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Using the 5-4-3-2-1 Method For Setting and Getting to Your Goals

We’re big on goals around here. Personally, I’m something of a goal-addict. I love setting goals, working to achieve them, and celebrating when I get there. In order to get where you want to go, you’ve got to know where you’re going and have some sort of general idea of how to get there. It can be difficult to plan and set goals, especially on longer timelines, because the future feels so abstract. In order to figure out where I want to go and how I’m going to get there, I use the 5-4-3-2-1 method of goal setting.

The 5-4-3-2-1 method means that we’re going to work in chunks of five years, four months, three weeks, two days, and one hour to set and work toward our goals. This strategy gives us tangible time limits that we can use to set expectations and make plans to take us from where we are now to where we’d like to be. If you’ve never done any serious goal setting, buckle in because you’re in for a ride.

Where do you want to go? Wanna move to a new country? Start a new job? Buy a house? Squat twice your bodyweight? You’re in the right place, because right here, right now, we are going to decide where we want to go, figure out how to get there, and then make a plan, all using the 5-4-3-2-1 method. I have a worksheet that you can print out and use to follow along, or just grab a paper and pen.

Five Years

We overestimate what we can do in one year and underestimate what we can do in five. It’s common to set big New Year’s resolutions, or decide that “this is my year”, or that this will finally be the year that we do X thing that we’ve been planning forever. One year is an amount of time that we can comprehend, but really, it isn’t that long. One year will slip past in the blink of an eye. If you’re anything like me, you’re wondering how March is already almost over because 2019 JUST STARTED! Where is time going?!

See what I mean? We want to set our big goals for five years out because, while a year isn’t actually that much time, five years is. Five years is a much bigger, more abstract measurement of time. It's harder to wrap our brains around the idea of five years. Think back five years. I bet you were totally different. I was different. Five years ago, I had just turned 18 and was still in high school! In those five years, I think I’ve reinvented myself at least twice. Look at all of the things you’ve done in the last five years. I bet it’s A LOT.

Now imagine if we take that amount of time and use it intentionally to move toward the things that you really want. Feeling inspired? I am. If five years seems like a really long time to you, and you don’t want to have to wait that long, remember that that time will pass anyway. You are going to be five years older. In five years, you can be living the life that you’re dreaming of now, or you can still be dreaming about it. I also have some tips on how to be patient if you need some more convincing.

You can either decide to buckle down and hit some big goals in five years or you can stay on this same track and do nothing. Which sounds better to you?

Good, let’s set some goals.

You can do a lot in five years. Seriously, a lot. Like, a lot, a lot. Dream big. Really go for it. Imagine your ideal self (be realistic, you can’t live on the moon, but pretty much anything else is possible). In a broad sense, what would you need to do to be that person? Save money? Change careers? Find a spouse? Move across the planet? Sell your house? Get in the best shape of your life? Set those goals. Those are your five year goals. You are going to become your ideal self.

You are being handed the opportunity to totally reinvent your life, if you want to. You can do anything. Look at Halsey, for example. Five years ago, no one knew who she was. Now she’s selling out stadiums worldwide and recently became the first artist to replace herself twice at #1 on the Mainstream Top 40 chart (source). Don’t limit yourself. Don’t get stuck thinking that there’s something different about successful people, and for some reason, you can’t be like them. You can. Go for it.

Remember that a lot can and will change in five years. You have to decide now that you’re going to be the one driving that change if you want to create a life you love. What are your goals? Think big.



Have some goals? Alright, good.

Though this isn’t technically part of the 5-4-3-2-1 method, take a few minutes to figure out why you set these goals. A strong Why is absolutely imperative to achieving big goals. Sometimes, the going will get tough. There will be days where you are tired, busy, just don’t feel like it, don’t care anymore, whatever. Find your Why so that you can come back to it when you need that push to keep moving.

Four Months

Think about what habits your ideal self has. What does your ideal self do every day, whether they want to or not? What habits would help to get you from your current self to your five year goal? Focus on building those habits in the next four months. Maybe you start going to the gym regularly, or putting $1 into savings every day (that’s almost $2000 in five years), or cooking your own meals. Whatever it is, think about one or two habits that you’d like to build in the next four months.

Don’t go overboard. There are FIFTEEN four month chunks between present you and five-years-from-now you. If you build one new habit every four months, that’s fifteen new habits in five years. One habit over the course of four months seems doable, doesn’t it? You can handle this. Breaking your five year goal into smaller pieces makes it more manageable.

Along with building some long term habits, set a couple four month goals. You’ll need to think much smaller than your five year goal here. Say your five year goal is to change careers. If you know what you want your new career to be and you need to go to school for it, maybe in the next four months, you’ll want to decide which schools you want to apply to and send in applications.

What is the first step you’ll need to take to get from where you are now to where you want to be in five years? Five years is a long time, and your five year goal is a big goal. There’s no reason to plan out the entire path right now. In fact, it’s probably impossible to figure out the entire path right now. Just decide on one manageable first step. That’s your four month goal.

Three Weeks

Now we’re getting pretty tangible. What can you do in the next three weeks? If this is your first cycle through 5-4-3-2-1, maybe your first three weeks will involve a lot of research. If that’s true, limit it to the next three weeks. It’s too easy to get caught up in learning and never actually get out and apply what we’ve learned. Spend a few weeks focusing on learning, but then know that learning and research will need to take a back seat to your actions.

Three weeks is a much more concrete length of time. We frequently plan things three weeks in advance. Three weeks isn’t far enough away that we can just file it under “plans for the distant future”. Three weeks from now is soon.

Set a few smaller goals that you’d like to accomplish in the next three weeks. You could try setting a personal challenge. Maybe you’d like to spend thirty minutes reading every day for the next three weeks, or try to go to sleep by 10:30 on weeknights. Start building a habit.

If your five year goal isn’t so much something that can be accomplished by building habits, maybe your three week goal could be a smaller, more tangible version of your five year goal. If you’d like to be running a business in five years, set the goal of being finished with your business plan in the next three weeks. Put it on your calendar. Calendar blocking can be useful to start planning out the real things that you’ll need to start doing to get where you want to go.

Two Days

Hopefully you know roughly what’s already on your schedule and to do list for the next two days. Right now, plan in what you’re actually going to do in the next two days that will move you toward your goal. Decide exactly what actions you’re going to take and plan it out. Put it on the calendar.

If one of your five year goals is to graduate with a 4.0, your two day goal isn’t “tomorrow I’ll study more”. I’ve heard that, and said that, way too many times, only for it to not happen. Your two day plan should sound more like “Tomorrow from 2-4 p.m., I’ll study the calc lesson from last week in the library. I’ll take a sandwich with me so I can’t use being hungry as an excuse to skip it”. Get concrete. Make real plans.

Nothing changes if nothing changes. To get to your five year goal, you’ll need to take actual actions starting today that will move you toward your goal. Don’t defer or procrastinate and say “oh, I’ll do it as part of my three week goal”. No, there’s a reason two days is included in this planning strategy. You need to get started now.

Know your excuses and preempt them. Once you’ve gotten your plans onto your calendar for the next two days, what excuses do you know you’ll come up with to try to get out of doing those tasks? Write down things that could potentially happen that will prevent you from doing your two days goals. Then, write down what you’re going to say or do to rebuff those excuses. Decide now how to handle those situations so that you won’t have to decide later when your willpower is weakened.

Know your Why. If, in the next two days, you find yourself reluctant to complete a task or trying to procrastinate, revisit your Why. Know why you’re doing these tasks, why you’re building habits, and what you’re working toward. You can be that ideal version of yourself, but it needs to start today. No excuses.

One Hour

The 1 in 5-4-3-2-1 really does represent one hour. Those five years are made up of 43,800 hours. You’ll be the one to choose what to do with every single one of those hours, starting with this one right now. Nothing changes if nothing changes. What can you do right now to work toward your goal. I knnooowww that you’re thinking “I’ve got five years, why do I need to start now?”

Because you’ve got a lot to do, that’s why. Use the motivation and inspiration that came from this planning exercise to actually go do something right now that will move you toward your goal. If you can’t actually get up and go do something right now, this is gonna be a rough five years. Creating change relies 100% on taking action. Merely thinking about who you’d like to be and the life you’d like to live will do nothing to get you there. Decide on one small task that you can do within the next hour and make sure it gets done.

Once you’ve set your 5-4-3-2-1 goals, you’ll need to revisit this strategy routinely so you know where you’re headed and how it’s going. Personally, I go back to my 5-4-3-2-1 goals once a week to evaluate how I did with my shorter term goals, how much progress I’m making toward my three week and four month goals, and update anything that needs to be updated.

Put it on your calendar to come back here to revisit your 5-4-3-2-1 goals so you don’t fall into that trap of setting a bunch of goals and doing a bunch of planning and then not executing it. Execution is by far the most important part. If you wrote this down on a piece of paper but the paper just gets lost in the ether in three days, you’re doing it wrong. I know how easy it is to get all excited about something, make a ton of plans, and never come back to it. Getting to your goals absolutely requires that you revisit them often enough that they stay fresh in your mind.

Maybe you want to come back on the first of each month, or every three weeks, or even every day. Whatever it is, set some sort of reminder to revisit your goals. In that reminder, write a note to your future self. Write about how excited you are to be your ideal self, and how you know that if you actually want to be that wonderful future self, you’re going to need to actually go back and revisit your 5-4-3-2-1 goals. This one can’t just slip away like all the other times you’ve tried to set and plan for goals. You’ve got to come back consistently, or it won’t work.

If you want, consider putting the end date beside each goal. This is especially helpful for the three week, four month, and five year goals. Writing the end date beside each goal allows you to watch as the days go by and you get closer to your goals. You can celebrate if you reach a goal early, or reevaluate a goal that isn’t quite working.

If you’re already two months into your four month goal and haven’t made any progress, it’s probably time to reevaluate. The most successful goal setters and routine builders are constantly reevaluating their goals and habits to determine what is and isn’t working. There’s no reason to stick with something that isn’t working for you, and there’s nothing wrong with making adjustments in order to make something work better for you. What works for one person may not work for another.

There you have it. These are the basics of the 5-4-3-2-1 method of setting and getting to your goals. By breaking down our larger goals into smaller steps that are more tangible and easier to see and accomplish, we give ourselves a blueprint to get from where we are to where we want to be. Remember, however, that the most important part of all of this is actually taking action. All of the planning in the world won’t move you toward your goals. You’ve got to get up and actually do it. Luckily for you, we took that into account and planned something that you can complete within the next hour, so go do your one hour task. Get off the internet.

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