Goal Setting 101: Get to Where You Want to Be

How do you feel about setting goals? Maybe you’re not keen on the whole idea – it seems artificial to you, or you’re worried about failure. Or perhaps, like me, you’re really good at coming up with interesting goals – and less good at actually following through on them.

Either way, just having a goal in mind isn’t going to get you far. You need to set goals in the right way – setting yourself up for success, rather than half-heartedly aiming for a vague dream.

Here’s how to set great goals that’ll get you real results.

Step 1: Make Sure it’s YOUR Goal

One of the biggest mistakes that people make when setting goals is to choose things which they feel they “should” do, perhaps prompted by family, friends or society in general.

If you have a list of goals like “be skinny” or “make $50k” or “visit the in-laws more often”, go through and ask yourself whether these are really your goals. There are very few things in life which you really have to do – so if you’ve ended up with a bunch of goals that other people have set for you, start thinking about what you would really like to do. Don’t set arbitrary goals just because you think you should.

There’s not much joy to be had in chasing a goal which you don’t care about. Chances are, you’ll give up part-way and end up feeling guilty – or you’ll reach the goal, only to find that success doesn’t seem to make you any happier.

Step 2: Be Specific

An awful lot of people have goals like “lose weight”. A vague goal like this is generally pretty half-hearted. Sure, you might be very keen to lose weight, but chances are, you’re not taking deliberate and focused action.

Being specific means setting a concrete goal, one you can measure. Instead of “lose weight” you might pick “lose 30lbs”. Instead of “get fitter” you might decide on “jog for ten minutes without stopping”.

There’s no need to go overboard here, though. If your goal is to change to a new career, don’t focus too narrowly on that one “perfect” job – otherwise you might miss out on something else equally good, or even better.

Step 3: Set a Deadline

Some goals have daily or weekly deadlines built in. For instance, you might have a goal to “read for 30 minutes every day” or “finish one book each week.”

Other goals, though, are awfully easy to put off. Perhaps you’re writing a book – a big, long-term task which you probably won’t be able to work on every single day. In this case, you’ll want to set yourself a deadline.

A good deadline is a bit challenging, without being unrealistic. Build in room for life to be unpredictable – don’t plan for everything to go smoothly, because chances are, it won’t!

Step 4: Plan Your Actions

Most goals will need breaking down into concrete actions. For instance, you might have a sensible, specific goal like “lose 30lbs in the next 12 months” – but how exactly are you going to go about achieving such a big goal?

You might not always be able to completely control your progress, but you can always take care of your actions. That means that instead of saying “I’ll lose 1lb per week” (and giving up when your weight sticks stubbornly), you focus on what you’ll do – maybe “I’ll write down everything I eat” or “I’ll go to the gym three times per week”.

When planning your actions, find a good way to measure them and stay accountable. You might want to tick days on a calendar, keep a diary, tell a friend, or create a document on your computer to track your progress.

Now … Go for It!

You can set great goals all day, but if you wait for the perfect time to get started, you’ll never get anywhere. Work out what you need to do first, and go for it – today.

If you need a bit of encouragement, share your goal in the comments section below. Good luck!


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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