Maybe you’re thinking long-term and want to save up for your dream house, a destination wedding, or a round-the-world adventure.
Or, perhaps you simply want to set some great New Year’s resolutions to improve yourself over the next 12 months.
Whatever the case may be, you have goals in mind—but how to achieve them?
In this guide, we’ll walk you through some of the best tips and tricks for setting achievable goals, whether they’re short-term, intermediate, or long-term.
💡 Before We Get Started:
What is a goal, exactly? A goal is a desired result someone envisions, plans out, and commits themselves to achieving. According to A Theory of Goal Setting and Task Performance by Gary Latham and Edwin Locke, the so-called fathers of goal-setting theory, “goals are at the same time the aim of action and a standard by which people evaluate their performance. Goals are valued or desired outcomes.” It’s also important to keep in mind that goals are not dreams or wishes, as a true goal must have an act of commitment behind it.
Now, on to the goal setting!
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Here’s how to set goals you’ll be able to accomplish:
1. Create an Action Plan
One of the most important ways to achieving goals you’ve set is to create an action plan for your goal. Especially larger, more ambitious, and longer-term goals.
For example, let’s take the long-term goal of saving up to buy your first house. While the money is definitely a major part of this goal, you’ll also have to determine where you want the house to be located, how many rooms you want, and what features the house includes (e.g., fireplace, lawn, attic). You’ll also have to sort through brokers, mortgage lenders, appraisers, and movers.
See what I mean?
To reach your goal of buying a house, you’ll need to plan it out. Using an action plan, you’ll identify all the various steps, expenses, people involved, and other items needed to achieve your goal. Once you have the clarity from having this all mapped out, you’ll be well on your way to success!
2. Be “SMART” About Your Goals
This one is really like 5 goal setting tips rolled into one. The SMART criteria is a popular way to set objectives in many fields, from academia to project management to personal development.
The SMART system goes like this:
Specific – Don’t be vague about your goal or objective.
Measurable – Make sure there’s some way to measure progress being made.
Achievable – Ensure it’s attainable given your resources and circumstances.
Relevant – Are your goals aligned with your objectives and values?
Time-Bound – Set a due date for your goal, or specify a timeframe.
When you are able to make goals that meet the SMART criteria, you’re better positioned to achieve the goals you have set for yourself.
😲 Fun Fact
SAMHSA, a US Government agency, explains also that there are differences between goals and objectives, especially when setting SMART goals:
“Goals are the specific result or purpose expected from the project. The project goals specify what will be accomplished over the entire project period and should directly relate to the problem statement and vision. The goal is achieved through the project objectives and activities. Objectives are the specific steps that lead to the successful completion of the project goals. Completion of objectives result in specific, measurable outcomes that directly contribute to the achievement of the project goals.”
3. Have Subgoals
Subgoals are smaller goals necessary to accomplish in order to achieve a larger goal overall. Creating subgoals is a great way to help you accomplish a larger goal. While they are a key component of building an action plan for larger, longer-term goals, they are also super useful in reaching short-term goals and intermediate goals.
Let’s use job hunting as an example. For most people, finding a job is an example of an intermediate goal, as it often takes 3–6 months. While “get a job” is a great goal to have, subgoals are quite necessary, things like revamping your resume, preparing a cover letter, and practicing for an interview.
4. Adjust Your Goals
Don’t be afraid to adjust your goal after you’ve identified it—a goal shouldn’t be set in stone. If the goal stops being realistic, for instance, reassess your situation. You might not have to abandon it completely, but it may require you pushing the due date back. Or, you could come across new information which might make your goal less worthwhile, ethical, or feasible.
For example, some time ago I made a New Year’s resolution to read more than 100 books by December 31st. However, I soon realized that prioritizing quantity over reading quality was not enjoyable for me. I would skip larger novels I really wanted to read, such as the 1,080-page Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, simply because this one book alone was the equivalent of 3 or 4 other books. I adjusted my goals, and I became much happier for it!
5. Assess the Route to Your Goal Periodically
If you drive to work regularly when, one day, the road you normally take is closed for construction, what do you do? You simply take an alternate route, because you have to get to your office one way or another.
Goals are important destinations, as well. Sometimes, you may need to reroute to achieve them. For example, if your goal is to lose 20 lbs by the end of the year, you may need to reassess your diet or workout regime if you don’t see any changes a few months in.
Create an “if-then” plan, meaning if such and such happens, I’ll do this to stay on track. Also, some actions may work at the beginning but be less functional later on. For instance, your 20-lbs weight loss goal may have started with 5-mile runs 5 days a week. But, if you begin getting pain in your knees, you’ll have to lean more on other weight loss methods to reach your goal. Oh, and see a doctor, of course!
6. Identify & Celebrate Milestones
A milestone is a significant event or achievement reached on the way to your overall goal. If your goal is to save $1000 for a summer vacation, a milestone could be reaching $500—you’re halfway there and should celebrate that fact!
Celebrating milestones is important for helping you to affirm why you’re aiming for this particular goal in the first place. And, if you can reward yourself for staying on target, you’ll be more successful in achieving goals. On top of that, the journey should be just as rewarding as the destination, if not more so. Finally, acknowledging milestones shows you that you’re on the right track, a great form of encouragement for the next segment of the journey toward your goal!
7. Prioritize Multiple Goals
Setting a goal is one thing, but how to achieve goals when you’ve got several?
Most of us have multiple goals and objectives at any given time, and that’s quite okay. However, it’s important to prioritize them by importance, impact, and ease. Doing so will make certain you don’t have an intermediate goal which conflicts with a long-term goal, for instance.
While knocking out the most important goal may be your first priority, evaluate the difficulty of your other goals. Can they be accomplished quickly and easily? It may be a good idea to clear these out of the way so you can focus on your bigger goal without distraction!
8. Don’t Get Discouraged!
Goals are destinations, and there are going to be obstacles along the way, particularly with longer-term goals, more ambitious objectives, and the scope of your projects. As such, don’t get discouraged or beat yourself up if you have setbacks, delays, or need to rework your route or goal.
Make sure to properly plan out the steps needed to reach your goal, adjust them when necessary, and celebrate your wins along the way.
I wish you the best of luck as you head toward reaching your goals and dreams!
Well, that’s all for now in our post on how to set goals, and we hope you’ve found it useful and inspiring! Got any questions, feedback, or other tips on achieving goals, creating measurable goals, or setting SMART goals? Let us know in the comments below, and thanks for reading!