How to set goals


New Year’s resolutions: start saving money, read a book a month, lose 30 pounds. How is the resolution you made this New Year’s going? We’re nine months into the

learn to set goals

everyone needs to know how to set goals

year. Have you made much progress? Resolutions are goals. Do you know how to set goals? And once set, how to accomplish your goals?
Setting and accomplishing a goal is a simple process. It’s done one step at a time. You base the next thing you’re going to do on what you have just done. That is pretty simple, isn’t it? Knowing how to set goals is important. How to accomplish them is even more important. Of course, we all know simple doesn’t always mean easy…

If you need to know how to set goals and how to see them through, you have come to the right place



A goal needs to be meaningful.  It’s rare to find people willing to put sustained effort into something that means nothing to them.  Your goal needs to be relevant to you.


People take goals too lightly.  Most meaningful goals require determination, endurance, and fortitude.  Before setting a goal, decide that you are going to see it through at any cost.  “If there is a way, I will find it.  If there is no way, I will make one.”  This is one reason that setting and accomplishing goals isn’t always easy.  Once your goals are set, you owe it to yourself to see them through.
A plan:

“I am going to achieve this goal.”  Yes!—but… How?  Make a plan—a map—that outlines your steps to success.  This helps keep things simple; you know what you’re going to do next.  (Back-up plans are a good idea too.  I’ll get “back” to this.)

As you make your plan, be specific:  Define exactly what do you want to do, and why you want to do it.  Goals like “get rich,” or “lose a lot of weight,” or “be smart” are not good goals.  They are too abstract. Undefined goals lead to undefined results.  Be as specific as possible.  Don’t say “I want to be rich.”  Set the dollar amount you want to attain along with why and when you want it.  Saying “I want to lose a lot of weight” is the expression of an initial thought.  Stating how many pounds you want to lose, by when, and why sets a purposeful goal.

That “Why?” is a very important element of your plan.  It will motivate you to continue during difficult times.

Write down your goal, it’s why, and when.  Include every step or phase you envision in the process of attaining it.   If a defeatist thought tries to take root when things get tough (Why?????????????? am I putting myself through this????????????), you’ll be reminded of the benefit you expect to gain and the progress you’ve already made toward it.

Setting goals is more than making a wish list.  If I say, “I want to run in the Boston Marathon,” but do nothing to prepare for it, I haven’t set a goal.  There needs to be a plan for achievement, a plan for success.

By the way, I think New Year’s is a horrible time to make resolutions.  (Translate that to “set goals.”)  Goal planning requires contemplation.  So often, the intense rate of activity during the end/beginning of the year leaves no time to dedicate to the process. Decisions made at that time of the year tend to be more emotional than rational.

There are reasons governments and corporations regularly schedule planning meetings several times a year.  At those meetings they set goals and assess the progress of others.  Some of these plans may have duration of 3, 5, 10, even 30 years.  A long-term view employing reason and practicality needs to guide expectations.  My point is that a social calendar (and New Year’s is certainly a major time for social events) is not the best basis for planning and implementing life-affecting decisions.  Despite the celebratory tone of the time, we’re often harried and frustrated—not a good mindset for setting a goal.  And, since the goals set at New Year’s tend to be assigned a term of one year, any we abandon will be subject to review when the next New Year’s rolls around—adding a sense of self-reproach to the mix as we attempt to make another resolution.

I’ve been considering what I would like to achieve next year since late winter of this year.  I’ll probably make my resolutions (set my goals—start dates, duration, and progress measurements—by early fall.

Before moving on, there’s one more point I’d like to explore.  I noted that governments and business often have long-term goals; accomplishments expected to progress to fruition over several (or many) years.  That’s business and government.  Most people take on goals they can achieve in relative a shorter period of time.  But, many experts say that is “short-sighted” when it comes to our financial issues. They urge us to set long-term financial goals.  If that is wise, perhaps there are other areas of life that would benefit from long-term planning?

Develop the plan:

The first step in achieving your goal is determining the steps needed to do so.  Obviously,

You need a plan sometimes called a map

You need a plan sometimes called a map

your plan will be unique to you.  Even if others have similar goals, they are probably not starting from the same place.  Say you and a friend each make it a goal to run in the Boston Marathon.  You may be the faster runner, or your friend may already be able to run further than you.  At least initially, you and your friend will have to train differently.  Or, you may decide to save a certain amount of money in a year’s time.   It’s highly likely a number of other people have made exactly the same resolution.  But the field isn’t level.  Each person has a different income, different priorities, and different financial obligations.  This doesn’t mean your plan has to be totally original.  You can incorporate methods other people use, but you don’t do something just because your mom, cousin, friend, or co-worker did.  Your plan has to work for you.


Can you really expect to attain your goal?  Let’s face it, there are things we want that we just can’t have.  At the age of sixty it’s way too late to become a professional wrestler. (I can’t tell you how disappointed I am.)  If you are a casual runner—say less than a mile a day—and want to be able to run three miles a day in a month’s time, you (probably) won’t accomplish it.  However, if your goal is to reach that point in a year, you’re likely to succeed—if you make a plan and stick to it.  If you know how to set goals amazing things can be achieved, but you do have to keep it real.


Progress towards your goal should be measurable. Call them milestones, markers,

expect to prevail when you are setting goals

expect to prevail when you are setting goals

mini goals, stages… A well planned goal will have points of accomplishment that you can chart.

Take the desire to up your running distance from half a mile a day to three miles a day in a year’s time.  If there are no adverse factors like poor health, many people who set this as a goal do it.  Here’s how: Run three (or more) times a week, and extend your distance by a block every two weeks.  If you stick to this plan, achieving three miles a day is simple: There are ten blocks in a mile, thirty in three miles.   You already run five of them, so you desire to extend your run by twenty-five blocks in a year.  There are fifty-two weeks in a year.  By extending your run a block every two weeks, you’ll accomplish your goal in fifty weeks—just under a year.  Good Job!

Break the goal down into doable parts.

Keep track of your progress on any goal.  Progress is measurable.  (And keep track of any setbacks.  If you need to employ a backup plan, you’ll need to know the how, when, and whys of where you are.)

Maybe it’s January 2…  You’re coming out of the holiday haze and realize just how much you let yourself indulge over the last couple of months.  And, summer is coming.  You resolve to lose thirty pounds so you can wear a bikini in June.  You already know how I feel about resolutions, but you can make this a goal.

Goal: Lose thirty pounds

Why:  So you can wear a bikini

Time: The end of May

What steps do you need to take to make this happen?  Answer: Lose a little over a pound a week.  (There are approximately twenty weeks between January 1 and June 1.)  What steps do you need to take to lose that pound-a-week?  Well, if you don’t want to waste time and have to lose two pounds a week, you’ll quickly find an eating regime (You could say “diet,” but I don’t like that word.) that works with your lifestyle.  You’ll outline what your meals will look like and start (or increase) a moderate exercise program.  (This shouldn’t be hard to do.  There are a lot of resources available—professional, online, or at the library.)  Put your plan together.  Write it down.  Follow the plan.  Track your progress—weigh yourself—at least once a week.  If you’re not making progress, tweak the plan: Revise your menus, increase exercise.  Your goal of losing thirty pounds by May 31 remains.

What if you wanted to save $1,000.00 in a year?  How would you do that?  Your plan doesn’t need to be much more than one step—saving a designated amount of money—that would be repeated every pay period. Spread out over 52 weeks, the sum you need to save per week is about $19.24.  So, let’s just call it $20 a week.  If you get paid weekly, you need to save $20 out of each paycheck.  Your plan could be to save $20 a week for a year at which time you’ll have met your goal.  Of course, if you are paid every other week, semi-monthly, or once a month, the amount you save would need to be adjusted to be equivalent to $20 a week.  This adjustment could also be made if your monthly budget is designed so that you’re particularly tight one week and have more flexibility another.  I will say, however, most savings goals are easier to reach when contributions are all the same size and are made frequently.


How long are you going to give yourself to complete your goal?  If the time limit is indeterminate, you are less likely to accomplish your goal.  Being specific—about everything—is an essential element of how to set goals.  (Again, undefined goals lead to undefined results.)


I’ve already said attitude is important to achieving a goal.

We’ve all probably been exposed to enough self-help information to understand that each of us is responsible for our own attitudes.  That given, circumstances and environment have influence.  Is this the ideal season of your life to set a particular goal?  If it’s not the ideal time, you’ll have to be that person who finds or makes a way.  (That in itself is a goal.)

Even though we need to keep it real, I do believe we need to challenge ourselves.  When we decide we need to set a goal (or make a resolution) we’re indicating a desire to improve ourselves—or at least our lifestyle.  Determination needs to be a driving force.

What do I do if life happens?

I hate to say it: Sometimes life gets in the way, and you can’t make your goal.

Don’t give up:

Whatever you do, don’t give up.

I’ve mentioned that business and government sectors have regularly scheduled meetings for planning new goals and reviewing the progress of those ongoing.   And guess what—occasionally, they have to have an emergency meeting to figure out ways to get a goal back on track.  Maybe an adjustment to your plan is needed.  Maybe more time is all that’s needed.   Maybe you need to do a “check up from the neck up,” (That’s a Ziglarism) and renew your commitment.  Just don’t quit.

There are times when something beyond your control happens and it hinders your plan.  Say you’ve set a goal to have a certain amount of money together for a vacation.  Say your planned vacation is tied to the time of year.  Say you’ve set up your budget and allowed yourself plenty of time to meet your goal, and you’ve kept to the schedule.  Then your car breaks down.  You can’t do without your car.  It’s the transportation part of your vacation plan—and besides, you need it now.  Ok, maybe something totally bizarre went wrong with the car, or maybe automobile maintenance hasn’t been a priority.  At any rate a lot of the money you’ve saved for your vacation has to go to repair the car.  Your heart has been set on that vacation.  How are you going to pull it off?

Well, what you don’t do is give up.  Your goal hasn’t changed, but to reach it you may need to take different steps.  Flexibility and adaptability are required traits.

Let’s look at another scenario.  Let’s say your goal is to save $1,000 this year—and you’ve been making progress towards it, but you receive an outrageously high electric bill.  Believe me, it happens.  (For the purpose of this example it doesn’t matter why.)  Not only does that power bill exhaust the money you’ve saved, but it looks like you won’t be able to save any money for two months.  You still want to save that $1000.  What can you do now?

Sometimes no matter how good your plan is, no matter how committed you’ve been, something happens, and you just can’t make it work as is.  So…

You could

  1. Get a part time job
  2. Mow a few lawns to get caught back up.
  3. Sell some things you aren’t using
  4. Do some house sitting
  5. Do some pet sitting
  6. Change the amount of money you save each pay period
  7. Just do something…

The point is that there is more than one way to accomplish your goal.  Think outside the box.  Be creative. Revise your plan.  Or, build in something like the above as a Backup Plan from the beginning.

Keep pursuing your goal.


I realize my examples have been have been of fairly common, simple goals.  More complex goals are achieved much the same way.  They can be broken into stages with steps in each stage leading to a milestone (measureable) goal that becomes the first step in the following stage.  This eventually leads to achieving the larger—ultimate—goal.

Setting goals is not hard and achieving them is simple.  A goal is a destination.  Where do you want to be in 30 days, 60 days, a 120 days, or even 1 year from now?  Thirty pounds lighter, $1,000.00 richer, running farther…

The steps to reaching your goal are important.  They tell you where you’re going and measure your progress.  They inspire you to continue saving that $20 a payday, to run farther, eat healthy, or exercise more.

When life happens, don’t quit.  Work out another plan (steps) and keep going.  There’s a way to get what you want.  Knowing how to set goals is paramount.

“Never, never, never quit.” (Sir Winston Churchill.)

If this article is helpful please share.


Douglas Antrim

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