The Buddhist way is not to set goals about someday reaching a desirable future, but to simply start living it now, today. In other words, don't think about the person you want to be as a future thing, with a list of goals to achieve before you can attain it. Simply start being the person you want to be now, this moment, and if you mess up and fall short, you start again. And start again. No one is keeping count of how many times you start over. You don't dream about being, you just be. For example, if you want to be sober, start being it now, for this current five minutes, and then for the next current five minutes, and so on. The future consists of thousands of little "nows." And the future isn't overwhelming that way, because you can tell yourself you only have to be sober for this five minutes. And then you keep telling yourself that. You see the point, anyway.
I've tried this approach when weeding a particularly large patch of ground. If I looked at the whole area, it would be discouraging. But if I kneel down, grasp a weed, and tell myself, "There is only this weed here, in my hand," I can pull it up. And then there's only the weed in my hand again, and I pull it again. In life, there's really only one thing we control, and that's what's at hand right now, before us.
I think I spend much of my energy anticipating the future, dreaming about possibilities, and setting goals, but really it all comes down to doing something now, in this current moment, a little at a time, to bring about the future I want. Of course, deciding what I want is another matter entirely, and a deeper subject than I can confront right now (I'm writing this at 4:30 a.m. while waiting for my son to get ready so we can head out the door. I've been up since 3:30). Anyway, I've decided on a few things I want, at least, and so I want to do something -- just a small step -- every day toward those things. Then, after an accumulation of lots of small steps, I will see myself become the me I want to be. At least, that's the theory. Of course there are always unforeseen circumstances. I can train every day to be a world-class athlete, but then be struck down with a debilitating disease and not attain the goal. I can only control what's before me right now, in my hand, and that is all I am held accountable for in the end. At least doing the small step every day increases my odds of reaching the ultimate object.
So there are two things I'm going to be more fastidious about every day, small steps which will steer me toward what I want to be. I've been remembering to read my scriptures more often, and want to do it daily. To do this, I've been carrying a pocket version with me on the bus. It taxes the eyesight in the early morning, but at least it's getting done. The other goal is to reduce or throw out or recycle or donate one item from my home every day, with an eye toward simplification. So last night I recycled two binders of paper (old manuscripts now already in print -- I don't need them). I'll choose something else again tonight.
Son is ready and I must fly.