How to Set Goals You Can Actually Achieve

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me, that I LOVE goals. And lists. Lists of goals. Goals on lists. Basically, any combination of these two things is enough to get me excited.

love listsI’m the kind of person that adds items to my to do list that I already finished 5 minutes ago, just so I can have the immense enjoyment of crossing something off my list.

The other day, as I searched feverishly for a wedding invitation in the mess of papers on my desk, I ended up sorting through the entire pile and organizing everything, quite accidentally. So, of course, I grabbed my to-do list and wrote down “organize papers on desk” and then drew a very satisfied line through it with my blue pen. I’m not kidding.

(Please tell me I’m not the only one who does this.)

Without goals and lists, I’m pretty sure I would go insane. Goals keep me focused and motivated. Goals help me push through distractions (i.e., mindless Facebook surfing) and remind me of better things to do with my time.

My daily goals – some people might call this their “to-do list” – are the things I’m hoping to accomplish that day. I love to write down my daily goals first thing when I wake up in the morning (or sometimes the night before) because it helps me prioritize my time.

work from homeSince I am self-employed and work from home, there’s no boss waiting for me at the office, no outside accountability as to whether I worked all morning or laid in bed watching Netflix in my pajamas. I’m responsible for making sure I actually get things done every day. So, goals are essential in my world.

My daily lists have various types of goals: some are tasks related to developing my business, others are reminders of client emails I need to send or workout plans that need to be designed. Some of the items are simply errands that need to be done or a reminder that it’s probably time to do laundry. (Especially if my husband has been wearing the same holey pair of black socks for several days in a row because every other pair is waiting to be washed…)

These goal lists help me stay motivated on a daily basis (and ensure that laundry does get done at some point…) but I also like to have bigger, over-arching goals to help structure my entire year.

As you can imagine, the end of December is one of my absolutely favorite times, because, well, there’s Christmas, yes, but ALSO…. I have a socially acceptable excuse to make lists, set new goals, and dream about the fresh 365 days ahead of me. My inner nerd really comes out in full force around the new year, as my husband can attest. (When I asked him if he thought my obsession fascination with goals was over-the-top, he declined to comment. Something about it being a trap, he said.)

We actually had a date night at Starbucks early in January, just to talk about our goals for 2015 – both personally, and as a couple. Armed with notepads, ballpoint pens, and a steaming cup of coffee, we sunk into the leather couch at our local Starbucks and hashed out our goals for 2015. We brainstormed ways we wanted to grow, learn new things, change our attitudes and habits, and chase our dreams. It sounds corny, I know. The kind of thing you’d read about in Oprah’s magazine. It reeks of rainbows and unicorns and fields of daises with the headline “follow your dreams” in a scrolly font. But I promise, it’s really quite practical and down-to-earth. FullSizeRender

We wrote down goals on an array of topics: everything from places we want to travel, special date nights we want to go on, specific ways we want to use our money more wisely, friendships we want to invest in more fully, and new skills we’d like to learn in 2015.

If you’re not the kind of person who naturally enjoys goal-setting, you might think this process sounds exhausting, like yet another impossible standard you’re setting for yourself that can never be reached. But it’s not meant to be that way at all.

As I studied to become a Certified Personal Trainer, one of the things I learned about was how to set S.M.A.R.T. goals. You’ve probably heard of this concept:

S.M.A.R.T. goals are goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound.  Once you focus on setting SMART goals, you no longer have a list full of vague concepts like “be more financially responsible” or “eat more healthy foods.”   Instead, you write down, “put together a detailed budget plan that I can realistically follow, and put $____  into savings every month.”  Or, “Make home-cooked meals 3 nights a week and pack my lunches for work instead of eating out.” 

smart goal setting conceptThis is key to setting goals that you will actually accomplish. As an example, for most of my life, I’ve always set a goal at the new year to “journal more consistently” and every year, without fail, I do well for a few weeks, maybe a month, before it peters out and my journal goes un-touched for weeks or months on end. I love to journal, but it seemed I could never make it into a consistent habit.

Then, last year, I decided to make it a more specific goal, and I wrote down, “I want to journal every week day about 3 things that I’m thankful for.”  And although it didn’t happen every day, it definitely became a consistent habit that I’ve kept up ever since. Because it became realistic (only doing it on weekdays when I’m actually home and around my journal) and achievable (not pressuring myself to journal pages and pages on end), I was able to reach my goal and grew to love journaling far more than just the “3 things” that were part of my goal.

goal setting

Questions for you:

Do you currently set goals each day? What about goals for the year?

Do you have a good or bad taste in your mouth when it comes to goal-setting? Why?

What’s one goal you might want to make for the month or year ahead?

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