Let me ask you three questions.

First, do you own a smartphone? There’s a strong chance that your answer is “yes”.

Second, have you used a GPS app on your smartphone to get directions to a place you want to go to or to find out where you are? Maybe yes.

Almost everybody is familiar with the concept of GPS: Global Positioning System. This system and the devices that use it have changed the way we travel, the way we drive, even the way we exercise.

Now the third question, have you ever used a compass?

This is a land navigation or orienteering compass. It uses the magnetic field of the Earth to indicate which way is North. And, if you know how to properly use it, it can guide you in the direction that you want or have to go.

Compasses are not location-based. A compass can’t tell you where you are. Or it can’t tell if you have arrived to right place. But it can tell you where you should head to, what direction to follow.

Here I am not going to go deep into the features or advantages and disadvantages of these devices. I am going to talk to you about how to set goals in your life and how do you try to accomplish them. I believe there are two ways that people normally use to define and pursue their goals. And those are the GPS approach and the Compass approach.

Using a GPS is very easy. Enter the information of where you want to go, find its location, figure the fastest or shortest route… and there you go. The gadget will give you instructions on how to get there: every turn, every exit, almost every step…. If you’re driving, it will even tell you when to change lanes!

On the other hand, using a compass requires a certain level of skills and knowledge. First, you need to know how to use a map. You have to locate on the map where you are (start) and where do you want to go (destination). When you know the starting point and the destination, the next step is determining your bearing (direction). Now you can use a compass to look around and choose a landmark or visible object as a reference point in your bearing. Use that landmark as your aim and walk towards it.

When you arrive, find another reference point and repeat the process. If you find an obstacle, take a calculated path around the obstacle and continue your way. And finally, be aware that maybe you are not going to get to the exact intended place. But getting to the vicinity of the place is enough to finally get where you want to go.

GPS receiver

GPS receiver

The GPS Approach

Regarding setting and pursuing goals, many people use the GPS approach. They want the fastest or easiest way to achieve what they want. Knowing where they are right now, they want to know exactly how to get where they want to go. ‘This is where I am;  there is where I want to be. Tell me how to get there. I’ll wait for instructions.’  They think that knowing where they want to be is the only thing they need to get there. Maybe technology has made us numb, or dumb…

The Compass approach

Defining and going after your goals, as you would navigate using a compass, works something like this:

  • Set your goal
  • Plan the path to achieve your goal
  • Break down your plan in smaller parts, segments or tasks
  • Establish reference points or milestones to check on your progress and make adjustments, if needed.
  • Go for it.
  • Deal with obstacles in a smart, conscious way
  • Define what is the “vicinity”, what is close enough for you.

Maybe the compass approach is not the “easiest”. But it is the one proven to work. Most of the time there are no shortcuts; there are no substitutes for hard work, resiliency, discipline, persistence… 

Some final thoughts

Whether you’re doing some minor home renovations or redefining the rest of your life, always follow these simple pieces of advice:

  • Choose wisely!
  • Enjoy your journey: appreciate the progress every time you reach a milestone; and learn all the lessons hidden on the way.
  • Be open, be eager to changeto readjust your aim, to overcome obstaclesto get to the vicinity of the goal….
  • Be eager to sometimes fail, to learn from failure, to stand up and keep going!

“A goal is not always meant to be reached; it often serves simply as somethingto aim at.”   – Bruce Lee

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