• Laura Hagen

4 Steps to Setting and Achieving Your Goals

Updated: Jan 30, 2020


According to U.S. News & World Report, 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail by the second week of February (Haughey). It’s a discouraging statistic, though not surprising given how little effort most of us put into coming up with them. But when is the last time you made a specific written statement of your resolution, or any other goal, as well as a detailed, realistic plan for how to accomplish it? These actions can make all the difference when it comes to making lasting changes in your life. Here we will provide you with four straightforward steps to making your goals and dreams a reality!

Why are goals important?

There are a number of reasons why it can be useful to organize your intentions, ideas, and dreams into the form of goals. Most importantly, goals serve to put your attention toward specific ends and give you focus. They can energize you, as well – setting a high bar for yourself is proven to encourage you to work harder (Locke & Latham, 2002). Ideally, a goal will also involve a deadline of some sort, which helps keep you on task; leaving a project open-ended tends to make it feel low-priority, while a firm deadline keeps it from falling through the cracks.

Finally, goal-setting encourages personal growth (Locke & Latham, 2002). It often entails learning fresh skills and improving and synthesizing existing skills, which can boost your confidence and lead you in exciting new directions. In short, there is nothing to lose and lots to gain by using a goal-setting approach.

Step 1: Brainstorm

  • Journal about your ideal day.

  • Use your imagination and include anything that excites you – don’t censor yourself!

In order to set a goal, you must first figure out what it is you want to achieve or change about your life. A great way to go about this is by journaling about what your ideal day would look like. You can write it out in narrative form if that’s comfortable for you, or in bullet points. You can get as detailed as you want about the activities you choose to include.

Don’t be afraid to let your imagination free during this exercise. Does your ideal day include a different job, living in a different place, or more time spent on certain people or activities? Don’t feel bounded by the status quo, guilt, or what sounds far-fetched or unrealistic. If it’s your dream, it’s your dream – give yourself permission to embrace it.

Goals are more effective and successful when you are dedicated to and excited about achieving them (Locke & Latham, 2002), so figure out what’s most important to you from your ideal day, and start there.

Step 2: Write a SMART goal

  • SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound.

  • Make sure your goal statement includes all or most of these aspects.

  • Feel free to modify the acronym to best suit your goal!

One of the most well-known approaches to goal-setting is the SMART goal format. “SMART” is an acronym devised by a management consultant named George T. Doran in the early 1980s for use by corporate managers; since then, it has become widely used in various professional, academic, and personal settings. It stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound.

Specificity is important because it helps you home in on what exactly you want to accomplish. Generic statements like “I want to get healthy” are a good starting point, but they are too broad to inspire consistent action; narrowing them down to something like “I want to walk for half an hour every day” is far more helpful.