We all have life goals, but when was the last time you articulated yours in a clear, unambiguous way? In reality, most of us rarely feel like we have the time to write down our life goals. We're constantly busy, whether at work, with family, or both. And when we're not busy, it's tempting just to flop down on the sofa to watch television or play with your phone.
However, explicitly setting and planning for life goals can help you turn vague thoughts and feelings into actions. If you're feeling restless, bored or just not fully satisfied, perhaps now is the time to make some concrete plans.
Here, we'll look at different types of goals, how to go about setting them and offer techniques and reminders that will help you make good plans. Throughout, we'll also consider some of the most common roadblocks and how to overcome them.
First, what exactly are life goals?
Essentially, they're the big things you want to accomplish in your life. When you picture yourself happy, what you imagine yourself doing can give you a good sense of at least some of your life goals.
To get a sense of your own personal goals, ask yourself what is important to you.
You might find it helpful to write down a list of things you value, simply brainstorming ideas before sorting them into some kind of order.
For example, common life goals include achieving a particular career milestone, finding a partner, having a family, creating certain types of art, and making a difference to the world around you.
However, it's entirely normal to have lots of goals in life and struggle with which one you should pursue first. Let's take a closer look at how to set reliable, achievable and appropriately ambitious goals.
Very broadly speaking, there are three types of goals that you can set. It's good to set goals in all of these categories, but getting a clearer idea of the category into which some particular goal fits can help you better plan to achieve it.
We'll explain how to tell the difference between these three types and give some examples of each. In addition, note that some goals fall into more than one category.
Time-sensitive goes are oriented to a specific schedule or are deliverable at a particular time.
For example, passing a particular course is a time-sensitive goal, as you have to study and submit assessments for deadlines that determine whether you pass the course.
Similarly, saving a particular amount of money in time for your wedding is time-sensitive, though in this case you are setting the time-sensitivity rather than having it externally imposed on you.
Sometimes, it's helpful to set time-sensitive goals even if there's no particular reason for the self-set deadline.
Focus goals are goals that help keep you on track toward a larger, ultimate goal.
When you have a particularly big, overarching aim, you may find it useful to break the goal into smaller focus goals.
For example, if you have the ultimate goal of changing your career, you might have a series of focus goals that all lead to this change.
The first focus goal might be gaining a new qualification, while the next may be resigning your CV, and another may involve professional networking (all in service of the ultimate goal).
Finally, specific areas of life goals are ones that focus on a particular domain. For example, you may have goals that are confined to your personal life, your professional life, your creative life, and so on.
Once again, you may set distinct goals in these areas at the same time. In your personal life, you may have a goal of finding a new partner, and in your creative life, you may be working on completing your first novel.
Of course, there can also be overlaps – starting a business with a friend might be both a personal and professional goal.
Using the SMART goal formula is an effective, evidence-based approach to setting and achieving all the types of goals discussed above.
SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound.
Using these criteria, it's much easier to figure out what you want to achieve and construct a plan for how to do it.
You can apply this format just as readily in your personal life and your professional life, and it clarifies your goals as well as ensuring that they're realistic.
We'll work our way through each aspect of the acronym, explain how to apply it and offer some concrete examples of how a goal might meet (or fail to meet) each specific criteria.
A specific goal is one that is written down in plain, unambiguous language.
An example, in contrast “I want to make more money” with “I want to gain a promotion by next summer”.
The latter is a specific goal, while the former is vague. When you are specific and focus on the action that you'll be taking, you immediately give yourself a clearer image of the steps you need to take.
When goals are measurable, it's easy to quantify success. For example, a goal like “I want to go on three dates next month” includes numbers that offer a clear way to evaluate whether you've met your goal.
With this measurable component, you can take an honest look at your progress, and if you don't manage to meet the goal then you can see immediate areas for change (e.g., you might aim for one date next month).
Some people use the word “attainable” rather than “achievable” here, but the message is just that your goal needs to be something that you can meet. While it's good to have goals that stretch you, studies on success indicate that unrealistic goals are actually demotivating.
For example, “I want to run a 10K by summer” is achievable if you're just starting training, while “I want to run a 30K race by summer” is less likely so.
Relevant goals are ones that make sense right now. For example, setting the goal “I want to have three children” isn't a relevant goal just yet if you haven't met the goal of meeting a life partner.
In other cases, the goal might be achievable but not maximally useful. For example, boosting your CV may improve your professional image, but it's not the most relevant to set if you aren't actively looking for a new job.
Lastly, goals should be time-based (or “timely” goals on some formulations of SMART). This means that they should have a time frame attached to them, rather than being open-ended.
So, opt for “I want to lose two stone in the next six months” rather than just “I want to lose two stone.” Once again, time constraints improve motivation and help to keep you accountable.
Now that you have a solid idea of what a good goal looks like and how you can use the SMART framework to generate and refine your goals, you have the tools you need to clarify what's possible for you.
There are a number of key areas in life that everyone should give at least some attention to when setting goals, so we'll work through them one by one.
You might question – what is spirituality? Spiritual goals don't have to be intimately related to religion. No matter what you believe, everyone has some desire to be part of something bigger than themselves.
Setting spiritual goals is all about figuring out the kind of change you want to make to the world around you, how you can improve the lives of others, and how you want to give back.
There are lots of different ways to do this. For example:
Personal growth goals focus on becoming the best possible version of yourself.
There's an emotional dimension to personal growth involving self-awareness, understanding how the past impacts you, and working through difficult emotions.
Meanwhile, the intellectual dimension of personal growth is about challenging and stretching yourself, new knowledge, and adding to your skillset.
Once again, there's room for all kinds of interests and values to shape your personal growth goals. However, some helpful examples include the following:
Goals that involve your family and friends will use focus on strengthening, improving, and occasionally mending relationships with those you are close to.
Sometimes, however, the emphasis will be on pulling away from someone rather than leaning into your relationship.
Think about the people you spend the most time with and care the most about, and ask yourself how you might fine-tune your dynamic. For example, you might do any of the following:
As with your friendships and familial relationships, love and relationship goals will often focus on strengthening bonds you already have.
Meanwhile, if you're single and looking for romance, love goals can also be about actively pursuing new relationships. It can also be helpful to focus on how you present yourself in relationships and to think about how you might be more genuine.
Some examples of love goals include:
Goals for recreation can encompass all of your hobbies and interests.
It's good to focus on hobbies that contribute positively to your overall well-being. Think of the things that help you ensure you have a good work-life balance, and that helps you cope with stress.
How can you make more time for them?
Some example goals include:
When it comes to work and career, the SMART goal framework can be particularly useful.
Often, we have expansive dreams but haven't hammered out the roadmap required to get us to the destination.
Setting SMART goals turns these dreams into a concrete plan you can follow, whether you want to have an entirely new career, want to have two careers at once, or are simply looking to excel in your current career track.
Perhaps looking into quotes to be inspired by once in a while will also give you the motivational kick that you need to make your dream a reality!
Here are some sample goals that you can adapt:
It's vital to remember both your mental and physical health when you reflect on health goals.
Your body and mind are interlinked, and you need to take care of both to be happy. When setting health goals, it's often useful to consider where you often trip up and could stand to take better care of yourself.
Do you need to set better boundaries with others? Are you forgetting to work on physical fitness, or do you catch yourself eating ready meals more than you'd like?
Some example goals include the following:
Finally, goals for attracting wealth can serve you in a range of ways.
For example, such goals can help you save money for a specific further goal (or for long-term security), they can help you develop your career, or they can allow you to give more to others.
Again, with finances, it's helpful to think about what you generally find difficult and to base some of your goals on these personal challenges. For example, consider the following template goals:
We've looked at how to set goals in different areas, using the evidence-based SMART approach to maximize your chances of success. To finish up, let's think about some further considerations that will help you achieve your life goals. As you read this final bit of advice, think about how it might apply to your own unique set of aims.
As the SMART goals framework tells us, time-based (or “timely”) goals are more likely to succeed. One major way in which you might fail to set an achievable goal is by simply forgetting to attach a timescale to that goal.
However, it's also important to think about what kind of time constraints to place on a goal.
Often, we can underestimate how long it might take to achieve something and then end up feeling bad about ourselves.
Alternatively, we might set the goal too far in the future and lose momentum or procrastinate. Try to focus on (and set) time constraints in the middle ground.
When you've got lots of different dreams and are feeling enthused, it's easy to set far too many goals and get burned out trying to achieve them all.
The end result can be that you don't meet any of those goals at all!
The trick is to start by choosing just one particular thing you'd like to accomplish.
Ask yourself “What is the most important thing on my list?”, then put a plan into action to achieve that specific goal. Remember, that doesn't mean giving up on the others. It just means committing your energy to them in order, one at time.
Prioritization ties in very closely with the Law of Sacrifice. What are you willing to give up in order to achieve your life goals?
At the end of the day, you also need to be aware that not every goal comes to fruition. Sometimes, we set goals and we ultimately end up realizing that they don't fit who we are after all.
If a goal is not working for you, it's entirely okay to leave it behind or to adapt it to better suit your purposes.
This doesn't make you a failure. In other cases, you don't need to drop the goal but you do need to change the plan for achieving it.
Don't ever feel like you have to stick to a specific script – stay in touch with your feelings and preferences, and adjust your goals accordingly.