Are we there yet? Tips to staying the long, meandering course.

It’s easy in the early days. You’ve set your goal. You’re pumped and ready to go. You see the finish line on the horizon and you’re pushing with exuberance toward it. Then reality sets in and you realize that this quest may take you longer than you first thought. Before you get discouraged, let me share an important goal-getting fact with you:

The length of time your process takes is not important. What is important is that you stay connected with your goals and dreams. What is imperative is that you keep moving forward.

Let’s assume you know this. The question then becomes, how do you stay the course during the long haul? How do you retain focus and enthusiasm throughout a protracted process? These 5 tips should help.

Your goal has mile markers.

The Garden State Parkway, like other major highways across the nation, has small numbered markers set at each mile. Exits and entrances are numbered based upon their proximity to a mile marker. If I planned to travel from the southernmost point (Exit 0 in Cape May) to the last exit possible (exit 172), I can mark my progress by the mile markers on the side of the highway. I’ll know when I’m half way. I’ll know when I’m closing in on the final 20 miles. Your goals should have a similar litmus test. Set milestones for yourself. Your goal may be to earn your MBA or to secure a position in the C-Suite. Map out the process. Take small steps each day and celebrate as you cross each mini-goal from your list.

Your goal can be edited.

A common speed bump is the ‘set-in-stone’ goal. The idea that once we set it, the only way to be successful is to grasp that gold ring in both hands. Yet striving for our goals can be eye-opening. We may discover that the C-suite isn’t really where we want to be. We might learn that although we’re good at sales, our real gift lies in coaching. Or, we may just discover a better, more efficient path to our destination than what we originally mapped out. Be willing to be flexible. Adjust your course based on what you learn throughout your process and keep moving forward.

Your goal should be visual.

It can be easy to lose sight of a long-term goal. Life can crowd us in and distract us. Demands on our time pull our focus away. Before we know it, we’re 30 miles off-course and feeling like we’ll never get back on track. Creating a visual or tactile version of your plans will help keep your eyes trained on the prize. Write down your goal and how you plan to achieve it. Create a spreadsheet, a time line, a vision board, whatever visual method best suits your style. Hang it where you can see it. Touch base with it weekly. Update it. Amend it. But don’t lose sight of it.

Your goal doesn’t have set-backs; it has lessons.

Moving toward our goals can be a process of two steps forward, one step back. When we feel stagnant or like we’re losing ground, it can be easy to give up in defeat. Here’s the good news: the line between discouraged and re-focused is a thin one. Your conscious choice of perspective defines which side of the line you’re standing on. The step-backward isn’t a set-back. It’s an opportunity to re-evaluate and refocus. It’s a lesson and if you view it as such, the nugget you glean from it may propel you forward with renewed enthusiasm.

Your goal should have accountability.

Sharing our big dreams and goals can be scary because telling them makes them real. It makes us accountable. It means someone else knows what course we’ve set out on, and they are going to be checking in to see our progress. Keeping goals to ourselves, on the other hand, means we can pretend they never happened. You know what that means, right? Find someone you trust – a mentor, a partner, a friend – and tell them where you’re headed. Share with them how you plan to get there. Check in with them from time to time to update them on your progress. And then, when you ultimately arrive at your destination, celebrate with them.