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How to set goals that you can achieve

Setting goals is one, achieving them is hard. You need to break them down and be specific.
Empty goal on grass
Photo by Nathan Bingle on Unsplash

Setting goals is one, achieving them is hard. At least for me, and I'm not alone in that.

Each year, millions of people worldwide set goals at the beginning of the new year. They want to exercise more, watch less TV, get a promotion, and so on. Most of those targets are never achieved. And that is not surprising because most goals miss a goal themselves.

A goal must have a purpose. That is its Why, and it requires a clear understanding of what you wish to achieve. That can be solving a problem, learning about a topic, or preparing for the New York marathon.

Define a path to the goal

Setting a goal alone is not enough. That goal needs a plan because without it, you are more or less blindfolded.

Take the New York marathon. There aren’t many people who will finish it without following a training schedule first. In other words, in order to make it to the finish, you need a plan. A path that leads you towards the end goal.

Get in charge by breaking down goals.

That path consists of several steps, and the more complex the end goal, the more steps it takes. This means splitting the goal into smaller objectives. Each objective is a step on the path, and each step can itself also have multiple steps. You peel the end goal down to a level that you have manageable chunks.

Breaking down the goal gets you smaller challenges. It takes the complexity out of the problem because smaller items are easier to understand.

Remember, each item must have a clear goal on its own.

Lego Star Wars figure walking in the sand by Daniel K Cheung on Unsplash
Photo by Daniel K Cheung on Unsplash

Be specific

Suppose I want to learn more about a topic. I can set a sub-goal of reading 5 articles per week on the chosen topic. But are those 500-word articles or 5000-word articles? And what will I learn in that week?

Mentioning a number of articles seems clear. Yet, it says little about what I will learn. In other words, it doesn't tell me what I want to achieve with reading. It lacks a purpose, and that has the risk of wasting time on reading meaningless information. It feels like you are working on your goal, when in reality you are not.

A better sub-goal for would be that I want to understand how spaced repetition works. That doesn’t tell me how much I need to read, but it is one of the steps in my path towards the end-goal.

Breaking goals down has one more benefit. It tells you what is required for achieving your goal. You can time-box reading 5 articles, but learning, not researching a new topic. The latter requires a clearer path with in-between steps.

Be disciplined

Most goals don't come by themselves. It takes discipline and time.

Schedule regular times when you work on the items. Go for a run every Monday and Thursday. Spend 30 minutes each day reading about the topic you are learning. It applies to almost everything and a fixed schedule helps.

Take aways

Achieving goals requires clear goals. Goals that are realistic and specific. Break the problem down to a level that is easy to understand and manageable. When you apply these rules consistently, and spend time on the actual objectives, achieving goals becomes a lot easier.