“Change your smoke detector batteries when you change the clocks to or from Daylight Savings Time. Otherwise you’ll forget.”
This little trick suggests a way to help you achieve some of the most important goals you’ll ever set: your lifetime goals.
Your lifetime goals are the things you’d like to do, either in the next 3-5 years or just “sometime.” Write a book? Visit Hong Kong? Be on a TV show? The list may be long, as it includes both the fun things and the serious things you want to accomplish.
Perhaps you haven’t called these “lifetime goals,” and perhaps you’ve never tried to write them down. But you have them — everybody has them. They are the goals you daydream about in your spare time, and, if you never pursue them, they are the omissions you regret the most at the end of your life.
To make sure you accomplish them while you’re still on the planet, I recommend you follow a practice like the smoke alarm rule. Choose an annual event as a time to review your lifetime goals to see how you might achieve some of them in the upcoming 12 months.
The annual review solves two cognitive problems.
First, you need to bring your lifetime goals nearer to the top of your mind so that you can spot opportunities for achieving them. You need to make a new list, and review last year’s.
Over the course of a year, lifetime goals fade into the background where they rarely occur to you. So go through your list asking, “can I plan this into the upcoming year?” Even goals you can’t pursue this year will start percolating, and you will be much more likely to notice a new opportunity, if it arises later in the year.
Second, you may need to challenge old assumptions about how and when you can accomplish the goal. Those old assumptions may be subtly preventing you from seeing new possibilities.
The context changes. Old decisions go out of date. New opportunities arise.
Maybe you were waiting until you completed a training program (or your kids did) before starting a business. Did you (or they) finish? Maybe you were concerned about the political situation in Hong Kong or Egypt and were waiting for a better time to visit. Has the situation changed? Yearly is a good frequency to check.
If you don’t revisit your goals, you’ll be stuck operating on old “can’ts” and “won’ts” that are out of date. The things you wanted to do in your lifetime will be buried in forgetfulness.
So, pick a yearly event that works for you. Maybe your birthday is the ideal day. Perhaps the first day of school is the day you get down to the business of planning the year. Or maybe your summer getaway offers the reflection time you need.
Then, think about your goals every year at that time. Because you don’t want to forget to achieve your lifetime goals.