How to Set Goals (That You’ll Actually Achieve)

Goals are a tricky thing to set. “Have goals!” say all the successful people. So you make a goal, and then you achieve it, and nothing happens. Or worse, you don’t achieve it at all. You say “I’m going to respond to that email.” and the next thing you know, it’s two in the morning and you’re still watching Netflix in your underwear. So what gives? Why didn’t the magical power of setting goals work? Look, you can say “I’m going to fly to the moon.” as many times as you want, but we both know that’s not enough to make it happen.

Goals – real goals – aren’t made on a whim about just anything. If you actually want to accomplish them, they have to be this right kind of goal. So how do we make those goals? Let’s break it down.

How to Set Goals (That You’ll Actually Achieve)

Setting goals is essential for success, but what good are they if you never follow through? Learn the best tips and tricks for setting goals you'll actually achieve with a free mini-workbook to help you out!

Do the Right Thing

And by “do the right thing” I mean “set goals about the right thing.”

Your first step is identifying where you’re struggling. There’s no point, really, in setting goals you’re already going to achieve. It’s like putting something you’ve already finished on a to-do list, just to check it off – fun and a little satisfying, but ultimately distracting you from actually doing stuff.

So think about the areas you struggle in. Is it hard for you to start new projects? Do you struggle to follow through on things? Is punctuality or time management the issue? Brainstorm the things that are making your life difficult (There’s space for this on the worksheet!) and think about what you could do to fix them.

You could also make a goal to improve in an area you already excel in. These goals are a great way to hone your skills, but significantly harder to make. Before you resolve to “get better” at something, put a little research into ways you could improve. With activities like exercise, improvement is as easy to quantify as lifting heavier weights or swimming more laps. But most skills aren’t so straightforward. What would make you a “better” photographer, customer service representative, or food pantry volunteer? Is it time spent? Quality of results? If you want to improve, it’s best to focus on a specific area for improvement, not a general skill or interest.

Let’s Get Real

If you want a goal to work, it needs to be realistic. Now, realistic doesn’t have to mean boring or unambitious, but focus on things you’re capable of achieving. If you want to start working out for the first time, “I am going to compete in the 2020 Olympics.” is probably not a realistic goal. (You knew that already, but bear with me!)

You have to make goals you believe in. It’s really that simple. By all means, stretch your imagination, but if you have 0 confidence that you’re able to do something? You’re not going to do it. I could spout some hippie-dippie stuff about how success is a state of mind, but I’ll leave it at this: You’re a practical person. You don’t want to waste your time. If you don’t think it’ll happen, you won’t put the work in to make it happen. And then there’s no point in making a goal in the first place.

Getting ideas for your goals down on paper is a great way to organize your thoughts and stay focused on achievement!

But this isn’t just about a lack of motivation. There are a lot of reasons you can fail to meet a goal that aren’t actually your fault. So do me a favor. Make sure your objective is something you can control. If promotions only open up at work when someone retires, a goal to get promoted in the next three months can only be achieved if someone retires in the next three months. You might put all the work and effort in to deserve a promotion, but if you have no control over when the opportunity comes, it’s easy to get discouraged.

All I’m saying is take off the rose-colored glasses and be honest about what you’re able to achieve from where you are. If you make a goal that propels you forward, you’ll be able to go even further the next time.

Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

Alright, here comes the awesome inspirational goodness I know you all came here for.

So I just harped on realistic goals, and your goals should definitely be things that you: 1.) believe you can actually accomplish and 2.) have control over. But they should also 3.) push your limits. If you answer every work email you get within 30 minutes, a goal to answer every work email you get in 25 minutes is boring. It’s not helping you, it’s not helping your co-workers, it’s not providing any extra value to your life, and it’s only improving on something you’re already pretty good at.

Doing stuff you’re good at is easy and rewarding, and there’s always room for improvement. But I would argue that the best goals make you better at the stuff you suck at. I don’t want to tell you that you suck. At anything. But we all have areas where we struggle, and those areas are the ones where goals are needed the most. They’re also the hardest, because hello? Whatever we’re doing obviously isn’t working out so well.

If you just do the same things, you’re going to get the same results. Unless the universe smiles on you and you’re somehow handed success on a silver platter, you’re going to have to try a new trick or ten if you want to move forward. No one wants to make a goal to just keep chugging along, doing what they’re already doing, and changing nothing. Shake it up. Try a new method for a month, rearrange your priorities, get more sleep – heck, drink more water, just do something new.

Be specific and deliberate about the kinds of goals you choose for a better chance at success!

Anatomy of a Goal You’ll Actually Achieve

This is the real trick – how do you make a goal you’ll actually achieve? Every good goal has certain traits.

Analysis. A good goal solves a problem. And sometimes, that problem isn’t obvious. Let’s say you want to go to the gym, and you’re not going. The key to a good goal is figuring out why you haven’t been going, and fixing that.

Planning. If you make a super vague goal, knowing how to achieve it becomes a struggle, and you don’t need any extra hardships. Break your goal down into steps or stages if possible, and work out as many details as you can forsee ahead of time.

Timeline. The best goals have a built-in timeframe. Deciding to do a new thing from now until forever, or implementing something without time-based stages, is a great way to burn yourself out, and that’s not what we’re going for! Give yourself a reasonable deadline to work towards.

Stakes. What happens if you achieve your goal? What happens if you don’t? Knowing what you’re working for, whether it’s positive or negative reinforcement (or both!) is a great way of staying motivated, and keeps you focused on your results.

Evaluation. Once your timeframe is over, you need a way to step back and evaluate, as objectively as you can, whether you succeeded or failed. Remember that one tiny failure doesn’t doom the whole endeavor – just try to define your own performance.

There’s One More Trick to Achieving Your Goals

And guess what? It’s pretty simple. The best way to start is by writing them down. Oh, and that’s where I come in! I’ve written a mini-workbook, with types of goals and a comprehensive planning sheet, and I’m giving it away – my gift to you! It’s already been added to the resource library, my collection of extras just for subscribers. If you’re already a member, just click the resource library link in the nav bar (or right there, honestly) and grab your copy! Not part of the club yet? No problem!

Want the mini-workbook?
It'll help you stay on-track to achieve your goals!

I'm pretty proud of the latest addition to the LBTL Resource Library, a collection of extra content I make just for my subscribers (oh, and totally fo' free). This mini-workbook will take you through different types of goals, so you can decide which kind is best for you, and then a planning sheet. Using all the steps from the post above (plus a few extra tips!) you'll be on-track for accomplishing whatever your goal happens to be!

Your final welcome email will give you the link and password to download your free mini-workbook - and everything else in the resource library! You got this!

Sign up? Rad. You’re well on your way to accomplishing your goals.

Want some extra accountability? Share your goals in the comments for a little encouragement!
  • I hope you’re able to make that motivation work for you! Thanks so much, dear!

  • tiffzny

    This post is so great, Megan. You have so much good advice and it feels so motivating.