It was Peter Laurence, a Canadian management theorist, who wrote “if you don’t know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else.”

Setting long term financial goals can be difficult. Life changes. Circumstances change. Reality doesn’t always match our expectations and assumptions. Sometimes we can be so busy and (pre)occupied with the here and now; today; this week; by Christmas; next year; that thinking longer term and having any kind of clarity about important milestones and achievements we would love to see accomplished can be very hard to pin down.

We can all look forward to certain vague aspirations in the future such as repaying the mortgage or retirement, but what about the more personal, specific, exciting dreams? What about the pipe-dreams we all have that flit in and out of our brains sometimes when we’re on a car journey or shaving at 6am on a Monday morning?

What about seeing the Grand Canyon? Owning your own horse? Learning to fly? Driving a Ferrari to St Tropez? Owning a Woodland? Designing a self-build home? Setting up a charitable trust? Starting your own business? Learning to ski? Swimming on the Great Barrier Reef...

Of course the list goes on and on. We all have dreams. We all have things we’d love to do. We all also have jobs, income, savings, assets. The tragedy is when our goals and our finances are kept separate; when they are not brought together in a coherent plan.

Few people plan to fail, but many people fail to plan. As a result, in 20 years’ time, there’s a real chance you still won’t own your own horse. You still won’t have seen the Grand Canyon. You never did buy that plot of land and design your own home, and you’d still love to learn to ski.

Managing an investment portfolio without a clear understanding of a client’s specific goals and objectives is a bit like running a race in the Olympics without being told what distance you’re running. You hear the words “On your marks; get set; GO!” The gun goes off, but if you don’t know whether you’re running the 100 meters, the 10k or the marathon, you have no idea how to pace yourself.

Investing is a means to an end and not an end in itself. Sensible investing, founded on a comprehensive financial plan, is about understanding the race you want to embark on and setting the pace accordingly. A successful investment experience should be goals-led not just returns driven.

Financial planning is about enabling you to look back and say “I’m glad I did . . . “ rather than “I wish I had . . . “ Understanding your short, medium and long terms goals is essential to that process.