Imagine that you are sitting in a small boat. It is stormy, it is raining, and it is cold. Your boat (your position) is subject to waves, wind, and current. This is altogether an unpleasant situation that you want to change.

You start to row: initially you are not used to the movement, but with time you are improving—you concentrate on every stroke and eventually you become an efficient rower. After some time, you start to get tired; finally, you have to stop because you are exhausted. You suddenly become aware of your surroundings: the storm is getting worse, it is even more unpleasant than before, and you realize that you are very far away from the land. Thus, despite your (per se efficient) efforts to improve your situation and your motivation (you pushed yourself to complete exhaustion), your situation is even worse now. Had you applied your rowing skills in the right direction (thus had defined a goal before starting to work out like mad), you would be safe and sound on stable ground.


  • You would have defined your goal before jumping into action.
  • You would have performed efficiently.
  • You would have self-regenerated during your journey.

I think it is already obvious from this simple example that you need to define your goal first. I also introduced other important concepts: motivation, efficacy, and regeneration. Do you agree that they are secondary to defining goals? So let us work on goals first.

As shown in the example with the jungle road and the rowing boat “incidence,” being highly motivated and very efficient in performing is completely useless (and you will still be a loser) if:

  • You have no defined goals.
  • You have defined the wrong goals (which maybe even worse and very dangerous), that is, unrealistic, too ambitious, too understated, and so on.

We can safely assume that you have goals in your life. It is, however, amazing that many people do not consciously work on this very central hit list of their life. Are you completely aware of your goals?

The “You Can Make It If You Want” Nonsense

I suspect that you are very eager to start on your journey to reach the goal(s). However, the decision to go for a goal is a very important decision and can have huge consequences on virtually all aspects of your life. It is therefore almost essential to understand the underlying mechanisms, which determine your success or failure. Before jumping in, put your goal to a reality check.

The difficulty in choosing a goal is to avoid underestimation of your capabilities. On the other hand, overestimation is problematic as well. A huge part of success and motivation literature is filled with witty little statements such as: you can make it if you really want. No, actually you cannot, if you choose to run a marathon under 2.03 hours or plan to become a commercial pilot with poor eyesight. Therefore, perform a reality check by evaluation of the available logistics of your life. In a schematic drawing (Fig. 1.1), I set your goal in the context of a timeline (x-axis) and work required (y-axis).

This simple model shows that you need to invest work to reach your goal: the more ambitious your goal, the more work you need to invest. Note that the position of your goal is also within a time frame. The shorter time you plan to reach your goal and the more ambitious your goal is, the more energy you need to invest (area under the curve). If you plan to reach a less ambitious goal in a longer time period you will need to invest lesser energy (Fig. 1.2). Another important point: if you have reached your goal, you have (according to our rather crude mechanical model) acquired a certain potential energy (Fig. 1.3). In terms of physics, there are two consequences:

  1. You need to spend energy to stay on this level.
  2. If you do not, you will fall. The higher you climbed, the deeper you will fall.


Based on: Time and Life Management for Medical Students and Residents
by Michael Sabel

As grueling as medical studies and training are, with appropriate discipline and time management it is possible to stay afloat, maintain one's sanity, achieve one's goals, and still enjoy a fulfilling life. It is the purpose of this book to stimulate thought processes that nurture a healthy attitude toward organizing one's time and life so as to improve one's own quality of life as well as the patient's well-being.


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