A grand duke was marching through the forest with his entourage of hunters when he spotted several trees, each with an arrow stuck exactly in the middle of a large painted target. Amazed, he instructed his men to find the archer who had shot so accurately. They soon found a young boy, bow in hand, who admitted that he was the marksman. “Did you really shoot each of those arrows,” asked the duke, “or simply hammer them into the trees?” The boy swore that he had indeed dispatched them himself, and from a distance of one hundred paces. “Then you shall join my division of archers. But you first must teach us your wondrous technique,” the duke declared. The boy smiled, “I will do that, sir. First I shoot the arrow at the tree,” he began, “and then I paint the target around it!”
Sadly, the boy’s system does not work in hunting, in chess, or with money. You can’t scramble your pieces around the board and then encircle the enemy’s king and announce “checkmate!” And of course, you cannot mark up your monthly statements, claiming that you always hit your price targets. A chess game and a financial plan both require a pre-designed strategy before you make your opening move. First select your target, then develop a strategy to reach it, and finally set your arrow free and execute the plan. Goal-setting begins with envisioning the conclusion of the journey. Investors, for example, might aim for a comfortable retirement, while chess players target checkmate. Regardless of your wishes, history teaches that the greatest of achievements began with dreams. Just remember Helen Keller longing to communicate, J.K. Rowling visualizing her Harry Potter books being read by millions, or Walt “If you can dream it, you can do it” Disney, who imagined the Magic Kingdom … and then built it in 366 days. If you want to realize your dreams, sit down and work out a list of your long-term goals, with shorter term steps to you help you reach them. This is the first stage of effective planning.