How to Set Goals You Can Actually Achieve

How to Set Goals You Can Actually Achieve - Write Them Down
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It happens to me every year. Christmas is over and the end of the year is right around the corner. Everyone starts reviewing their year–what was their favorite movies, what obstacles did they overcome, and what goals did they achieve? If you’re anything like me, you get introspective, dig out that New Year’s Resolution list you made last January and see how you did. Let me guess–you were a bit surprised by the goals you had on there, maybe by the ones you failed or the ones you completely forgot about. For a while, I just accepted that I was like everyone else who gives up on New Year’s Resolutions in the first two weeks of the year. But once I started to learn about goal setting, habit-forming, and other tools for self-improvement I realized I was approached goal-setting wrong from step one. Once I changed the way I set goals and put expectations on myself, I started to have more success in achieving them.

If you think you’re too lazy or unambitious to achieve your goals, this article is for you. So whether you’re putting together New Year’s Resolutions, setting goals for a new job or school year, or just wanting to form good habits in your personal life, these tips will help you set realistic goals that you can achieve. Use these tools for self-improvement or to make big personal and career achievements any time of the year.

How to Set Goals & New Year's Resolutions You Can Actually Keep

How to Set Goals You Can Actually Achieve

1. Write Your Goals Down

Get a piece of paper, your computer, or your phone and write all those big dreams you have. You’ve probably seen various stats that you’re XX% more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down–and it’s true. Neuroscience even explains why this trick works. It not only helps to have an “external” copy of your goals to reference but the act of writing down the goal helps you encode it in your long-term memory.

To really make sure you will remember and achieve your goals, make sure to “write them vividly.” That means to be specific, detailed, and even include pictures or drawing that fully illustrate your goal (think “vision boards”). If the pictures are a step too far for you, make sure your description is thorough enough that if a stranger read your goal, they’d know exactly what you want to achieve.

“Lose weight” is too vague. Instead, write something more specific like “lose 20 pounds” or “work out four days a week.”

“Be more mindful” should be something specific like “Meditate every morning.”

How to Set Goals You Can Actually Achieve - Write Them Down

2. Set Goals You Can Control

When it comes to career goals especially, it’s easy to have big dreams for yourself. Some of those dreams make terrible goals though because achieving them is contingent on an outside force. Here’s an example: let’s say you dream of being a great, award-winning actor and you want to win an Oscar. While getting an Academy Award is a great dream, it makes a lousy goal because you have very little control over making that happen. Instead, you should set goals that help you work toward that dream, but are achievable by you alone. So a good goal would be to graduate from a local acting program or go on 20 auditions. Those goals are within your control and concrete steps toward your goal.

Review your list of goals and identify any goals that are dreams outside of your goal. Replace them with one (or many) achievable goals that help you work toward that dream.



3. Break Big Goals into Micro-Goals or Habits

Ever look at a to-do list and have your eyes glaze over because each task looked too hard? The often touted strategy of breaking big to-do items into smaller parts works for goals as well, and even better if you can turn them into regular habits. These small, actionable chunks can turn the climb of a massive mountain into a pleasant hike over several days, weeks, or months. Consider these examples of breaking down goals:

“Get Healthy”

  • Go to the Gym Four Times a Week
  • Bring Lunch to Work (no takeout for lunch!)
  • Lose 20 Pounds by May
  • Eat Fresh Fruit with Breakfast Every Day
  • Drink only on Weekends

“Write a Novel”

  • Write 500 Words a Day
  • Finish First Draft by June
  • Rewrite 1 Chapter a Week
  • Finish Second Draft by October
  • Write Query Letter
  • Find 20 Agents to Query
  • Send 20 Query Emails

These micro-goals give you actionable steps that make the overall goal something you can easily work on over time and every day.

4. Set a Time Limit for Your Goal

Deadlines are incredibly important, even when it comes to personal goals. By having an end date set for when a goal needs to be achieved, you’ve started a ticking clock. There’s no more, “Oh, maybe next year I’ll run a marathon.” The time is now and training starts today. Be realistic when you set the deadline for your goals, but don’t go too easy either. If you ever have issues with procrastination, this is the best way to beat it.

Many daily habits won’t have end goals (like meditating every day), but some will build toward a larger goal. Look at the “Write a Novel” goal in the last section. We set a daily writing goal, but that is building toward the deadline of finishing the first draft by June.

5. Share Your Goals

Accountability is a huge tool to ensure success in achieving your goals or New Year’s Resolutions. Social expectations have a huge influence on our behavior. A study by The American Society of Training and Development found people were 65% more likely to meet a goal after telling one other person. The success rate jumps to 95% when they have regular check-ins with another person about their progress.

So post your goals on social media, share them with a spouse or family member who will encourage you, or even better find friends who have similar goals as you and form an accountability group to keep each other motivated all year.

How to Achieve New Year's Resolutions and Goals

6. Track Your Progress & Review Goals Regularly

When fitness trackers first came onto the scene, I was a little bit skeptical that they were more than just another useless gadget. Then my husband bought us each one. We synced up to the app as friends, able to easily see each other’s daily stats and goals. Something happened that I did not expect. On days that I was feeling lazy, realizing my friends would see I was failing to hit my daily step goal helped me find an extra push of motivation to take a walk or queue up a yoga video.

The reason why a fitness tracker was so successful for me was demonstrated in a psychological study It found that progress monitoring improves behavioral performance, increase the chances of meeting your goals. With those results in mind, personally tracking your progress over time can really increase your success rate.

Make sure to physical track your progress either by writing it down or recording it in an app. For daily habit tracking, there are tons of apps available. I like using Don’t Break the Chain style apps, but use any method that works best for you.

For other goals that don’t require daily tasks, make sure to check in frequently and record your recent progress. Set a calendar reminder once a month (or more frequently) to review your goals and write down where you are in the process. This helps keep every goal fresh in your mind and let you take pride in what you’ve achieved so far.

8. Forgive Yourself

This is the step I struggle with most. We’re all human and even following all the best goal setting tips in the world, failure is very likely. Sometimes life throws you an unexpected curveball that derails your plans or your personal struggles get in the way. That’s okay! Accept that you broke your exercise habit or failed to meet your novel first draft deadline. Remember that each day is a new chance to achieve goals, even if it’s not January 1st. Adjust your goals if needed and start again.


Looking for ideas to improve yourself in the New Year? Learn how to start a meditation practice and try these yoga videos for beginners. Help reach your fitness goals with these healthy late night snacks.


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