Pablo Picasso said, “Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success.”
You can still be successful without setting goals. But your journey may be fraught with more stress, frustration and doubt.
Can you get everything you want in life by setting goals? Some say that you will. You just have to make sure that you’re setting the right types of goals.
What Do You Want?
When you’re feeling low, you can probably list everything that you want. But on a daily basis, when you’re feeling pretty content, can you rattle off a list of your desires?
Most people know what is making then angry, frustrated or scared. They can tell you what they don’t want. But they can’t always articulate what they need to get them to a place of bliss.
That’s because many of us are sleepwalking through life. We’re living in reactive mode. When something happens, we take care of it. We may be extremely flexible and skilled at dealing with whatever comes our way.
But if you live that way, you’re always playing defense. You’re not in the driver’s seat. You’re living by other people’s rules.
If you want to accomplish certain things and lead a specific type of lifestyle, you have to make the rules. To do that, you need to set goals.
At first, this practice can feel hard. It’s not easy to take inventory of your life. Looking at what you have can draw attention to your struggles. But when you can view your trials and tribulations without judgment, you can see what you need to do to improve them.
You might think that you have to know what you want in order to set goals. However, setting goals can help you learn what you want.
Goals are like a map. You may not need it to get where you’re going, but it can prevent you from getting lost. You can always adjust it if you decide to take a detour or change your destination. However, you’ll be more prepared to handle whatever comes your way if you have goals.
As we expand on this idea throughout the article, you’ll learn about different types of goals that can help you take the reins and set yourself up for success.
What Are Goals?
Merriam-Webster defines a goal as “the end toward which effort is directed.”
Each of these synonyms has a different connotation. However, they all reflect the same idea: goals are the targets that help you direct your action.
Goal setting theory says that establishing objectives is necessary for survival. But humans are capable of higher forms of consciousness, and their ability to take purposeful action is voluntary. Therefore, they must choose to explore what’s best for them.
In other words, goal setting involves:
- Deciding what’s beneficial for your survival
- Setting goals to achieve it
- Choosing how you’re going to attain those goals
- Taking purposefully directed action
You might think that setting goals makes you seem uptight. Do you really have to create intentions for everything that you do? Can’t you just go with the flow?
Positive Psychology Program explains that goals are necessary to help you achieve a flow state. When you establish clear objectives that take your current skills into account but are challenging enough to push you, you get into the zone that feels satisfying and productive.
Specific vs. Vague Goals
Setting conscious goals can improve your motivation and performance. However, the most effective goals must be specific.
Let’s talk about vague goals first. One of the best examples of a vague goal is the intention to “do your best.” We say this to children all the time. You might think that putting in your best effort will help you work harder and achieve better results.
However, research shows that people don’t do their best when they’re trying to do their best. That’s because a vague goal isn’t measurable. It leaves the door open for a wide variety of outcomes, including some that aren’t actually commensurate with your best efforts.
One of the reasons that vague goals aren’t effective is that they leave a lot of room for failure. That, in and of itself, isn’t the crux of the problem. We should be ok with making mistakes. The most successful people aren’t afraid of failure. Flops and fiascos often come when you take risks, and they can show you how to improve the next time.
If you’re the kind of person who embraces failure and sets vague goals, you might fall back on your mistakes as excuses. Let’s say that you’re training to run a marathon. You tell yourself to do your best.
Your best effort on a day that you’re exhausted, sore and not properly fueled will be completely different than your best effort on a day that you’re rested and feeling energetic. On the day of the race, you push yourself. But you hit a wall, and you end up walking your way to the finish line.
Did you try your best? It’s hard to say. You also probably told yourself to listen to your body and only do as much as you could. You gave yourself an out, and you took it.
What could have happened if you had set a specific goal? Examples of specific goals in this situation might be:
- Running for at least half of the race.
- Finishing within a certain time frame.
- Smiling while you cross the finish line.
- Continuing for 2 more minutes every time you want to stop.
- Walking for 3 minutes before running again when you get tired.
Do these goals indicate that you’re trying your best? It doesn’t matter.
What matters is that you know exactly when you’ve achieved these goals. That’s because they’re specific and measurable.
Whether or not you tried your best, you attempted to accomplish a goal. If you succeeded, your brain was flooded with chemicals that make you feel good. If you didn’t meet your objectives, you know exactly what to do to improve.
SMART is a mnemonic used to create effective goals. It was developed in the 1980s by George Doran to help businesses improve the likelihood of accomplishing a goal.
It stands for the following:
- S – Specific: Consider defining the who, what, when, where and why of the goal.
- M – Measurable: Think about the metrics that you can use to determine whether you’ve accomplished the goal. This can be the completion of a project, behaving in a certain way or performing specific tasks.
- A – Achievable: The goal should be realistic enough that you can accomplish it. If you set unattainable goals, you’ll not only prevent yourself from achieving them but also get discouraged along the way.
- R – Relevant: Make sure that your goal fits into your life and business path. You can certainly achieve non-relevant goals. However, a relevant goal will help you stay focused and be more efficient.
- T – Time-bound: Set a deadline for your goal. If your objective seems too large, break it down into smaller tasks, each with their own time limit.
Short Term and Long Term Goals
When you’re considering the types of goals that you want to set, you can quickly divide them into two categories. Long term goals reflect a big vision or dream that you have. Short term goals can usually be accomplished within a year or less.
Both of these types of goals are important. Long term goals are similar to the destination point on the map. Short term goals can be the places that you’ll visit as you move toward the long term goal.
If you don’t set a long term goal, you can accomplish many short term goals, but you may not be sure where you’ll end up. If you don’t set short term goals, you can make it to your long term one, but you might get distracted or lose momentum on the way.
Some experts recommend setting a long term goal and then establishing short term goals that serve as steps to reach the ultimate objective. Compared to a short term goal, a long term one is usually:
- More complex
- Something that you hope to achieve in the future
It’s great to keep a big vision in your head. However, you might get frustrated that you’re not reaching it as you go about your daily life. Setting an enormous goal can be unfulfilling if you don’t make plans to accomplish it.
Setting short term goals gives you the roadmap for getting to where you want to go. You can not only reward yourself as you achieve each one but also move toward your big dreams in a strategic manner.
As you complete your smaller goals, you’ll get wisdom, knowledge and skills. When your small goals are lined up with your big ones, the proficiency that you gain will help you move toward your long term objective.
Some examples of short term goals that are related to long term goals are as follows:
- Short: Practice typing every day
- Long: Consistently type at 120 words per minute
- Short: Get to work on time
- Long: Get a promotion at my next review
- Short: Finish my resume
- Long: Land a job that I’m passionate about
- Short: Save $100 a month
- Long: Buy a bigger house
Bucket List Goals
Bucket list goals are usually long term goals. However, they’re often one-time experiences that people want to accomplish in their lifetime. They usually involve seeing or doing something. Sometimes, bucket list goals are adventurous. They don’t always require you to build up to them with short term goals.
Some common bucket list ideas include:
- Seeing the northern lights
- Bungee jumping
- Getting a tattoo
- Going on a dream vacation
- Swimming with dolphins
- Getting married
- Running a marathon
- Going scuba diving
Some of these bucket list goals simply involve raising the money to do them. Others require skill. If scuba diving is on your bucket list, you might want to set some short term goals with deadlines that will allow you to achieve the necessary training and preparation.
A few short term goals that can help you achieve your long term goal of scuba diving include:
- Improving your swimming skills
- Taking a scuba diving course
- Going on vacations where you can get practice scuba diving
- Buying your own equipment
- Getting certified
Some people split up goals into more than two types. Immediate goals can be divided into stepping stone goals and short term goals. Future goals can be separated into long term and lifetime goals.
Let’s work backward from the lifetime to stepping stone goals.
Think about everything that you want to become. In your later years, where do you want to be? What do you want to have accomplished? What assets do you want to have?
Some of your answers are your lifetime goals. Here are some examples of lifetime goals:
- I want to be a professional artist who consistently makes money off of their work.
- I want to own a large property and hold retreats there.
- I want to be close with my children and grandchildren.
- I want to own a company.
- I want to have the freedom to travel 5 times a year.
Long Term Goals
We already discussed long term goals above. They can include one-time experiences, like bucket list goals. However, they should also involve things that you want to accomplish in the future.
Think of your long term goals as your 5, 10 or 15-year plan. Consider where you want to be in your life within those time frames. What do you want to have accomplished in your personal and professional life? Those are your long term goals.
One example of a long-term goal is to save $100,000 for your retirement within 15 years. Another would be to travel to 5 new countries in the next 5 years.
Short Term Goals
Short term goals can typically be achieved within one year. They usually support your long term goals.
If your long term goal is to save $100,000 for your retirement, you can set up some short term goals to support that aim. Some examples would be to:
- Write down your budget
- Start bringing your lunch to work
- Stop using credit cards
- Pay off debt
- Start investing
Short term goals don’t have to support your long term ones. Short term goals can stand alone. For example, you can move your bucket list goals to your short term goals list when you’re ready to accomplish them within the year.
Another example of a standalone short term goal could be:
- Finishing your memoir by December
- Take a vacation this year
- Work out 3 days a week this month
- Lose 5 pounds by September
Stepping Stone Goals
Stepping stone goals always support your short term, long term or lifetime goals. You can think of these as the action steps that you need to take to get to the larger objectives.
These can have extremely short deadlines. They might be the goals that you set for today, this week or this month. They could also be consistent actions that you plan to take on a regular basis to help you accomplish your big dreams.
The smaller the stepping stone goals are, the more you can usually have. These aren’t designed to overwhelm you. They should be comfortable, achievable tasks that get you to the next level.
Some examples of stepping stone goals that can help you save for retirement include:
- Sitting down and categorizing your expenses
- Calling your utility/credit card companies and ask them how you can lower your bills
- Making a meal plan every week
- Holding a yard sale
7 Types of Goals
In his book “The Success Principles,” Jack Canfield says that there are seven types of goals. These include:
- Career goals – Getting a promotion, changing careers, receiving an award, finishing a project, starting your own business
- Financial goals – Retiring, buying a house, paying off debt, creating an emergency fund, making a large purchase, giving to charity
- Personal goals – Learning a language, starting a blog, learning to meditate, reading more, improving your confidence
- Spiritual goals – Mentoring someone, learning about a specific religion, praying/meditating more, starting a spiritual circle or prayer group
- Educational goals – Getting a diploma, learning a new skill, taking continuing education courses
- Relationship goals – Spending more quality time with your partner, going on more dates, increasing time with friends, getting married, having children
- Health and fitness goals – Get regular physical exams, lower your blood pressure/cholesterol, improve your immunity, maintain your goal weight, exercise regularly
Canfield explains that all of your actions and experiences should be aligned with your values, desires and goals. You are completely responsible for creating the life that you lead. He says that everything that happens to you is based on a choice that you’ve made in the past. Therefore, if you can line up your choices with your desires, you can create a life that you love to live.
Setting goals is important, but it won’t change your life if you don’t take action. Canfield states that people often complain about the things that they don’t like. However, griping doesn’t usually change the outcome. Intentional action produces beneficial results.
Moreover, Canfield says that you can’t create a balanced life if you don’t set goals in each of these seven categories. It’s easy to immerse yourself in one type of goal and ignore the others.
This often happens when people are preoccupied with their careers. They work so hard toward their career and financial goals that they neglect the other areas of their life.
But money can’t buy happiness. If you don’t have time to enjoy the money that you make, is it even worth having? Setting goals in every category will help you gain fulfillment on multiple levels and prevent you from becoming single-minded.
Process Goals vs. Outcome Goals
No matter what categories your goals fall into, you should have a good mix of process and outcome-based goals. Outcome-based goals highlight a particular result. Process-based goals encourage you to follow a particular process. You can also think of process-based goals as performance goals.
Many long term and lifetime goals are based on outcomes. Short term and stepping stone goals are more likely to be process based.
In our culture, outcome goals are usually associated with something that you want to have. Some examples of outcome goals are:
- Earning a certain salary
- Saving a specific amount
- Traveling to a particular destination
- Earning a specific job title
- Buying a larger house
- Losing X number of pounds
Outcome-based goals are specific and measurable. The fact that you can easily assess whether you’ve met them makes them clear and precise. However, if they’re not realistic, you may get discouraged when you don’t achieve them.
When setting outcome goals, consider what accomplishing them would mean to you. Perhaps you want to lose 15 pounds so that you can feel more confident and comfortable in your skin. Maybe you want a larger house because you feel like your current home is too cluttered.
When you ask yourself “why do I want to achieve a particular goal,” you may be able to set more realistic, achievable outcomes. Looking at outcome goals from this perspective might be more fulfilling.
For example, let’s say that you want to be more confident in your body. You go to the gym 7 days a week for an hour and a half. It’s grueling. You love being active, but you feel like you’re pushing your body to the limit in an unhealthy way. You’re becoming obsessed with the number on the scale.
Is this really a healthy goal? Maybe you end up losing the weight and realize that you’ve done all of this work and still don’t feel confident. If you don’t shed the pounds by the deadline, you might feel like you put in the effort for nothing.
If you set your outcome goal to be more confident in your skin instead of losing X number of pounds, your stepping stone goals may change. Perhaps you’ll take a martial arts class to get some exercise and feel empowered.
You might choose to go shopping for clothes that fit and are flattering. You may even just wear your favorite earrings every day and find out that they’re a conversation starter and magnetize people to you. You end up more confident in your skin, and you’ve reached your goal.
One of the benefits of setting outcome goals based on how you want to feel is that it may be more meaningful. Therefore, you might be more likely to keep up with it. One of the disadvantages is that feeling-based goals are difficult to measure.
But you can work measurable process goals into these examples as well. Instead of focusing on the amount of weight that you want to lose, you can commit to exercising a certain number of times per week. Process goals put you in control because they’re based on your actions.
You can choose whether to put on your running shoes and head out the door. You can’t guarantee that you’ll lose 15 pounds by doing so.
Your Goals Can Change
It’s important to realize that your goals can change. The further away the goal’s deadline is, the more flexible you should be with it. The lifetime goals that you set when you’re 20 may change by the time that you’re 40.
One reason that it’s important to write down your goals is so that you can keep track of them. They’re not set in stone. However, being able to see what you wanted 10 years ago can help you adjust your intentions while remaining in line with your desires.
On the other hand, your stepping stone goals probably won’t shift too much unless the overarching objective changes. If you start adjusting your stepping stone goals too frequently, you might not stay on track to achieve your bigger visions.
How Many Goals Should You Have?
If you set various types of goals, you may have several that you’re trying to reach at the same time. For example, you may have your bucket list, tasks to complete a project at work, fitness goals and relationship objectives. Within each category, you may have more than one.
Fast Company states that the ideal number of goals is between one and many. But some experts recommend concentrating on one goal at a time. In other words, this is a highly personal matter.
The number of goals that works best for you depends on your personality type and the types of goals. Some of the best practices for setting the right types of goals include:
- Having a mix of goals from different categories
- Considering how your goals are similar so that they can build on one another
- Making sure that your goals don’t conflict with each other
- Setting long-term goals
- Supporting long-term goals with short-term ones