When you think about goal setting, you might break your goals into short and long term goals. But what about those goals that fall somewhere in the middle?
A one, five or ten-year plan is usually somewhat grand. Without breaking it into smaller segments, you’d have trouble maintaining momentum and achieving it. However, it’s tough to divide a long-term plan into short-term tasks without intermediate goals.
In this article, you’ll learn all about intermediate goals and how you can set them up as stepping stones to reach your greatest dreams.
What’s the Difference Between Short-Term, Long-Term and Intermediate-Term Goals?
Most people think of goal-setting in terms of the following time frames:
- Long-term goals – Those that are designed to be achieved within longer than 12 months
- Intermediate-term goals – Those that can be realized within 3 to 6 months
- Short-term goals – Those that you can accomplish within minutes to 3 months
To set the most effective goals, you should have a blend of the different types. If you set long-term goals without shorter ones, you may lose motivation as you look into the distance of your dreams. If you set short-term goals without long-term ones, you may be extremely productive, but you may not have a vision for what you ultimately want out of life.
People are often advised to aim high if they want to achieve success. But no matter how hard you work, you can get frustrated if your target is too grand.
That doesn’t mean that you should set smaller goals. It does indicate that you should set some short-term and intermediate goals to work toward your larger objectives.
Intermediate goals prevent you from falling so far. They provide the steps to give you the boost that you need as you gain the confidence and skills that are necessary to reach your bigger dreams. They also give you a plateau to land on if you fall while reaching for the sky.
Create a Pathway for Your Goals
When you first set a goal, especially if it’s lofty, you might feel like a lot of luck has to be involved to get from where you are now to where you want to be. Luck may play a factor in some aspects of life, especially if you don’t set goals. However, luck isn’t part of goal setting.
The beauty of setting intermediate goals is that you can take the reins. You can make choices. You determine the decisions.
One thing that you can’t always control when setting goals is the outcome. However, you can control the actions that you take. When you make an intentional, dedicated effort, you can reasonably predict certain outcomes. The more goals you set and the more action you take, the more likely the forecasted results are to come true.
Intermediate goals can help you take steps that might otherwise seem like leaps of faith. They create plateaus where you can land, assess the situation and evaluate your plans for the future.
You can set up your intermediate goals from the beginning to generate a path that will lead you to your big dreams. Paying attention to intermediate goals removes much of the unknown that comes from looking into the future.
But you need to understand that your intermediate goals can change. That’s the beauty of setting them. They bring you closer to your final objective, and they ensure that you’re on the right path.
Every time you achieve an intermediate goal, you can celebrate your success. You can look back and view the route that you took to get there. You can evaluate your mistakes so that you can move forward more efficiently.
And then you can gauge whether the next intermediate goal in your plan is still reasonable. If it is, continue plodding forward. If it’s not, tweak it so that you can make changes now, before you veer too far off of the path.
Intermediate Goals Create a Feedback Loop
The Expectancy Theory of Motivation is a useful tool for understanding how intermediate goals work. Expectancy Theory explains that people perform certain behaviors because they expect a certain outcome from taking those actions.
In other words, you choose to act a certain way because you have weighed the options, and you consider the outcome of a certain behavior to be the most desirable. The behavior that you engage in ideally brings you the most benefit and the least pain.
There are three parts to this theory:
- Expectancy – You expect that your effort will result in a certain level of performance.
- Instrumentality – You judge how likely you are to get a reward if your performance allows you to hit the targets that you’ve laid out.
- Valence – The reward or outcome has to be worth the effort.
You’ll achieve the highest level of motivation if you believe that you can hit your targets if you work efficiently, reaching those targets will deliver rewards and those rewards are highly valuable.
If you look at your goals in terms of this theory, you can use it as a feedback loop. As you set your goals, you must make sure that they’re:
- Realistic – The outcome can be achieved if you take action.
- Desirable – The feeling that you’ll get when you reach your goal is rewarding.
- Worth it – That reward will be worth the effort, potential drawbacks, and obstacles that might present themselves.
If you neglect to set intermediate goals, you may see how this theory can derail your motivation fairly quickly. For example, you may have a goal that’s incredibly desirable. However, you might feel like it will take too much effort to reach it. Another problem with setting long-term goals without breaking them down is that your reward might not come quickly enough.
Setting intermediate goals remedies these problems. Once you are clear about what you want, you’ll start to see the path to achieving it. In other words, you’ll begin to see how your actions can help you achieve your goals.
As you reward yourself for reaching your intermediate goals, your confidence will increase. You’ll also be able to reassess the path from that target to your ultimate objective and make sure it’s still aligned with your mission and abilities.
The Importance of Rewarding Yourself for Reaching Intermediate Goals
If you don’t set intermediate goals, you don’t get to reap the benefits of reaching them. Your long-term goals may always remain far off.
You can make sure that you feel the effects of reaching each smaller goal by setting up a reward as you establish the goal. This can look like the following:
- Exercise twice a week for the next month – Deposit $20 into your savings account.
- Practice guitar every day this week – Buy a new set of strings or guitar pick.
- Read three books on entrepreneurship – Spend a guilt-free day doing an activity of your choice.
If you do this ahead of time, you’ll have a clear reward to work for. When you achieve your intermediate goal, you won’t have to think about how to celebrate because you’ve probably been looking forward to the reward as you’ve been doing the work.
Intermediate Goals Change Fear Into Excitement
Have you ever gotten excited about setting a new goal only to find that the exhilaration has faded a few weeks later? Most of us can resonate with this. You may go through this goal-setting roller coaster every New Year.
Thinking about the possibilities is thrilling. But it can also be scary. That’s because the future contains two types of ambiguity:
- Uncertainty that brings up fear
- Potential opportunities that elicit motivation
The chemicals that your body releases when you’re feeling afraid and excited are the same. Adrenaline rushes through you. Levels of the stress hormone cortisol increase. This is a survival mechanism that allows you to prepare for danger and fight or flee if you need to save yourself.
Transform Survival Mode to Productivity
But most of us are not in survival mode very often. If you have food to eat and you’re not in physical danger, you can still use these chemicals to your advantage. The rush that you feel when you’re nervous can help you get motivated to pursue your next action step in life.
When you don’t set goals, you live in a place of obscurity. You don’t know what the future holds; you can’t even fathom it. The world is a place full of dark corners. You can’t prepare for the path ahead when you have no idea what it contains.
Setting goals doesn’t allow you to predict the future or know what’s around each corner. However, the practice does let you prepare for the possibilities.
When you set goals consistently, you’re forced to consider various outcomes. You think about what could be possible if you achieved your goal. You reflect on what’s possible if you fail.
Ask Yourself Questions to Help You Prepare for the Future
Looking at the unknown future can be scary. Maybe you just graduated from college and don’t know what lies ahead. Perhaps you’re looking at shifting your routine for a summer vacation.
One way to change that fear into motivation is by setting goals. Even if you set just one goal, you have to contemplate the scenarios surrounding it. Questions come up, such as:
- What will my life look like if I succeed?
- What will my life look like if I fail?
- What are some steps that I need to take to achieve my goal?
- What might happen after I complete each step?
- How might I feel different when I reach my intermediate goals?
- How might I have to adjust my goals if factors in my life change?
By going through these questions, you’ll have a clearer picture of the path that your life may take. Life will always be full of factors that you can’t change.
However, if you set goals, your life will also be packed with things that you can influence.
Your Thoughts Create Your Life
Many experts say that you can create the life that you want. The energy, thoughts, and vibrations that you put out into the universe are reflected back to you in the experiences that you have.
If you get a new job, you might have questions that are driven by fear, such as:
- Am I qualified for this position?
- What if I don’t do as well as I thought I could?
- What if no one respects me?
- What if I make mistakes?
You can transform these thoughts into productive ones just by thinking about what you want to attain instead of what you want to avoid. For example, you might think:
- I have gained x, y and z skills in the past 5 years that have prepared me for this.
- I am going to build a great team.
- I am open to learning and improving as I work in this position.
Your brain can’t distinguish between real and imagined experiences. Therefore, imagining your goals is almost as effective as achieving them. Doing visualization exercises can certainly help you make your goals come true.
In one study, researchers conducted brain scans on two groups of people. One group played music on a piano. The other group imagined playing piano music. The brain scans between the two groups were nearly identical.
Athletes use this concept to their advantage. In an article on his website, Dr. David Hamilton describes Sally Gunnell, an Olympic athlete who spoke at a conference that he attended.
She believes that winning a gold medal was 70 percent mental. By going over the moves that her muscles would perform, she evoked changes in her brain that actually improved her muscle function. Her body took on the capacity to do what she had been imagining.
Hamilton goes on to describe a study in which people imagined eating food. They pictured chewing and swallowing a meal. After doing this visualization exercise, they were less hungry. It was almost as though they had participated in the experience of eating even though they didn’t.
Your Imagination Changes Your Physical Experience
Other experts have found evidence that the brain can affect your physical experience. Scientists used to believe that building muscle was all about body mechanics. If you could work out with enough resistance, you would create micro-tears in the muscle that, when repaired, resulted in larger muscles.
But researchers have discovered that you can get buff just by thinking about exercising. In one study, participants were broken up into three groups:
- One group exercised three times a week
- One group didn’t exercise but listened to an audio CD guiding them through a workout
- One group didn’t do anything at all
The first group saw a 28 percent gain in physical strength. The second group saw a 24 percent gain in physical strength. The third group saw negligible improvements.
This indicates that your brain can make you buff. Experts still aren’t sure how this process works. However, they have seen that it has to do with some of the neurotransmitters that are activated when you have certain thoughts.
Your stress response is also activated when you imagine a worrisome situation. Therefore, you can practice managing your fear even if you’re not in a tense situation.
Let’s say you have a goal to put on a presentation in front of hundreds of people in three months. You’re terrified, but you know that you can set up intermediate goals that help you prepare.
One of those goals can be to work through your fear. Consistently visualizing yourself in the situation can prepare you for the feelings that you might have when you’re on stage. You can learn breathing and relaxation techniques to diminish your body’s actual stress response.
Every time you achieve your intermediate goals, you’ll also gain confidence. By the time you’re in front of the crowd, you’ll be much more prepared than you would be if you hadn’t used the intermediate goal-setting process that we describe at later in this article.
The Importance of Visualizing Your Goals
If you can change your body with your imagination, what else can your thoughts do?
Experts say that visualizing the outcomes of a presentation, speech or goal can help you succeed when it’s time to make the presentation, perform the speech or accomplish the goal.
According to Habit, many successful people use visualization to achieve their goals. Good goals must be specific. When you’re playing out that goal in your mind using a visualization practice, you’re forced to consider all of the details, including factors such as:
- Where are you?
- What are you doing?
- Who are you with?
- How old are you (or how far into the future does this happen)?
- What are you saying?
Imagining all of these details makes them real. At least, that’s how your brain sees it. Once you’ve done the visualization work, all you have to do is put on your implementer hat and take action.
Intermediate Goals Help Keep Your Thoughts on the Prize
So how do intermediate goals play into all of this? They help you keep your thoughts on the prize.
You may have a big dream. Perhaps you can visualize it clearly. You see yourself bolting past the finish line in the marathon. You see yourself depositing a huge paycheck into your bank account.
But what if those goals are relatively far off in the future? You might not be able to hold onto those visions as you go about your daily life.
That’s why you need to set intermediate-term goals. You already know that the outcome is possible. Now you need reminders along the way.
Intermediate Goal-Setting Strategies
Now that you know what intermediate goal-setting is all about, you can start thinking about implementing this strategy. Here are some useful steps for breaking everything down.
1. Ask Yourself What You Want
You can set goals in any category of your life. You might want to read a few books before the end of the year, plan a vacation for next year or set yourself up to earn a promotion within the next few years.
You may have bucket list goals that you want to achieve at some point in your life but the time frame doesn’t matter. On the other hand, you may have specific goals that you want to achieve within one, five or ten years.
You don’t have to set all of your goals at once. Start with one.
What is one thing that you’d really like to have, accomplish or achieve? Once you have that desire pinned down, you can move along the rest of the steps.
Write down your goal, and provide an estimate for its deadline. None of this has to be set in stone. However, you can’t move down the path without some idea of the endpoint.
2. Use Your Imagination
Sit with your desires for a little while. You might want to meditate on the goal that you wrote down.
Relax, and allow your mind to wander into the scenario. Imagine yourself achieving your goal.
You might even see it as though you’re playing a part in a movie. If you were watching this happen on a screen, what would be going on? Immerse yourself in this fantasy for a while. Allow yourself to dream without limitations.
What you see doesn’t have to be realistic. It’s more important for your vision to be full and clear.
Also, you don’t have to create this vision in one sitting. It’s normal for a vision to take some time to develop. It’s also ok if your vision changes over the years.
Flexibility is one of the keys to goal setting. It allows you to use your goals as gauges for feedback as they propel you forward.
3. Make a Vision Board
Coaches often have their clients use vision boards to elucidate their hopes, dreams, and goals. This is a great way for you to expand on the vision that you created in step 2.
A vision board won’t work on faith alone. You can’t hang pretty pictures on your wall and sit on your couch, hoping that the universe responds. You do have to take action.
That’s why a vision board is only part of a comprehensive goal-setting plan.
To make your vision board, consider any images, symbols, quotes or words that represent any aspect of the fantasy that you imagined in step 2. You can create a digital collage or print out the pictures and paste them on a poster or bulletin board.
As you do this, imagine how you will feel when you are doing the activity or receiving the item in the picture. If you’re including motivational quotes, allow yourself to really experience the feeling of determination that the words provide for you. Getting your emotions involved in your goal-setting is important.
Some experts say that using a vision board can be detrimental. That’s because focusing on the outcome can prevent you from envisioning the steps that you need to take to get there.
Your vision board might get you excited, but what happens when you come across an obstacle? Your vision board isn’t enough to get you through. However, setting intermediate goals can allow you to navigate the challenge with grace and perseverance.
4. Ask Yourself What You Need to Learn to Achieve Your Vision
After creating your goal or vision, you might feel a little uneasy. Especially if you’re setting a long-term goal, you might worry that you don’t have the skills or knowledge that you need to achieve it.
That’s just fine. Life is about learning. You likely need to acquire some knowledge or skills in order to see your goals come to fruition.
This is a good time to write down what you need to learn. For example, if you want to launch your own business, you may need to hire a team or gain some bookkeeping skills. If you want to hike the Appalachian trail, you might need to save a certain amount of money, do some physical training, get the right gear and buy some guidebooks.
All of the items that you need to acquire to accomplish your goal can be listed as intermediary goals. Set a time frame for achieving them. You might find it helpful to create a timeline with today as the beginning, your goal at the end, and monthly intermediary goals in between.
5. Think About Who Can Help You
Although setting goals is a highly personal endeavor, you don’t have to do everything alone. The people in your life can help you in a variety of ways.
Once you have a clear vision, share it with some close loved ones. You may need your partner’s support to make it happen.
You may also have noticed that there were other people around you in your vision. These are likely people who can help you along the way. They might be part of your team. They could provide motivational support. They might be a shoulder to cry on.
List all of the people who come up, and consider how they can help you so that you can call on them in times of need.