Lance wrote recently with some questions about goals. First, he’s worried that he should have more than just one. Second, his only goal seems daunting. He’s looking for advice:

I wanted to get some help on setting financial goals. Growing up, I did not have many luxuries, so items such as vacations, new cars, televisions, clothes, furniture, etc do not mean much to me at all. The only personal goal I really have is to own a small farm where I could raise a few cows each year or maybe setup a tent to camp during the fall. Yet I feel like I’m not setting enough goals and that I am strange for not wanting to travel or own nice clothes?

At the same time, I know that owning 25+ acres and purchasing it in an area where you can have livestock on the property can be expensive. How do I disassemble my personal goal into smaller sections? Any advice for someone with just one goal?

I don’t think it’s strange to not want to travel or to not covet nice clothes. Nor is it strange to have just one long-term goal. Many folks have none at all.

I was discussing goals with my friend Michael today, and he mentioned that his wife doesn’t set long-term goals. She focuses on the now. As long as her immediate needs are satisfied, she’s happy. When something seems wrong, she tries to change it. But she doesn’t look ahead five or twenty years to map out an eventual destination.

That’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with that. But it’s important to realize that without a specific destination, many people get lost. I found myself deep in debt primarily because I had no other purpose for my money. I didn’t have financial goals.

But Lance does have a goal. He wants to own some land and some livestock. The trouble is, that’s the sort of big goal that can seem overwhelming. Here are three basic techniques I’ve used when pursuing large goals:

  • Keep your goal in mind. One way to do this is to advertise to yourself, perhaps using the techniques described at Take Back Your Brain. Regularly remind yourself of why you’re doing the things you’re doing, but don’t obsess over the Big Picture.
  • Take one step at a time. It’s vital to break large goals into smaller ones. Rather than just dreaming about getting your MBA, decide that this week you’ll research online MBA programs and next month start 3 courses. If you focus too much on the Big Picture, you may become intimidated and give up. You eat an elephant one bite at a time. So too with goals. Once I decided to pay off $35,000 in debt, I shifted my focus from the big number to the smaller steps along the way. I made incremental progress. If you’re pursuing a big goal, break it into small components.
  • Be patient. Persevere. Progress toward your goal can seem slow at first, but will accelerate with time. Things will get easier. You’ll learn new techniques. You may receive support from unexpected sources. Together, these things will help to accelerate your success.

I’ve accomplished three major financial goals in the past few years — getting out of debt, building an emergency fund, buying a car — and I’ve been successful because I followed these three simple steps.

What about you? Do you set long-term financial goals? How many do you pursue at one time? What methods do you use for tackling a seemingly insurmountable task? How do you break big goals into smaller pieces? What advice can you offer Lance as he pursues his dream of buying a farm?

Photo by kwerfeldein.

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