Paddy took a long sip of his latte, licked his lips and asked, “Why have you always been such a big fan of people having goals?”

             “Because if you don’t have a plan of your own,” I told him, “your only hope is to be a part of someone else’s. And I don’t think that’s the best way to succeed.”

             “You said a plan of your own, but I asked about goals,” Paddy countered.

             “Yes,” I counter-countered, “but goals without plans are just wishes.”

             “OK. But how formal do you think people’s plans have to be?” Paddy asked.

             “It depends on the individual and the nature of the goal,” I answered. “Most people have some idea of what they want to achieve, but goal-setting consists of more than just musing about it.”

             “OK,” Paddy prodded, “but how formal does the plan have to be?”

             “It has to be like planning a long trip,” I answered. “You need to know your destination, you have to have a pretty good idea of how to get there, make some estimate of how long it’s apt to take to get there, and plan the stops you’re going to make along the way.”

             “So fuzzy ideas and a lack of exactly how to get there doesn’t work,” Paddy observed.

             “Correct,” I agreed. “Goals must be crystal clear and specific.”

             “Give me an example,” Paddy said.

             “Suppose you decide to improve your communication skills,” I suggested. “Having that goal is meaningless unless you have a plan that outlines exactly what actions you’re going to take, such as deciding which courses you’re going to enroll in, what books you’re going to buy, and how you’re going to improve your vocabulary.”

             “What else,” Paddy asked.

             “Goals need timetables,” I told him. “Sticking with the example, once you choose your courses and decide which books you want, you have to decide when you’re going to enroll in the courses and when you’re going to buy the books. Of course, you also need to decide when you’re going to read the books.”

             “I get your point,” Paddy acknowledged, “but next to not having a plan outlining how the goal is going to be reached, what’s the next biggest mistake people make?”

             “Setting unrealistic goals,” I answered. “When setting goals, it’s fine to aim high enough to stretch yourself a bit, but you should never set ones that are unrealistic. Goals that are difficult but not impossible will keep you moving in the right direction. Unrealistic goals will simply result in frustration and abandonment.”

             “Give me an example of an unrealistic goal,” he said.

             “I’ll give you one out of my own past,” I offered. “When I was a teenager I wanted to learn to play the guitar. But, realizing that I had very limited musical talent, my goal was to learn enough chords that I could play along with my guitar-playing friends or play for a sing-along. I achieved that goal. Had my goal been to play professionally, that would have been unachievable”

             “What else?” Paddy urged.

             “You need both short-term goals and long-term goals,” I told him.

             “How so?” he asked.

             “Long-term goals maintain your momentum, discipline, and for that matter, your inspiration, all of which keeps you from becoming frustrated by short-term setbacks,” I explained. “But you also need short-term goals as measurable stepping stones in achieving your long-term goals. Also, achieving short-term goals is a good confidence builder. The best way to begin the journey to a long-term goal is to set a reasonable, complementary, compatible short-term goal. Then when that goal is reached, set another one a little higher.”

             “It’s obvious that you feel strongly about this topic,” Paddy asserted, “is there more?”

             “Indeed there is, “I assured him.

             “Go on then,” he urged.

             “Goals based on quality are always better than goals based on quantity,” I went on. “Let’s go back to increasing your vocabulary. You could set a goal of learning ten words a week. But you’re more apt to be successful if your goal is to learn the meaning, spelling, and at least one synonym of each new word you come across.”

             “How come?” Paddy asked.

             “There are two problems with the quantity-based, ten-word goal,” I told him. “First, it may be set too high, so you’re likely to give up on it. Secondly, you’re not apt to retain the meaning and spelling of those words. But if you take the new-word approach you’ll be encountering words relevant to your everyday activities which makes them more useful and easier to retain.”

             “My goal right now is to get home,” Paddy said. “What should my plan be?”

             ”Leave,” I suggested.

             Which he did.