Set Your Goals For The Future, Not The Present

Trying to pursue many different directions at once but not making progress? Frustrated that the world wants you to pick one thing, because you want to do them all? The problem is you're acting as if they won't happen if you don't do them all this week. The solution is to think long-term. Do just one for a few years, then another for a few years, then another.

Image remixed from Eric Isselée and i3alda (Shutterstock).

You may have heard this story:

Buridan's donkey is standing halfway between a pile of hay and a bucket of water. It keeps looking left and right, trying to decide between hay and water. Unable to decide, it eventually falls over and dies of hunger and thirst.

A donkey can't think of the future. If he could, he'd clearly realise he could first drink the water, then go eat the hay.

Don't be a donkey.

You can do everything you want to do.

You just need foresight and patience.

If you're 25 now and have seven different directions you want to pursue, then you can do each one for 10 years and have done all of them by the time you're 95. (Safe to assume that by the year 2081 it won't be unusual to live to 95.)

It seems ridiculous to plan to age 95 when you're 25, right? But it's a fact that it's (most likely) coming, so you might as well take advantage of it.

Then you can fully focus on one direction at a time, without feeling conflicted or distracted, because you know you'll get to the others.

We've all done this on a small-scale. When something is urgent and needs to be done that day, you really focus. You get distracting thoughts for a minute. ("Wow, it would be nice to go watch a movie now.") But you put it out of your mind because you know if you just focus on this one thing now, you can get it done, and do the other stuff afterwards.

So, expand that into months or years.

Focus on one at a time, knowing you can do the other stuff afterwards.

Most people over-estimate what they can do in one year, and under-estimate what they can do in 10 years.

Think long-term.

Use the future.

Don't be short-sighted.

Don't be a donkey.

Trying to pursue many different directions at once? [Derek Sivers]

Derek Sivers is an entrepreneur, programmer, musician and creator of CD Baby. His latest book is Anything You Want. Read his blog here.


    this is f***ing awesome. You have just diagnosed my condition. thanks a lot.

    Please alter the title of this post, as you cant not set goals in the present for the present, all goals set in the present are for the future, unless you intend to define new meaning for the words "present" and "future".

    The article is more about short and long term planning, so short term goals vs long term goals is more appropriate, and doesn't make the reader feel that the person writing is this is only partially understanding the topic they are writing about.

    Buridans Donkey only works regarding options of similar value where any choice has similar pro's and con's which means if you make goals where there is no good alternative you will never be in a position for Buridans Donkey to apply as due to the specificity of the goal there is no good alternative.

    life is specific, deliberate and selfish, make it anything but that and life is at risk.

      You are just being a stickler.

      Obviously he means immediately to short term by "present".

      If you want to be really pedantic, there is no "present" either, as what we perceive has already passed. It takes time for photons to enter our eyes, sound to enter our ears, and touch to travel through our nerves. All of these signals then need to be interpreted by the brain before we can make meaning of them. Once that is complete and we perceive what is happening, that moment has now passed, due to the inherent processing latency.

      So we cant perceive the immediate present. herpdy derp so change/clarify your definition etc etc.

      How much value does that nitpicking add to the article? None.

    Is that the time travelling effect from Chrono Trigger?

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