Improving Your Life: How To Set Goals

Setting goals are an essential part of living the best life possible. Setting objectives is essential to progress no matter who you are or what you hope to accomplish in your personal life and your career. Whether you are a college student, a recent graduate, or several years into your career, the life choices you make now will shape your level of happiness as you age.

The best way to give yourself a chance for success and happiness is by setting goals today. But how do you actually do it? I have seen so many people approach goal-setting with an informality which rarely produces the desired results. Your goals should be so ingrained into your daily routine that you can’t help but make progress towards achieving them. Here are five concrete steps that will help you make strides toward achieving your goals.

Write Your Goals Down

Whether it’s spending more time with family or hitting your sales goals, you need to make your goals tangible. It will be easier working towards a goal that you not only define but can visualize. Committing your aspirations to paper makes them real and puts you on notice. A simple list containing bullet points like, “visit dad four hours a week,” or “make at least three calls to clients daily,” is an easy first step to take. Making a written list of activities helps keep you productive and focused.


Once you’ve made your list, it is important to know which ones are most important. With only 24 hours in a day, your secondary goals must be just that—secondary. You want to minimize the mistake of bouncing from goal to goal. Warren Buffett gives some wonderful advice on goal-setting, “If you make a list of 25 goals, circle the 5 that matter most to you. Then throw the other 20 away.”

While you know your own capabilities, limit your goals to what you know you can accomplish; of course with effort. Spend 80% of your time working towards the select few ambitions which move the needle the most. The other 20% is plenty to devote to less important goals.

Quantify Your Goals and Measure Them Regularly

Not all your goals will be numeric, but they are better written if they are measurable. For example, if one of your goals is to better your health, you need to find a way to measure that. Maybe that means you’re going to lose five pounds, or go to the gym twice a week, but finding a way to quantify your progress is key to executing a plan to achieve your goals. If you think outside the box a bit, you’ll find that you can attach a quantifiable target to nearly every goal you set.

You also need to look at your list of goals regularly to gauge progress in order to adjust your plan when things aren’t working.

Draw a Clear Line Between Work and Your Personal Life

Unfortunately, career aspirations and personal life goals can often run counter to one another. So how do you decide whether to focus on work or other areas of your life that are essential to happiness? The important thing to know and remember is that life goals and career goals are not mutually exclusive, but rather complementary. The important thing to remember is that you have a clear delineation of professional time and personal time.

Don’t let relationship distractions or hobbies handicap you in your career. While you’re at work, work. That’s the way to impress the parties responsible for promoting you. More importantly, it’s the way to actually build the skills relevant to your career path—which, of course, is what will lead to real success down the line. On the flip side, it’s also easy to allow work issues to creep into your personal life and clutter it up. Take time to keep yourself in check, ensuring that doesn’t happen. If you’re constantly interrupting time with your friends and family to take calls from work or finish up a project, relationships and yes, your personal goals, can become eroded over time.

People are understanding, sure, but they also need to feel valued. You’ll also get more out of the same relationships than you would if you were trying to juggle constantly. Just draw the line.

Give Yourself Rewards or Consequences for Your Performance

Yes, this one seems pretty elementary. Attach a reward system to your goals by dangling a carrot for monthly, weekly, and even daily work towards your targets. If you execute on the numerical points of reference you laid out in step 3, you deserve some compensation, right? It can be food-related or a particular activity you enjoy— just decide what you really value and use that as a base to incentivize. Conversely, be prepared to take something away from yourself for failure to follow through. You have to get creative here, but kids would rarely do their chores if they didn’t get an allowance for completing them or time-out for not doing so. Even as adults, we aren’t all that different.

None of this advice on setting goals is new. There’s a good reason for that. These goal-setting strategies work. If you can find a way to systematize reaching your goals, your chances of achieving them, skyrocket. It’s easy to flounder around pursuing the vague idea of goals and in the end, you never really achieve anything. Success isn’t always about persistence or will or grit. Sometimes, it can be as simple as having the right process in place.

Lane has been in the real world for about a year, have traveled Europe, and loves living and working in the Tar Heel State. Lane grew up in a tiny town, went to school at UNC and now living in Raleigh, North Carolina.

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