Setting Useful Goals

We can all get better at setting goals. Here’s a quick guide to setting goals that are genuinely helpful.

Write goals down.

When we write our goals down, we can “tick off” the ones we’ve achieved. This gives a confidence boost when we look back at the things we’ve done.

Make goals specific.

A good goal should specify what you’ll do, when, where, why, with whom, and how. A good goal is not vague, it goes into detail.

Use simple language.

Although your goal should be specific, don’t use long words. The simpler, the better. Ask yourself: “could an average six year-old understand this?”

Make goals positive and active.

Write goals in positive language. Avoid words such as “stop,” and “reduce.” Where a goal is to do less of something, it’s better to say what you’ll do more of instead.

For example, it’s better to set a goal to “take more exercise” than a goal to “smoke less.” When we think about stopping smoking, we make a mental image of the very thing we’re trying to reduce. Remember, we tend to intensify what we notice.

Make sure goals are achievable.

We can’t make other people change. We might put pressure on them, and try to support or encourage them to change, but at the end of the day we can only change ourselves.

Is your goal achievable for you, given the amount of time, energy, money, resources and motivation you have? A goal you can’t realistically achieve may make you miserable!

Make goals measurable.

How will you know when you have achieved your goal? Describe what people will see or hear when you’ve achieved your goal. If your goal isn’t measurable, how will you know when you’ve achieved it?

“Feeling different” goals aren’t much use. If you set a goal to “be happier,” how happy is happy enough? The goal is too vague.

Set time limits.

Choose a time during the day when you’ll work towards your goals, as well as a time by when you’ll have achieved them. Some people work best early in the morning, some later in the day.

Break up large tasks into more manageable pieces, and think whether these might actually be goals in themselves.

Visualise your goals.

Play your goals through your mind like a film. Make it as real as possible. As you think about having achieved your goal, enjoy any good feelings as though you’ve already succeeded. Acclimatise yourself to success!

Learn from others.

If you know someone with a similar goal, what can you learn from the way they go about things? Can you talk to them? Search out people, or books, or websites, that are positive, optimistic and inspirational.


What’s in this for you? What are the benefits of achieving this goal?

The goals we’re doing because we feel we “should” or “ought,” or to please someone else, are often much harder to stick with.

Chunk down.

Break your goal down into smaller goals if you can. This way, you can enjoy a sense of achievement each time you achieve one of them. Build your confidence with early successes at smaller goals.

Turn your goals into a “to-do” list.

For example, break down a goal of losing 5Kg in a year, to a “mini-goal” of losing 0.2Kg this month.

Breaking the mini-goal down may mean you have fruit for breakfast, a salad for lunch and a low-calorie supper.

If you haven’t achieved a mini-goal, all that needs to be re-done is one mini-goal, not the whole diet. This can help stop us getting upset and giving up.

Remember SMART goals are:

  • Specific.
  • Measurable.
  • Achievable.
  • Relevant.
  • Time-bound.

Try this now. Think about a personal change you want to make. Make a note of it here, by typing in the following boxes.
My SMART goal.

I want to have achieved this by (date)

My mini-goals.

My task list (things I need to do, include “if – then” statements).

I’ll know I’ve achieved my goal when:

I might fail by / if:

To reduce the chance of failure, I will:

To keep motivated I will:

Next – Habits and Chains.

Written by: SC.
Written on: 20 May 2019.
Last updated on: 06 June 2019.
Checked by: JL.
Checked on: 06 June 2019.
Date for review: May 2021.
Flesch Reading Ease: 84.