Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
– Mary Oliver
If you want to accomplish something, then set a goal to do it.
Sounds easy right? Well, easier said than done! But, it actually works.
You can achieve your goals. But to do so, there’s a process that you should follow. And I lay out that process exactly below.
You can also use Dream Year, my goal setting workbook, to set your goals.
If you want to listen instead of read, here’s the podcast episode that goes along with this post — How To Set Goals.
Step 1: Create visions for your life
Before you set individual goals, consider the main eight life categories: health, relationships, finance, career, personal/ spiritual development, recreation/play, environment, and service/contribution.
In each area of your life, before you create goals, create a vision. That is to say, write down what you believe in (your values) and what you want for your future. It is fruitless to create a goal without having an overarching vision because you won’t know why you’re setting your goal, and when you reach it, you won’t feel as good about it.
Step 2: Take inventory of your life (think and reflect upon where you are now)
After you know what you want, you need to check in with yourself and “take inventory” of where you are right now.
Look at each area of your life and write down the status of where you are. Be honest with yourself. If you’re in an unhappy relationship, write that down. Being honest with yourself will help you make the necessary changes in order to move you toward the life you want to live. Do this for every area of your life.
Step 3: Create an overarching plan for each category
With each life category written down, decide on one big, overarching plan to lead you toward your vision for that category.
For example, if your financial vision is to become financially free and be an example to your children, your corresponding, overarching plan could be to become debt free (and stay out of debt) and build wealth.
The vision is something that is a way of life; it’s your legacy. The overarching plan is the biggest goal you set to get there — it’s something that is attainable. After you set your overarching plan, you’ll then be able to set smaller goals that are measurable and attainable.
Step 4: Set your goals
After you know what you want (vision), where you are (inventory), and your main plan of getting to where you want to go, you are ready to set goals.
A goal is an achievable aim or target in the future.
One of the most popular goal-setting strategies is the S.M.A.R.T. acronym.
Goals should be:
- Specific (not vague)
- Measurable (detailed)
- Achievable (attainable given where you are now)
- Relevant (related to the area of your life that needs improvement)
- Timely (with a definite deadline)
This means that when you create goals, they should be narrow, in writing, achievable, and have a deadline. Goals can be long-term goals (over one year) or short-term goals (less than one year). You can do this for all areas of your life, or you can focus on a few areas that you want to change the most. Examples of long-term benchmarks are: 5 years out, 10 years out, and 20 years out. Short-term benchmarks for goals include anything less than 1 year, such as one week or 12 months.
A good way to know whether you’re setting appropriate goals is to follow Michael Hyatt’s advice and ask whether you are 1) staying inside your comfort zone (bad), 2) getting outside your comfort zone (good), or 3) being delusional (bad). You want to set goals that stretch you outside your comfort zone (i.e. that are a reach for you), but not so far of a reach that they’re delusional.
Decide what categories you want to create goals for (as little as one category up to all categories), and get to writing. Keep in mind that the more goals you have at one time, the harder it is to focus. It may be more effective for you to focus on 1-4 goals for the first half of the year and the remaining 4 life categories in the second half of the year. Or, if you are only struggling in one area of your life, it may make sense for you to focus on that category for the entire year, setting goals only for that area of your life until it has improved. Only you know where you stand, so choose your goals wisely. Use your inventories from above to determine where you should focus your energy.
I also recommend using tools that will help you ensure you’ll achieve your goals. The best tool I’ve seen for this (and I’ve tried a lot of them), is The Freedom Journal. It’s a journaling book that teaches you how to accomplish your goal in 100 days. I use it and find it very easy and helpful.
Examples of two bad goals:
1. Get on track financially this year.
2. Be more careful with my credit card.
Examples of two good goals:
1. Create monthly budgets the first of every month for the following month with my husband.
2. Pay off my credit card every month and stop using it for everything except groceries.
In the bad set of examples, you can see how the goals are vague and do not have deadlines. In the good set of examples, the goals are specific and timely. Both of these goals are written down which is incredibly important, too.
If you want more of a detailed guide for setting goals, download my Goal Setting Action Plan.
Step 5: Implement your goals
Implement your goals by taking action. This may seem obvious, but I believe implementation and planning needs to be a separate step because it is the difference between success and failure.
The reason I am so productive and accomplish my goals is because they are concrete and always on my calendar (I use gmail’s calendar and always have it in the month view so I can visualize what is coming up in the next week and month). If I don’t use my calendar to plan my goals, I have about a 20% success rate. I have found it is the little things (habits and systems) that make success possible (and almost guaranteed) for me.
Whatever calendar you use, put your goals on it as deadlines. Also, put a weekly “goals check-in” on your calendar. Your deadlines will keep you on track and focused. Your weekly check-ins will allow you to make changes and plan accordingly with respect to your deadlines. Perhaps this means that every week you put on your calendar “work on goals” on Saturday morning at 10am. Whatever works for you, the key is to plan it. If you plan it, it will happen. If you don’t check-in with yourself, you won’t give yourself the opportunity to make changes based on your circumstances. For example, if you plan to train for a marathon and put deadlines on your calendar but you’re injured two weeks into training, it doesn’t make sense for you to keep those goals on your calendar. You need to make changes accordingly.
Step 5: The 4 R’s — Reward, Reflect, Revise, and Repeat
As I alluded to above, you are going to need to make changes. As much as you try to plan your life, you can only do so much. There are circumstances that are beyond your control that will happen. And there are circumstances that will lead you to change what you want. While you may think you know what you want in 5 years, you may end up being way off.
Enter the 4 R’s. First, you should reward yourself after accomplishing any goal. We’re creatures of positive reinforcement and you’ll have more success if you reward yourself. Second, reflect on your progress and think about the journey as time passes. Without reflection it will be hard for you to learn and grow. Third, revise your visions, plans, and goals over time. As you change, so should your goals. Revision can take place during your check-ins so that you keep moving forward in the direction you want as things change. Finally, repeat the process by continuing to make and write down new goals as time goes on.
A Final Note!
The meaningful progress you make by creating and achieving your goals will leave you happier and with fewer regrets. A life without direction is a life wasted.
I know this because I switched careers and have built a new life for myself (and blogging and freelance writing have been a huge part of that). I couldn’t make the money I do online without having set concrete goals for myself.
For more on designing your dream life, join my free email course below!