How to Set Goals and Achieve Them

The Importance of Goal Setting

When was the last time you actually kept your New Year’s resolution? According to a US News Report, 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail by February. There’s a good reason for it. 

New Year’s resolutions fail because we don’t treat them as goals. When we set goals, (if we’re doing it right,) we typically follow several important rules to make sure they’re clear, actionable, and achievable. And we make a plan to achieve them.

When we set New Year’s resolutions, we almost treat them as dreams—something we’d like to achieve, but not necessarily something we expect to achieve. 

So this year, instead of setting a New Year’s resolution, set a goal. Goals can help manifest your dreams and make them into a reality.

Setting goals can help you excel in your career and your personal life. If you set them intentionally. 

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How to Set Goals and What You Should Do To Achieve Them

Types of Goals

When you sit down to set your goals, decide what types of goals you want to achieve. Is there just one primary goal you would like to set, or do you have goals for every area of your life? 

Different types of goals could include:

  • Overall Life Goal
  • Personal Goal
  • Financial Goal
  • Career Goal
  • Education Goal
  • Health Goal
  • Relationship Goal
  • Fitness Goal

You can even get more specific and instead of just setting one education goal, set goals for every class you’re in. For your career goals, you can (and should!) set goals for each project you’re working on or a goal for every quarter of the year. 

I recommend choosing two or three main areas of focus and set goals for them first. You don’t want to overwhelm yourself by setting too many goals at once. The point of goals is to reach them, so you don’t want to let yourself down because you set too many goals and only achieved half of them.

Attainable and Reach Goals

When I ran track, my coach always made us set two goals for every distance we competed in—one attainable goal, and one “reach” goal. Our attainable goal would be the time we would reasonably expect to hit if we trained hard and raced well. The “reach” goal would be a bit more aspirational, and was what we would expect to run if everything was perfect and we made big improvements that season.

These goals were very important. When we trained, we used our attainable goal pace as the time we would aim to hit in certain workouts. It was a very specific number with a very real purpose, because it dictated how fast we would run each day.

Setting both attainable and “reach” goals helped set us up for success. We had actual numbers to strive for, and a plan. Because we had to hit our goal pace in workouts, a lot of thought went into setting our goals. They had to be realistic, but not easy.

Often, my teammates and I would end up achieving our “reach” goals. Because we set such realistic goals for our attainable goals and had a plan to get there, we would exceed our own expectations. This would be a great boost to our confidence, and we’d do even better the next season.

This tactic can be used with any goal you set. First, choose an attainable goal. This goal should be one that you know you will hit as long as you work hard. 

Then decide what your “reach” goal will be. This goal should be something you would only expect to achieve if everything goes perfectly according to plan. 

By setting both attainable and “reach” goals, you’re almost guaranteed to achieve at least one. This will give you a great confidence boost, making it more likely you’ll achieve your “reach” goal and continue to succeed. 

Different types of goal cards sit on a desk next to a cup of coffee

How To Set Smart Goals

One way to make sure you achieve your goals is to make them smart. Yes, it’s intelligent to make smart goals, but in this case smart is actually an acronym.

The acronym stands for:

S – Specific

No vague goals! Be as specific as possible with what you want to achieve. Instead of saying you want to lose weight, specify that you want to lose five pounds.

M – Measurable

You should be able to track your progress toward achieving your goal. For example, if you want to be promoted, your goal should be something like, “I want to be promoted after increasing my sales by 50% and leading three new projects next year.” 

You can’t measure your goal of being promoted before it happens. But you can track your progress towards increasing your sales and leading new projects, which are key parts of your plan to get promoted. 

A – Attainable

Your goal should be reasonable. Even if it’s your “reach” goal, you have to be able to achieve it on your own. While I’d like to win the lottery, it’s not attainable because that’s out of my control. No matter how hard I work, I’ll only win the lottery with a lot of luck.

Attainable doesn’t mean easy. But it does mean your goal should be something that is completely within your power to achieve. So if you’re already a top performer and you know a position will be opening up in your department next year, setting a goal to be promoted would be considered attainable.

R – Relevant 

The goal has to make sense for you. If you work in finance, you probably shouldn’t set a goal to be made the marketing manager next year. (Unless, of course, you’ve been working to develop your marketing skills in other ways!)

T – Time-based

You must set a time limit for your goal to be achieved. If I just set a goal to be promoted but don’t give a specific time period within which I want to achieve that goal, what good will it do? That promotion can come next month, next year, or five years down the road. I won’t have to work very hard next year if that promotion is years away! 

Setting a time limit on your goal also allows you to track your progress. If you want to increase your sales by 50% over the next six months, you will know you have to close “x” more sales every month compared to the year prior. You’ll always know if you’re on track or not. 

Display Your Goal Cards on a Vision Board

Once you set your smart goals, you’ll be one step closer to achieving them. Then it’s time to take action.

Write your goals down and display them somewhere you can see them every day. I recommend creating a vision board to help you manifest your goals. Vision boards allow you to visualize your dreams, which is a powerful technique that’s used by athletes and top performers in every industry.

First, set up a cork board to hang your goals. Then use goal setting cards or index cards to write them down. Hang them up on the board

Then hang pictures or items that will help you visualize achieving your goals. If your goal is to finish a marathon, you might hang photos of runners crossing the finish line,your finisher medals from 5ks, and your bib number from the half marathon you finished last year. 

You can also hang up the specific steps you plan to take to help you achieve your goals.

Goal cards hang on a cork vision board

Create a Plan To Achieve Your Goals

It’s important that you create a concrete plan of how you will achieve your goals once you’ve set them. Write down four to five specific steps you will take to make sure you achieve your goals.

So if your goal is to finish a marathon, you might set a plan that looks something like this:

  1. Increase my running mileage by 10% every week for the next three months.
  2. Complete at least one tempo run a week.
  3. Complete a long run of 20 miles the month before the marathon.
  4. Stretch and foam roll every night. Do yoga at least twice per week.
  5. Sleep between 7-8 hours every night.

Depending on your goal, you may have fewer steps, but each step should have a specific purpose in helping you achieve your goal. If your goal is to increase your sales by 50% and get promoted, your steps might include making more phone calls and working to improve your sales pitch. 

When you write out a plan, you can track your progress as you work toward your larger goal. Missed your tempo run this week? You might have to work a little harder next week to get back on track. Coming up with specific steps will also help you adjust when you do fall off track, ensuring that minor setbacks don’t cause your entire plan to fail.

To help you develop your plan, we’ve created helpful goal cards and goal planning sheets that you can use for your vision board and overall goal setting. 

A goal planning sheet sits next to a cup of coffee on a table

Celebrate Your Achievements

If you set achievable, smart goals and properly plan, chances are you will achieve them. Once you do achieve your goals, it’s important to celebrate! 

Celebrating your achievements is a powerful way to signal to yourself that you accomplished something. By rewarding yourself, you’ll trigger positive feelings that will help you as you work to accomplish more goals in the future. You’ll know that the effort and struggles will be worth it, because there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

Plus, you deserve it! After you’ve worked hard to reach your goals, you deserve to treat yourself for your accomplishment. 

Re-evaluate Your Goal Setting Plan

Unfortunately, there will be goals you don’t accomplish. If you’re setting sufficiently challenging goals, chances are there will be times you fall short. 

This is to be expected. Sometimes, factors outside of your control impact your ability to achieve your goals. For example, if you get injured, you may not be able to achieve your goal of finishing a marathon. Or your goal of getting promoted might be hampered by an organizational change that caused all promotions to be paused for the year. 

Other times, you may simply fail to accomplish what you set out to do. And that’s okay. Sometimes you underestimate what it will take to achieve a goal.

When this happens, it’s important to re-evaluate and figure out what went wrong. Was your goal to lose five pounds but you ended up gaining two instead? Be honest with yourself and see where you have room for improvement. 

Did you try a strict diet that you couldn’t follow? Maybe you need to figure out a nutrition program that works better for you and your lifestyle. You didn’t work out five days a week as planned? Try exercising first thing in the morning instead of after work.

The key is to figure out what caused you to fall off track and make tweaks that will help you achieve your goal next time. I recommend reading Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything by BJ Fogg for strong actionable tips on how to figure out what will work for you.

Once you’ve come up with a new plan, start working to reach your goal yet again!

A woman writes down her goals in a notebook

Why You Should Set Goals Throughout The Year

Setting goals isn’t just for New Year’s. As you saw, there are countless types of goals you can set, for every area of your life.  If you’re well on your way to achieving your personal goal for the year, why not add a fitness goal to work toward? After you’ve achieved your financial goal, set a new, more ambitious goal for yourself!

When you learn to set goals intentionally and create plans to achieve them, you’ll discover that you are capable of far more than you ever thought possible! Continue setting and working toward your goals, and who knows what you’ll achieve?  Maybe next year will be your best year ever!

What’s one goal you want to achieve next year?

November 19, 2023

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  1. Love all of these goal setting ideas & vision boards are my favorite! Thank you for sharing!

    • Thanks for reading! I’m glad you found it helpful. Goal setting can be very impactful, but only if it’s done intentionally!

  2. Great post !
    Goal setting is very important and helps me keep on track . I do have a daily set of goals. But i must work on my monthly and yearly goals soon !

    • I’m glad you enjoyed it! Setting daily goals is a great strategy, but setting longer-term goals can help you achieve even more than you imagined!


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