There’s this million dollar question I ask my clients during our first meeting. After we discuss their financial goals for “retirement” and the why behind those goals, I pause for a moment, look them straight in the eye and say: What would your life look like if you were to reach your financial goals? Below are the answers I usually get, in order of appearance: Silence. “I hadn’t really thought about that.” “I want to travel.” “What about afterwards?” More silence. The allure of long term real estate investing is that it offers us a solution to our perceived main problem: How do we escape the constant rat wheel of doing work we hate in order to pay bills and accumulate stuff? Here’s the thing: That’s not our principal problem. I know that may sound shocking, but I can assure you it is the truth. I am confident of that because every month, I meet people with very large incomes, well-padded cash reserves and large investment portfolios who are just as worried about their finances as their counterparts without those resources. Often, they’re just as miserable in their well-paying jobs as the people whose goal in life is to get a job like theirs someday. Let me ask you a question: Have you ever thought to yourself, “If I had $X in the bank, I’d be happy” or “If I earned $Y/month, all my worries would be over”? I know I have. Related: Things aren’t Always Objective in Real Estate — Life Happens! I hate to break it to you, but that’s a false premise. All of it. Here’s what usually happens: Once we achieve $X in the bank or $Y/mo, we come to the realization that happiness didn’t occur, so we decide to chase $5X or $2Y, only to realize the very same thing. It’s the same carrot on a string that employers dangle in front of us with well-timed promotions and raises. Don’t get me wrong — a higher bank balance beats a lowly one any day. But the point I’m trying to make is that solving money problems and living the life you want are two very different things. Related but distinct. Ambiguity is the enemy we need to defeat in order to live the life we want. THAT’S our principal problem. In our over-caffeinated, multitasking quest to check items off to-do lists meant to make us feel “productive,” we forfeit the time to think about what we (specifically) want out of life. So, that’s how we end up at a loss for words when someone like me asks: What would your life look like if I could wave a magic wand and make you reach all your financial goals today? The truth is we’ve never really thought about it. That changes today. 3 Steps to the Life You Want Step 1: Define The crucial first step to the life you want is to define it. And that process requires dedicated time. I know that may seem impossible with everything we have going on in our lives on a daily basis: Work assignments, kids activities, email, Facebook, binge watching on Netflix, football, etc. The truth is that you have dedicated most of your time during the past decade to those activities. What I am suggesting is that you take a day or two and dedicate it exclusively to the definition of the life you want. Make it an absolute priority, and things will reorder themselves around it to make room. Do it now — or you’ll find out that, as Brandi Carlile said in that song, “Even a fool will tell you that “someday” never comes.” Now that you took the time to define the life you want, you may find yourself a bit rusty and may not know how to get started. Here are some questions you can ponder to figure out what you want. If you had $100M in the bank tomorrow: What would your health look like? If you could buy and eat the best of the best and dedicate as much time/money to your fitness as necessary, how would you see yourself doing health-wise? What would your relationships look like now that you could dedicate your time to them? Relationships with your significant other, your kids, your friends, colleagues, etc.? What kind of work would you do? What kind of work makes you so excited that you’d do it for free, but you just get to do it for money? You may be so tired and overworked that you think you wouldn’t work at all if you had that kind of money. But after a period of decompression, you’d be bored out of your head without the kind of work that lights you “on fire.” Where would you travel? Write down the details of what you’d do while there. The food, the sights, the people, the feelings. Get specific. Also how often would you travel every year and how long would you stay? Where and how would you live? What community would you decide to live in, what would your place look like, where would you go eat, socialize, etc.? What values or activities would you dedicate your time and energy to? What’s so important to who you are that you would love to volunteer your efforts to them, but haven’t been able to due to your current time commitments (i.e. charities, faith-based organizations, causes, etc.)? What causes would you give money to or raise money for if you could pull it off? What would you start if capital was no issue? A company, a nonprofit, an app, a movement, etc. What creative passion have you put on the back burner because you couldn’t see a way to to make a living doing that? If your living cost is taken care of, how would your approach change toward that passion? What makes you feel “alive?” Think back to times in the past when you felt “alive” — when you could work on something 18 hours a day, sleep for a few hours and do it all over again the following morning with a smile on your face because you were so captivated by it. What were you doing? Think on paper. Write down all your thoughts without concern for grammar, structure or any rules your English teacher enforced in grade school. If a question doesn’t apply to you or it’s something you don’t care about, skip it. If you think of any other relevant questions, write down the answers to those questions. Now let me ask you: Do you know what you just did? You just dreamed. We used to do it all the time when we were kids. It came naturally to us. Now, we don’t dream anymore because we don’t have time. And it’s costing us the life that we want. But no more. Now that we’ve thought and dreamed about the life we want, it’s time to move on to the next step. Step 2: Plan In the previous step, you defined the life you want by taking the time to dream and ponder the answers to crucial questions. But definition by itself is not enough. It’s time to plan the way forward. “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” Want more articles like this? Create an account today to get BiggerPocket's best blog articles delivered to your inbox Sign up for free “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.” “I don’t much care where –” “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.” ? Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland Planning is where desire turns into action steps — now that we know the “what,” we have to figure out the “how.” We do this by distilling concepts about your health, relationships, work, lifestyle, values, and passions into actions you can take (in bold below). Health First, in the definition step, you may have written down that you would get fit if time permitted. You would lose weight and get strong. You would eat better food and get healthy. You might hire a personal trainer to guide you. I’m going to tell you something very important: None of those things require $100M! You can do all those things now. All you have to do is decide that your health, fitness and strength are non-negotiable for you and make them your number one priority. Funny thing is, there isn’t anything that you’re currently doing that’s more important than your health. It is the foundation for everything else. Like Jim Rohn used to say, “Some people don’t do well, because they don’t feel well.” Once you’ve made the decision to prioritize your health over all else, the next step is to schedule the activities that will get you there in your calendar. Twenty minutes a day, everyday (it’s easier to work out for short amounts of time everyday than 2-3 times/week for a longer amount of time), your preferred form of exercise (walk, run, bike, weights, yoga, pushups, etc.) on your calendar as an appointment with yourself. When it comes to food, you have to make a decision on what you are going to eat the following day ahead of time. This takes 5 seconds. Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner. I don’t care if you decide to eat at McDonalds, as long as you decide instead of going with the flow and eating somewhere you don’t want to because you’re hungry. Every time I fall off the healthy eating wagon, I notice that I give up decision making on food choices and go with the whims of hunger. Last, a month worth of training sessions with a personal trainer cost between $200-300. You probably spent that at Starbucks last month. Budget for it and get it done. Take notes during sessions and learn the routines that you can follow without the trainer’s assistance. Relationships Second, you may have written down that you would spend more time “cultivating” the relationships with the people that are most important to you: your spouse/partner, kids, friends, colleagues, etc. You have to follow the same path with your relationships as you did with your health: Decide they’re important and schedule them on your calendar ahead of time. Date nights, fun days with your kids, brainstorming lunches with your colleagues can only happen if you make them a priority and make them happen. Having more money or more time does not automatically solve this problem. Work Third, let’s talk about doing work that matters, work that excites. Perhaps, you wrote down that what you’d really like to do is start and run your own business instead of working for another company. Or maybe you always wanted to be a writer, but could never see yourself making a living in that profession. Or perhaps you would work a fulfilling job in a non-profit that pays much less than you earn now. Now let’s turn those desires into actions. If you made the switch to the work you love, what stream of passive income you would need to create to take care of essential expenses and a reasonable lifestyle? In our Blueprint real estate investing strategy, we start with an income goal. Then we calculate the type and number of assets you would need to acquire and pay off to reach that income goal. Then we calculate the capital required to make those acquisitions. If the necessary capital is currently available, we can calculate how long it will take to acquire and pay off all assets using an aggressive Domino strategy. If it’s not, we come up with a plan to save more of your hard-earned income or repurpose cash flow from your real estate portfolio as acquisition capital. Then we recalculate the time it would take under that scenario. This process provides a roadmap for you to follow every step of the way. Armed with this information, you are not wandering around the desert for decades, hoping for the best. You know exactly when you should pull the trigger on your acquisitions, when the first asset will be paid off and so on. This will enable you to follow along and receive performance feedback as these events occur according to plan. Travel Travel is important for the soul. In the previous step, you wrote down the places you’d love to visit and detailed descriptions of how you picture your time there. Now, it’s time to make things happen. How much does a vacation in that country cost at different times of year? Do some research on travel sites and look for offseason times, advanced booking and alternative lodging (AirBNB or HomeAway) that may reduce cost. Is there another family or group of friends that can join you, so you can split the cost of a vacation home, as opposed to paying high hotel rates? Once you’ve figured out the most convenient and affordable time to go, come up with an amount you will need. Now, how much money can you save each month toward this trip? Are there any unimportant expenses you can cut and “throw” the savings into the vacation fund? If this is very important to you, it has to take precedent over the unimportant. Once you figure out the max monthly savings capacity you can muster, divide the total cost by that number and you have the number of months it will take for you to accumulate that amount. Decide you will go on a trip in that location at that time and put it on your calendar. Rinse and repeat this distillation process for the rest of the items on your list. Step 3: Execute Definition and planning are extremely important pieces of the puzzle, but they’re an exercise in futility without execution. Once you’ve been meticulous with your planning, you must be disciplined, focused and ruthless about execution. Related: How Mistakes Can Vastly Improve Your Business And Life Nothing makes us feel worse than not following through on the important things we know we should do. That’s because when you allow external circumstances to dictate what you do with your time, you feel out of control. Respect the appointments you made in your calendar during the planning step. Manage your emotions and impulses (i.e. procrastination, self sabotage, etc.). Take a little time at the end of every week, every month and every year to assess your progress. Ask yourself these questions: Is what I spent my time during the last week/month/year aligned with the life I want to live? If not, how will I change my approach in the next week/month/year? Is what I spent my money on during the last week/month/year aligned with my plans for travel and passive income stream? If not, what are some changes I can make to rebalance my budget so I can accomplish what’s really important to me? Did I follow through and save the amounts I needed to save for my travel? Did I follow through and pay the cash flow I needed to pay towards the debt in my portfolio? And so on. Don’t let too much time pass by before you correct course. Look, we aren’t robots, so we all deviate from our plans at some point. The trick is to catch yourself in time to do something about it. Conclusion In conclusion, I’d like to talk about momentum because it is absolutely crucial to achieving the life you want. As you sat down, dreamed and defined what you wanted, the result was a collection of goals with different durations. For example, losing 40 lbs might take you 3-4 months of committed effort, that dream trip to the Caribbean can take you 6-12 months, while building a passive stream of income that sets you financially free can take 10-15 years. What’s important to understand is that the accomplishment of shorter term goals starts an avalanche of momentum that can get you across the finish line of larger and more arduous goals. For instance, if you decide and take the necessary actions consistently to improve your health and fitness, you WILL get impressive results in 3-4 months. So if that approach works for your health, why wouldn’t it work for your travel aspirations or your important relationships? And further, if you accomplished the first two, why can’t you define, plan and execute a larger plan to get you financially free in 10-15 years? Once you build momentum, you will never look back. So take take the first step today: Defeat ambiguity and define the life you want. What are your tricks and tips for focusing on goals — and actually achieving them? Will you follow my suggested steps? Leave a comment below with your thoughts.