Whatever your goals are, now the question is what should you do to get there?
Backtrack to find the next steps
Like in a project or an expedition, it is best to start planning backwards from the end1. Even if you don’t know what first step to take, you can often identify a sequence of last steps you need to take to get to the final state. You can thus set milestone that is closer to the origin and therefore the way to reach it is easier to spot. If not, you work your way back from the milestone through other milestones all the way to the origin. The next steps and the path to take are then very well defined.
For example, if the target of an expedition is to see eclipse of the Sun from summit of a high peak, what should you do now in order to get there on time? First, you can easily determine when you need to be in the base camp in order to be ready for the final ascend on time. You may add some buffer in case of bad weather. Now you can derive when you should start going up the mountain. By knowing this, you can finally determine when you should leave home. You may also backtrack a bit and answer what you need to prepare now to be ready to set off at the given date. This way you know what to do now in order to achieve your goal later.
Similarly, when sustainability is the purpose of your life then for example minimizing waste of resources can be your goal. Specifically, you would like to be remembered as the person who basically eliminated PET bottles from your community. To achieve that on a large scale, it will help you to first set the precedent in one place. So you choose to start eliminating PET bottles in your company. You figure out that if people are asked to stop buying bottled water, an alternative must first exist and it should be more convenient than PET bottles. So you first decide to convince management to install drinking fountains and remove bottled water vending machines. In order to convince management, you first decide to make a poll amongst employees to show they care that their employer acts responsible to the environment and that they would like to have such example in recruiting presentations to attract new talent. By backtracking you formulated a concrete action plan that you can start working on right now and it will eventually lead you towards the broad goal and the purpose of your life. You will live a meaningful, fulfilling life and you can answer with confidence when somebody asks you why you do what you do.
Life is unpredictable so even perfect plans may fail, but if you know what you are really after, you can focus on it and greatly increase the chance that it will come true. Remember Christopher Columbus who actually failed to achieve his goal of discovering faster way to India, but achieved something even more important, because he set himself on the right path. Lying on you deathbed, you will be happy knowing that you did all to make your dream come true and most likely it also worked out.
Derive principles and values form your goals
On top of next steps and actions, from your goals you can also derive universal principles that guide your behavior. In the previous example, you might decide to always carry a water bottle to avoid the need for PET bottles. You could also set a principle to turn off all lights and electronics whenever you leave home.
Sometimes a goal does not have any particular steps that precede it or the exact steps are hard to identify. Then setting principles and values will help you maximize the chance of achieving it. For example, if your goal is to have everyone remember you as a just man of honor, you can set a principle never to lie to anybody and always keep your word. You can set your own values and principles of conduct that will help you achieve your specific life goal better than the general set of principles offered by the society.
Even if a way towards achieving the purpose of your life seems hazy and you cannot clearly see in ahead of you, values and principles that are in line with your purpose will provide your moral compass to set you in the right direction.
- This is also similar to method known as dynamic programming in optimization ↩