whom others could depend on
- Have supported husband to set and reach his own goals
- Have gotten all 8 children through basic education (years 1-12) in their private school and watched them go on to the next thing with confidence
Now take a moment and pause to listen to your feelings after having done this exercise. Has this clarified your vision? Are you beginning to see areas in which you may be reaching for things that are not in tune with your end term goals? I know that when I did this exercise I realised that I have absolutely no interest in ever becoming ‘rich’. It also changed my mindset around keeping myself fit and healthy.
As I said, this end term goal setting is just a starting point, the first step in creating your own vision. Right now, continue thinking through what you’ve read here and the list that you’ve created. As you begin to shift your mindset towards end term goals, you will find that you begin to pay less attention or put less energy into things that don’t really matter to you, and more into the things that do matter to you. This is the beginning of clarity in your life, and it feels good.
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