5 Steps to Set Personal Goals (and Actually Achieve Them!)

It’s very easy to be unrealistic when a goal feels intangible
Many of us feel like we are drifting through life, doing the same thing day-in, day-out, with little changing. Even those of us who set new year’s resolutions often forget about them after just a few weeks. It’s not that you don’t work hard or want to achieve the things you daydream about, it’s just that you aren’t sure how to make your dreams into something tangible.

As someone who works on individual projects and sees them through from start to finish, I’m familiar with setting myself a goal and achieving it, but I know it’s not that easy for everyone. The key to every goal that I – and you – set is to know the end destination. I can’t start a project for a client if I don’t know what result they want, and the same goes for you and your goals. How are you going to figure out the steps it will take to get there if you don’t know where you’re headed?

Read on to find out exactly how to set personal goals, and – more importantly – achieve them.

1. Brainstorm the Result

Your first step in setting a new goal is to sit down and figure out exactly what that goal and end result will look like. Your end goal may be to “lose 11 pounds and get fit” or to “renovate my kitchen and dining room”, and while these are deceptively simple goals, they can look very different depending on how you choose to get there.

For example, if you want to lose weight, do you want to lift weights and have a muscular or toned physique, or do you want to take up running and be slim with only a little definition? If you want to renovate your kitchen and dining room, what result do you really want? Renovating a kitchen by painting the doors and putting in a new floor is a very different project to getting an extension, ripping down a wall, and moving your plumbing to the other side of the room. Make the vision for your goal crystal clear.

2. Brainstorm the Steps

Now you know the destination, it’s time to think about the steps and decisions you’ll need to make to get there. This is especially important if you’ve tried to achieve a goal before and failed. Make a note of all the possible steps and decisions you may have to make before you reach your goal. You don’t need to worry about whether or not they’re right or even if you’re getting the steps in the right order, just get it out of your head and in front of you, where you can see it.

3. Choose Your First Milestone

Many people who write about goal setting will tell you to figure out all the milestones on the way to achieving your goal, but often this is a waste of time. Why? Because you can’t always see every bend in the road or obstacle that may crop up. How many times have you set a timeframe for a huge goal, fallen off track in week one or two, and thrown the whole plan out? The thing is, when it comes to setting personal goals if you make the parameters too tight any small failure will ruin your plan.

Instead, you need to set yourself up for success. Imagine you’re taking a road trip in the US and you’re traveling from New York to Los Angeles, and your first stop is in North Carolina. When you get there, you hear about a huge road closure and you won’t be able to get to your next stop as originally planned. Do you give up on your road trip? No! You simply tweak the plan and carry on toward your destination. Working toward your goals has to be the same.

To set yourself up for success know the destination, your first stop (milestone), and just have a vague idea of any future stop(s). This way, if an obstacle comes up or you have a change of heart about what you’re doing to get to your goal, you can tweak and continue on while still making progress toward your original goal, rather than giving up and trying again at some point in the future.

4. Decide How You’ll Stay on Track

Your next step is to decide how you’ll stay on track and keep accountable for your progress. If it’s a big long-term goal, maybe you will simply complete one task a week to move you toward it. For example, if you’re trying to do the kitchen renovation maybe your weekly task is to put £100 in savings or to go and look at possible flooring options on the weekend. This one task should keep you on track and be achievable, even if life is trying to do everything to stop you.

Find a method of planning and staying productive that works for you, and use it religiously as you work toward your goals.

5. Set the Deadline

You’ll often find this step right at the beginning of the planning process, but it actually makes sense for it to be one of the last things you do. Why? Because it’s very easy to be unrealistic when a goal feels intangible. At this point in the planning stage, you’ll have thought seriously about what it will take you to achieve your goal, so now is the time to set a tentative date for completion and a date to complete your first milestone. You may need to tweak the date from time to time to stay realistic, but try to make each milestone deadline a more serious marker. Plan a reward for yourself for reaching that milestone, so you will have consequences for not reaching it. When you do, set a deadline for your next milestone, and so on, until you achieve your goal.

When you learn to break down your personal goal planning process in these easy steps, you’ll be able to do the same for your goals. The key to reaching your goals is in making them doable, realistic, and timely, and don’t overload yourself with more than you can realistically achieve. If this is your first-time setting goals for yourself, give yourself some space for a learning curve as you discover how productive you can be each week and tweak your weekly tasks accordingly. Good luck!

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