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The Most Effective Way To Get What You Want Is To Work Backward

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We elderly, sentimental folk might remember a show called "Friends." Season 7, episode 14 is called, 'The One Where They All Turn Thirty.'

It focuses on Rachel, who freaks out so much, she dumps her happy-go-lucky younger boyfriend during the birthday breakfast because "just having fun" is not what she wants anymore.

She comes to this realization after counting backwards from 35 — the age when she wants to have her first child — and concluding that for her plan to work, she should be with the person she could potentially marry by the age of 30.

What Rachel did might seem drastic, but she had a point: Sooner or later, all of us have to start making tough decisions to get what we want.

The problem is, thinking about all the big steps you plan to take and all the things you wish to acquire can make you go mad. It can seem impossible to the point that you decide not to try at all. So, don't do that; instead, work backward.

Working backward means you decide on one small, non-scary, feasible thing you want to have in five years' time. For me, it is and always will be a dog. You then let that one thing gradually influence your life.

When making decision, always keep it at the back of your mind. Even if it seems ridiculous and unconnected, always keep in mind whether your decision will get help you get one step closer to a barking ball of fun (your goal).

Here is a simple example: Should I splurge on a gym membership, or an all-out trip to Vegas? Well, I want to take my dog for long walks and Vegas will be no good if my legs spasm. So, there is my answer: gym.

Here is another one: I love big dogs, but they need a yard. A house has a yard, not an apartment. The cost of a house means it is much easier to get one when you have two incomes contributing.

Who shares incomes? Married people do. Hence, I probably should not be dating someone who does not want to ever get married.

You might argue this is just over-thinking stuff, but it's simply setting you up for the future. You know where you are now, and you have a mental picture of where you want to be. For most of us, there is an ocean in-between.

Because getting from where we are now to that future point seems so difficult, often, we just opt for whatever gives us instant gratification, instead of taking one step toward where we want to be.

But, deciding to focus on one small thing instead of all the big factors turns the ocean into a family-sized swimming pool. Suddenly, it seems possible. And, it is much easier to consistently work toward a goal that is realistic in our minds.

You are much more likely to postpone gratification and do what is best for you if you alter your thinking to suit this model.

I've thought about having a dog so much that at this point, it is a permanent fixture in my mind. It means I don’t engage in mental gymnastics anymore about how one thing relates to another.

Aligning my present and future self is slowly becoming a more natural process.

Essentially, before making a decision, picture your future self doing both things you have to choose between and see which one feels more natural. Not the future self who has all the things you ever wanted, but the one who has the one thing on which you're focusing.

Concentrating on a small but important thing will help you keep your sanity, as well as convince your friends you have not lost your marbles by planning years ahead.