Short vs. long-term goal setting

Last Update: March 28, 2014

Do you know there is a difference between short and long-term goals? Well, until recently, I didn't really care if there was a difference. Goals were goals as long as they were "SMART" goals (i.e. specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-targeted). Lately, though, I've been reading through Heidi Grant Halvorson's book Succeed: How we can reach our goals and she has a lot of interesting thoughts on the topic. (Thoughts, by the way, backed up with solid research.)

Although I haven't yet finished the book, I decided to share some of her more interesting tidbits on my WA blog. I hope you find this information insightful.

Long-term vs short-term goals

Research indicates that long-term goals give us a picture of a preferred future, such as earning a college degree, buying a house, or building an on-line business. Long-term goals are important because they are highly motivational and focus on the why-we-are-doing-what-were-doing type questions. These goals typically give us a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Short-term goals, on the other hand, answer the what-am-I-doing-today type questions. These goals deal with the nitty-gritty of life and tend to be specific, practical, and, frankly, not a lot of fun. Short-term goals, however, are very helpful when tackling new problems (like learning a new language) or addressing challenging tasks.

To compare these different types of goals, consider vacuuming as an example. From the "what-am-I-doing" perspective, vacuuming is simply sucking up dust. It's not fun and can be quite difficult work. But, from the "why-am-I-doing this" perspective, vacuuming can be part of a mother’s and father’s long-term goal to create a safe and healthy environment for their kids.

So, what can we take away from this?

Halvorson points to research which shows that people prefer to look at tasks from either a why (long-term) or what (short-term) perspective. Now, it doesn’t really matter what their preference is as long as they know how to balance both types of goals. People who mainly focus on the long-term goals run the risk of becoming daydreamers who never get things done. A Wealthy Affiliate member who heavily favors the why goals may, early on, be highly motivated to start an on-line business, but as time passes they will be forced to address many challenging tasks. If they are unwilling to set and complete critical short-term goals, then they run the risk of losing all motivation because they are not making enough progress. They won’t have that daily (or weekly) sense of accomplishment that reinforces their long-term goals.

On the other hand, people who favor short-term goals often fail to see the big picture and therefore lack motivation. These people run the risk of missing out on many opportunities because they don’t have a vision of a preferred future. Because their focus is mainly on the nitty-gritty tasks that will be required of them they can’t see the potential for gain. From a WA perspective, these people may not be able to envision the long-term potential of becoming a WA member, because that vision is overshadowed by the cost of required short-term goals.

So what’s the bottom line?

The bottom line is this: To be successful we need a balance both long-term and short-term goals. The long-term goals are essential because the give us a sense of purpose and are highly motivational. But the short-term goals are also important because the keep from falling into the daydreaming trap. Short-term goals are also important because they keep us honest. They can help us to objectively weigh the true cost of starting an affiliate marketing business, to look before we leap, if you will.

Now, I don’t know about you, but my challenge is to focus on short-term goals. To be honest, I am a big-picture type person and it is easy for me to focus mainly on long-term goals. I have a tendency to be a daydreamer and, in the past, have said “yes” to projects that I should have said “no” to. That is not the case with Wealthy Affiliate. To me it is easy to see the tremendous potential that WA has to offer. The critical issue, however, is to make sure I am balancing my long-term and short-term goals. In order to be successful at WA I must have the self-discipline to commit to the what-am-I-doing-today type goals. As long as I am completing my short-term goals on a regular basis, my long-term goal will remain viable and I will be motivated to stay the course.

How about you? Do you tend to favor the why (long-term) or the what (short-term) goals? What do you do when the daily grind of building a business overshadows your vision? I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the matter.

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softwind Premium
Hi Brent! Good thought provoking post today! For myself, like to do both. I write a list every night and do my best to accomplish it the following day. Some days I'm more like an engine - just keep moving. Other days I feel more free in spirit and that's when I will write content and do some fun things like new plug ins to play with. The article is correct, there must be a balance between the two. If there is not, lots of room for self doubt and giving up. My best to you for your success!
brpetersen Premium
Hi Sharon! Thank you for sharing. It sounds like you've got this goal setting thing down pretty well. I wish you continued success with WA.