What do you want to accomplish in life? Do you have big picture aspirations?
Maybe you want to become a New York Times bestselling author, or maybe you hope to hold public office someday. Some people may call these aspirations “goals,” when actually, without a proper goal-setting strategy, these are dreams or resolutions.
An aspiration is something you want to achieve or be. Dreams, resolutions and goals are all aspirations, but they’re 3 very different things. A dream is something that you’d like to do if you could, but it feels out of reach.
Ever heard the expression pipe dream? Because dreams feel so far-fetched, we don’t always work hard to achieve them.
A resolution is something you’d really like to do. Consider New Year’s resolutions. Many people make them every January about the items and activities they’d really like to start (or stop) this year.
But what they don’t realize is that resolutions (and dreams) will never happen without a more concrete strategy.
So what is a goal? It’s the actual plan to achieve your aspirations. You can set short-term and long-term goals, and both are typically necessary to achieve big picture aspirations like the ones listed above.
Why We Need to Set Goals for Success in Life
Having a plan is essential for a fulfilling life. We need goals because they give our lives direction.
Goals provide plots and stories for us to live out. If we never work towards our aspirations, we will feel unfulfilled and frustrated by our general lack of progress. We all have a desire to improve, and goals are the way to make that happen.
We need to set goals because they help us live out the meaning we find in life. Goals help us take steps toward greater self-improvement. They also enable us to recognize and celebrate the success we achieve.
What Types of Goals To Set
There are many types of goals you can set, and there are many methods to use when you set your goals.
In general, your goals should be motivators that inspire you to achieve your aspirations and pursue self-improvement. Just make sure the aspirations and expectations are your own and not someone else’s. Otherwise, you’re not going to get the same fulfillment from achieving them.
When setting goals, you should definitely set big goals and plan for long-term achievements. But also include smaller steps or short-term goals, so you can measure your progress along the way.
Why You Should Write Your Goals Down
There are many things you can do to make sure you set effective goals, and one of them is writing down your goals and reviewing them regularly.
Recording your goals makes them more real and tangible. It also allows you to track your progress on each measurable goal, so you don’t miss opportunities to celebrate your achievements.
By reviewing your recorded goals regularly, you keep them top of mind and increase your focus on achieving them. One way to record and review your goals is through journaling. Dean’s Better Life Journal is designed for just that.
Next, we’ll discuss several different methods for setting goals to help you as you make your plan to achieve what you desire in life. The first one we’ll discuss is Dean’s goal-setting method called outcome journaling.
Dean’s personal goal-setting process is called outcome journaling, and he shares a vehicle for using this method with his Better Life Journal. Outcome journaling is a proven way to set realistic goals for the short-term and long-term. Plus, it allows you to measure your progress over time.
In outcome journaling, you set several big picture goals rather than a million small goals so that you are working towards your ultimate goals in life. This allows you to focus on what’s most important and not get sidetracked by smaller goals that aren’t as crucial.
We tend to overestimate what we can do in the short-term and underestimate what is possible with long-term goals. That’s why bigger goals are often better.
Of course, those big goals include smaller steps which could be considered short-term goals in and of themselves. But let’s keep the big goal focus in mind as we look at other key components of outcome journaling.
This method, presented in the Better Life journal, helps you…
- Understand your why: Finding the reason behind the goal you’re setting is what’s going to motivate you to actually achieve your objective.
- Formulate a list of things to NOT do: This allows you to hone in on your ultimate goals with laser focus.
- Set attainable goals for the day, the week and the month: This allows you to measure your progress towards your bigger goals.
- Recognize where you are in your journey: Once you understand where you are and where you want to be, you can reward yourself for small wins and big achievements.
- Attain your goals faster: Using weekly challenges that move the needle, you can achieve your personal goals quickly.
Outcome journaling allows you to set goals that matter. You determine which big goals are really going to make a difference and which small goals are just a waste of energy. It will get you in peak state to achieve your aspirations.
How to Set SMART Goals in Life
One well-known and popular strategy for effective goal setting is the SMART goal method. SMART is a mnemonic tool that stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. When setting goals with this method, each goal should be SMART. Let’s unpack this further:
You should set specific goals, meaning “get healthier” isn’t going to cut it. Remember, that’s an aspiration without a plan, which is a resolution. For “get healthier” to become an effective goal, you must outline the details. Exercise 3 times a week is an example of a smaller step or short-term goal. This small step of exercising 3 times a week is specific enough, and it supports the ultimate goal of being healthier.
A measurable goal is one with a defined achievement mark. Whereas “get healthier” isn’t measurable, you can definitely measure exercising 3 times a week. “Read more” is another example of a goal that’s not measurable. But, if you resolve to read 10 pages a night, that’s something you can measure. With measurable goals, there is no debate. You either accomplished your set goal, or you didn’t.
Is your goal an achievable goal? You want to stretch yourself with your goals, but you don’t want to make them impossible. If you haven’t exercised in the past 6 months, a set goal to exercise 3 times a week may not be achievable. If you want to read more but you haven’t picked up a book in a few years, reading 10 pages a night is likely not an achievable goal. Think of what you’re able to accomplish, and remember you can always adjust your goals to make them more challenging. But when you’re starting out, you really want your goals to be achievable. Plus, when you set goals that are achievable, your self-confidence and self-worth improves, giving you the belief that you can achieve all of your short-term and long-term goals.
Does your set goal actually move the needle in your quest to achieve whatever you’re striving for? Or is it irrelevant? Sometimes, we spend so much of the day on busywork or non-important tasks that we are not actually working on our ultimate goal. This is just another form of procrastination. But if our aspiration is to become healthier, exercising three times a week is a highly relevant goal.
Lastly, a SMART goal must be time-bound. This means that it must have an end date. You have to determine how long it will take you to achieve your goals, and then set a deadline for achieving them. Getting healthier is not bound by time—there’s no set date for you to finish the goal by. But if your goal is to not get winded when walking up 10 flights of stairs, you can determine that exercising 3 times a week for 3 months will get you to your goal. Reading more is not bound by time. But, if your set goal is to finish a book in 1 month, you can read 10 pages a night. Time-bound goals give you a deadline to finish by. They make sure that there’s a set date to work towards, and they allow you to track your progress.
The ultimate point of using the SMART goal system is to help you set goals that you will accomplish. With SMART goals, it’s easy to determine if you’ve reached your goals because they’re specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound.
How to Achieve Your Goals
Setting goals is one thing, but achieving them is another. Intention without implementation is an empty promise to yourself. Here are some processes to implement now to ensure you reach your goals in all areas of your life.
Shut Down Negativity
As you set new goals, make sure to stay positive about your potential to achieve them. Work out a time frame, and stay committed to remaining optimistic within that time frame. Positive thinking is an extremely powerful tool to help you stay motivated and live a generally more satisfying life. Remember, your self-worth is not measured by whether you achieve a goal. If you don’t achieve your goal, assess and re-evaluate what happened. Then, set new goals that are more achievable.
Believing you can achieve your goals is an important step to actually accomplishing them. Don’t underestimate it!
Make an Action Plan
To have manageable goals, you need to break down bigger goals or overall life goals into smaller steps. Here are some steps to make an effective goal action plan:
1. Brainstorm Possible Short-Term Milestones for Your Life Goals
What needs to happen before you get to your big goal? What are SMART goals along the way?
2. Set Professional and Personal Goals
Goals can improve all areas of your life. If you’re not striving, you’re standing still, and no one wants to be stuck standing still. Personal goals and professional goals can be very different. Maybe you have a higher standard for one or the other. If you are career-driven, professional goals might weigh more heavily on your mind. But if you’re more relationship-oriented, your latest personal goal might be to spend 30 minutes a day talking to a family member. There is no right or wrong in goal setting. Just be true to yourself.
3. Make a Time Frame for Every Goal
As you set goals, be sure to have a clear start date and an end date. As discussed, time-bound goals allow you to determine whether or not you were successful. Again, it’s important to have both short-term and long-term goals. The reason for that is simple: A short-term goal is a quick win that builds confidence and momentum towards your long-term and big picture goals.
4. Track Your Hard Work
Measure your progress of where you are on the path to achieving your overall goal, and reward yourself when warranted. Our most valuable tip here is to take up journaling about your goals. As we’ve mentioned, it’s an excellent way to keep a clear picture of where you’re at and how far you have to go.
Assess Your Goals on a Daily Basis
Take stock daily and weekly of your goals. Do this to ensure that your long-term goals are still your ultimate goals, and to ensure that your short-term goals are still working toward your long-term goals. You may do this in a journal or a spreadsheet or an app—whatever works for you. But this is so important because goals can change. Maybe you need to refocus. Assessing your goals keeps them present in your mind, and it also gives you the opportunity to adapt when priorities shift.
Don’t Give Up
While it’s fine to regroup when you’ve genuinely shifted priorities, don’t give up on the goals that matter to you. You can do this! Setting goals means sticking to your action plan and continuing to strive for improvement on a daily basis.
But don’t beat yourself up if you fall off the wagon a few times. As you make your action plan, consider including not only how to achieve the goal but also how to respond when life gets in the way. When obstacles crop up, what’s your first step to overcome them and persist towards your goal? Decide this and you’re one step closer to not giving up.
Reward Yourself for Milestones Reached
As you achieve your big goals and the smaller steps along the way, make sure to reward yourself along the journey. You deserve it! But speaking of rewards, be careful that your reward doesn’t derail all your hard work. Bingeing on cake, for example, is not a great reward for eating vegetables five days a week. Doing something fun and physically active might be more appropriate and relevant.
The Benefit of Achieving Goals
Achieving professional and personal goals can greatly improve your life. Think about it: Wouldn’t everything be better if your dreams were literally coming true one at a time? It takes work. It takes planning. It takes momentum and motivation. But it will all be worth it in the end when you reach a life goal that you can be truly proud of.
When you achieve a goal, you get an amazing feeling of accomplishment and experience real success. And what more could you want?
So run that half marathon. Write that first book. Start that online business. You have the capacity to do more than you’ve ever imagined if you use the goal-setting techniques listed here.