To embrace the precious present moment is sage advice—wisdom I work hard to live by. Yet to truly move forward in life, we need to envision “where we want to be” in order to define a strategy to get where we want to go. As Stephen Covey (renowned educator, businessman, speaker and author of bestselling book The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People) said, “We may be very busy, we may be very efficient, but we will also be truly effective only when we begin with the end in mind.”

As someone who counsels financial advisors, I know this is a strategy they deploy with their clients. The advisor helps his clients to think about where they want to wind up in order to provide the right advice on how to manage and invest their money, readying them for the best possible future. These advisors are not fortune-tellers, so their advice serves to guide clients according to a plan, hopefully enabling them to achieve their goals.

While even the best plans may need to be adjusted along the way to adapt to the unknown, one thing is certain: Without looking forward and striving for specific goals, we find ourselves floundering, mired in minutia and dragged by the current instead of flowing with it…living with a feeling that we are getting nowhere.

In life, the biggest investment you can make is in yourself. And just like investing in the stock market, the only “certainty” is your decision to make that investment. How much you invest, where and when are part of that decision-making process. You lay the groundwork based on the knowledge that you acquire, the goals you are hoping to achieve and the amount of risk you’re willing to take. Once you have all those parts in place, you need to move aside and let the process work; practicing patience, taking an occasional pulse check, monitoring progress and making adjustments along the way.

So let’s contrast this with throwing money into a slot machine and pulling the handle. The wheels spin, and you get a lemon, a cherry and “7”. You put another coin in, this time a “7”, a cherry and a bar. Frustrated, but still feeling hopeful that “3 times a charm”, you toss another coin in and pull the handle…

The bottom line is this: While in your mind you “planned” to win, the odds of winning a game of chance are against you.

Start a plan with the end in mind

So how do we find a way to “that point” – let’s say one year out – where we have achieved the goal we desire? As Covey said, “begin with the end in mind.” Consider these 8 steps:

  1. Define the desired “end point”. It may be a new house, a new job or even that “dream vacation”.
  2. What do you already have in place to achieve the goal? Think simple here: It may be money you have put aside, stockpiled vacation time or a resume.
  3. What would you need to do or change in order to achieve the goal? Again, think simple. For example, your resume may be outdated and in need of update or you may need to take on more hours at work in order to earn the money needed to take the vacation you desire.
  4. What are you willing to give up in order to achieve the goal? Often to get where we want to be, we’ll need to “move out of our box” a bit. That means you may need to give up some time, security or the comfort that you have become accustomed to.
  5. Put it all in writing. Creating a written plan really makes a difference. Writing it down – or making a list on your computer – gives you a tangible way to check progress and hold yourself accountable.
  6. Expect to adjust your sails. Even though you’re heading towards the same destination, you may need to adjust your route periodically. Be willing to get counsel from trusted friends or advisors so that your thinking doesn’t become insular.
  7. One step at a time. Have patience. Focusing more on how far you have come, not how far away you are from your goal will help you maintain your enthusiasm.
  8. Celebrate! You made it…this “happy ending” is really the beginning of bigger and better things. Enjoy it!

While these 8 steps may seem simple, so many avoid planning and looking ahead, often fearing that failure is inevitable. My point to you is this: Living your life day-to-day, without longer-term goals or a plan to move you forward is like pulling the handle on that slot machine…over…and over…mindlessly feeding the machine and not setting a goal that can reward you well beyond the moment.

You CAN set a goal and “fill in the blank” with that happy ending you desire. Make today the day you start.

Originally published at