How to Set Goals that will Change Your Life.

Self Help

 Raise of hands, how many of you out there find yourself making the same goals over and over again and nothing ever changes? No shame. This happens to the best of us. I mean sure, there is the anomaly who seems to have everything put together, but most of us mere mortals have to learn how to make goals.  Here are my top tips for making goals that will actually result in long lasting change:



Ghosts of Past, Present, and Future

When making goals, it does us no good if they are random or centered on whims. Take the time to get introspective. Look at the past year. What worked and what didn’t? What would you like to change? Compile a list of these items and keep it handy.

The next step is to look at what the things that are happening in your life right now. Are you happy? What are your current goals? Do they work for you? Write these down as well.

The last part of this little brainstorming exercise is to identify what it is that you really want from life. What kind of person do you want to be? What material goods/standard of living do you want? What skills will you have attained? Who are the people in your life?

These three lists that you have made are your overarching, long term goals. You now know where you are at right now and where it is that you ultimately want to be. All of your smaller goals that you will be making should ultimately bring you back to here.



Soon you’ll be breaking down your list into much smaller goals. As you do this, remember to be SMART about it.

  • S – Specific
  • M – Measurable
  • A – Attainable
  • R – Relevant
  • T – Time-bound

Specific – You want your goals to be detailed. For example, instead of a general goal like “I want to lose weight” try something more along the lines of “I am going to lose ten pounds by following ____________diet/exercise plan by ____________date.”

Measurable – Your goals should also be measurable. They should be based upon performance, not outcome. Instead of saying “I am going to learn guitar” try something more like “I am going to practice guitar for 30 minutes a day at this time.” Framing your goals like this will help you to know if you are keeping them or not. With a general goal its really easy to think that you’re not moving forward and throw in the towel. When your goal is measurable you get a sense of accomplishment and are more likely to stick with it.

Attainable – Is your goal something that you can reasonably achieve? It is so common to get pumped up when making goals and then to quickly lose steam. Make sure that the goals that you make are framed so that you can accomplish them. If your goal is “I want my body to look just like __________ actress” then you might be disappointed. “I want some muscle definition in my arms” is more reasonable. Always frame things so that you are setting yourself up for success.

Relevant – Make sure that the goals you make are getting you one step closer to your overarching goals. Remember to look at the big picture.

Time Bound – Give yourself a deadline. Having a deadline is crucial. If you don’t assign a finish date it becomes a lot easier to procrastinate the task at hand. Other day to day tasks and outright distractions will get in the way of what you really want. Your deadline is a way to make your real desires a reality


Break it Down

Phew! I know that was a lot to take in but it will be so worth it. Now that you know how to be SMART it is time to break down your big goals into little ones. Look at the list you made earlier. What are things that you can do in the next five years to get closer to your ultimate list? Looking at that five year list, what can you do in the next year to get closer? Do this again for what you can do in the next month, and again for the next week, and finally for the next day.

This process will take some time and might be quite tedious but stick with it! If you can do this, then you have an action plan that you can start right now.  Take time every night or first thing every morning to make a plan for each new day.

A natural progression might look something like this:

  • Ultimate goal — own a yacht
  • 5 year goal — Rent a boat and sail across the Atlantic
  • 1 year goal — Sign up for sailing lessons
  • 1 month goal — meet with someone from the closest sailing/yacht club around
  • 1 week goal — Find out who shares this same interest. Is there a sailing club nearby?
  • Today — 6pm to 6:45pm Find out everything  I can about boat anatomy online.


Be Positive

You might notice that some of the goals you make use negative language i.e “I’m not going to play video games” or “I’m going to swear less” or “I’m going to stop smoking.” The problem with goals like these are they leave a void. What are you going to do instead of video games when you are bored? What are you going to say when you stub your toe or get cut off in traffic? What are you going to do when you get the urge to light up?

Forcing yourself to use positive language when making goals also forces you to look deeper at the issue and what you can do. Instead of cutting out video games make your goal “I am going to practice piano for 20 minutes when I am bored.” Instead of swearing off swearing make your goal “will count to ten slowly when I am feeling angry.” Instead of quitting smoking make your goal “I will start the patch.”


Small Goals = Big Change

If you want to succeed, make sure that your daily goals are really small. You should be able to complete them in minimal time, with the resources you have on hand, and with only an ounce of extra effort. If you want a cleaner house you will be much more likely to keep it up if your daily goals are really small, like “I am going to clean as much as I can in 10 minutes before I watch tv.” This doesn’t mean that you are lazy or that you are not trying hard. It means that you are taking an intelligent approach and avoiding burnout. It means that you are setting yourself up for success.


Set Priorities

You will probably find that you want a lot out of life and that you have tons of goals. When making your long term and your short term goals decide which are most important. Put your focus on the higher priority items. When you have accomplished your goals for the day for these higher items, then you can move onto goals for lower priority items.

When talking about setting priorities it is important to take note from Steven R. Covey and his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” This chart comes from his book:



Important and Urgent: Things in this quadrant include goals and big projects with a looming deadline. Take care of these items!

Not Important but Urgent: These are small items that have no real effect in the long run but that we think are important because they are urgent. Things in this category include the ringing phone or the the coworker who keeps dropping in.

Not Important and Not Urgent: Things in this category are usually busywork. The things that we do to distract ourselves from the tasks that are unpleasant or to make us feel busy and important. They are a drain on time and energy. Cut these items out, skim the fat.

Important but not urgent:This category should be your life blood. This is where the vast majority of your time should be spent. Planning, networking, creating opportunity, relationships, recreation, and working on your goals! Focus on these things before they become urgent and cut out the distractions in the other quadrants. If you can keep ahead of the game you will move forward and cut out a lot of stress!


Share your Goals

This is a hard one for me. I don’t want to tell people what I am up to. I don’t want them to know if I fail or to think my goals are stupid. I want to protect my ambitions from the critics and naysayers. While this may sound logical in my head, it is not the best course of action for success.

Sharing does not mean that you can’t be selective about who you share with. You don’t have to tell the random stranger you meet on the street or that one person who has always laughed at your past efforts. Find supportive people. Find people who’ve done what you are trying to do. Find a coach, a mentor. Find somebody.

When you share your goals, you are finding someone to be supportive of you. Someone to encourage you when you are ready to quit. This person can tell you when you are being unrealistic and help you tweak your goals. This person can tell you their experiences and give you some extra perspective. AND they give you that extra motivation not to fail.


Track Your Progress

Find some way to keep tabs on what you are doing and what you have accomplished. This can be as simple as keeping your lists with all the items crossed out. Make a poster board and put gold stars on it when you complete a task. Take pictures, hang on to certificates. I put my most important to do’s on my Google Calendar. When they are complete I change their color to yellow. When I look at the month I can see all of the things I got done.

It doesn’t matter how you do it but you do need some way to look back and show that you are moving forward. This will help when you are feeling down or if you feel stagnant. When you do look at your tracker, feel proud and keep on keeping on.


Reward Yourself

As time goes on you might find that it is hard to keep on schedule. You know what you want, you just aren’t motivated. Find ways to make things fun again. When you complete a small task on your daily docket reward yourself by playing a little basketball with old papers and your trashcan. At the end of a long day soak your feet in some hot water and relax. Set rewards for when you achieve a large goal. A dinner out for performing in a recital. A new wardrobe for a promotion. A vacation for meeting your goal weight. Set the award appropriate to the achievement and make it enticing enough to be motivating.


Revisit and Revise

So you’ve been at it for a while now. You have probably found things that work and that don’t work for you. Know that it is actually really good to change your goals up a bit. If you find that you are no longer interested in archery, cut it! If you still want a Master’s Degree but don’t have time to complete it in a semester, go ahead and give yourself more time. Look over your goals often and tweak them for your current situation. Make them work.



I know that it really is a lot to take in! Still, give it a try. Make your dreams come true, one day at a time. Start slow. If you have a history of abandoning goals, start with one very small goal, like folding a basket of laundry every other day. Make it your focus. When you feel more comfortable you can add on a second goal, then a third. You can make and keep goals!




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