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Narrowing your goals and refining your personal vision

Our page on Developing a Personal Vision explains that your vision is like the picture on the jigsaw box. It tells you where you want to be, but the level of detail is fairly broad, and you cannot see how the pieces actually fit together.  It is, broadly speaking, defined by how you see success in life, or in particular areas of your life.

But if your vision is like the picture on the jigsaw, and is not in any detail, you may be wondering how you move from that to setting defined goals. This page explains how this process works.

Time-Limiting Your Vision

The first step is to develop more clarity about where you see yourself over the next few months and years. This allows you to set out some expectations for both the long-term (five to ten years) and shorter term. The best way is to start with the longer term, and then work backwards.

1. Setting the long-term vision

Ask yourself the question:

Where do I see myself in five [or ten] years’ time?

Consider each aspect of your life: personal, professional, hobbies, other interests, formal study and so on.

For each one, try to describe what you will be doing, and what you want to have achieved.  Be as precise as possible with what you want to achieve, including the standards you want to reach. This is only for you: nobody else will ever see it, so be as ambitious as you like.

Aim for three to five bullet points in each aspect of your life, but don’t worry if you have fewer or more.

This tells you what ‘success’ will look like at the end of that time period.

It is also helpful at this stage to think about how important each of these aspects is to you. If you could only achieve in one area, which would it be, and why?

Choosing Your Time Horizon

It does not really matter whether you opt for five or ten years. It really depends how comfortable you are with a longer time horizon.

Many people prefer five, because they have a clearer idea of what they want to achieve. Every now and then, however, it is a good idea to think about a ten-year horizon. This forces you to confront issues about the balance between work and personal life, and what you really want to achieve in your life overall.

2. Identifying interim success

Next, using your five- or ten-year vision as a guide, ask yourself:

What will I need to have done in one year [and five years] if I am to be there in five years [or ten years]?

This gives you a ‘staging post’ or two on the way to your long-term vision. In other words, it shows you what your interim ‘success’ will look like. It is fine to have plenty of ‘probably’ and ‘might’ at this stage, but keep the language positive.

This question can be answered in terms of both achievements and actions that you will need to take, and you will probably end up with a mixture of the two. Make sure that you have at least one achievement or action for each of your bullet points, and make sure that you have listed everything that you need to do or achieve.

3. Breaking it down still further

Finally, break your timing down still further. Ask yourself:

What will I need to have done after six months, three months and one month to reach my one-year and five-year vision?

Again, look at both actions and achievements, and try to be as specific as possible about all the interim steps.

4. Reviewing the outline

At the end of this process, you should have a series of time-bound bullet points. These will tell you where you need to be, and what you need to have achieved, to reach your five- or ten-year vision.

The final step is to review what you have written.

Does it look realistic? Do you think you can achieve what you need to achieve within one month, three months, six months, and a year? If not, revise those bullet points and, if necessary, tweak your ultimate vision too.

Perhaps more to the point, do you feel comfortable with what you have identified that you need to do, and to achieve? Will you be happy and fulfilled as you move towards your vision? Are you excited about getting started?

If the answer to any of these questions is no, then it is a good idea to have another look at your vision. Ask yourself:

Am I really being honest about what I want to achieve?

Have I said this because I want to achieve it, or because I think I ought to do it?

Obligation is a strong motivator, and it might have happy results, but you do need to be aware of it. For more about this, see our page on Self-Motivation.

5. Turning Your Vision Into Goals

This process gives you a clear idea of where you want to be at various time points. The next step is to turn that vision into specific goals.

This process is set out in more detail in our page on Setting Personal Goals.

The Importance of Opportunities

Your vision acts as a set of guiding principles for what you do in life. If your vision is important to you, then each action or opportunity is measured against whether it will help you achieve your vision or not. This process may be subconscious, but you can be sure that it will be happening, provided that your vision is important.

However, you are also likely to be presented with opportunities in life that may sound like they would be fun, or interesting, or just that you would like to do.

If so, this may be the point to update your vision.

After all, if you never envisaged this opportunity, you could not possibly include it in your vision. If it excites you, give yourself the option, because it may lead you down new paths that suit you very well.

Your vision needs to be at least broadly adaptable, and open to change in response to new opportunities.

Don’t Beat Yourself Up

You should not beat yourself up if you do not achieve the milestones in your plan, or even your ultimate vision.

It is your vision, and it is not binding. After all, you made it ambitious, so there is a reasonable chance that you were a bit over-ambitious. Celebrate the success that you achieve, and adapt your plan and vision to match what is achievable.

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