Just a few years ago, I was one of those people who would set a few arbitrary new year’s resolutions on January 1, only to never think about them again.
That’s how most of us set goals. We think of a goal or something we might want to accomplish in the future. Then we either hope it happens, or we forget about it altogether.
But if you really want to achieve your goals, you’re going to have to do more. Achieving your goals takes time, effort, and planning. You can’t achieve goals just by hoping they happen someday. You have to take action.
In this post, I’m going to lay out the steps you can follow to set goals you’ll actually achieve and plan your best year ever.
How to Set Goals and Plan Your Best Year Ever
STEP 1: REFLECT
You can’t set goals for your future until you take some time to reflect on your past and where you are right now.
I want you to grab a notebook or open a word document, and write down the following life categories:
- Relationships (friendships, romantic relationships, family)
- Health (physical and emotional)
- Fun & Leisure
- Personal Growth
If there are any major categories in your life that aren’t represented here, such as religion, parenthood, etc., feel free to add those as well.
Next, go through each category and write down where you are NOW.
Be honest with yourself about the good and bad in your life for each of these categories.
STEP 2: ENVISION YOUR FUTURE
Once you’ve thought about where you are right now, take a look at each of those life categories and envision what you want them to look like in the future.
You can be as broad or as specific as you’d like. In this goal-setting exercise, we’re just envisioning our future, not choosing a big goal yet.
For example, do you see yourself getting married? Having kids?
Maybe you hope to own your own business someday or have a corporate career trajectory in mind.
I love doing this exercise right after Step 1 because it’s SO eye-opening. It really shows you the discrepancies between where you are now and where you want to be. And it REALLY helps with setting goals.
STEP 3: SET SMARTER GOALS
Now that you’ve thought about what you want your future to look like in all areas of your life, I want you to focus on ONE of those areas to focus on right now.
Yep, just one. If you set a bunch of BIG goals for yourself, you’ll be unfocused and will have a really difficult time reaching them all.
By setting just ONE big goal, you can give it your full focus and really ensure you accomplish it.
When it comes to setting goals, make sure to make it SMARTER:
- Specific: The more specific your goals, the better. Don’t just set a goal of earning money with your side hustle. Set a goal of earning $1,000/month from your side hustle within the first year (for example).
- Measurable: The progress of this goal can be easily tracked. $1,000/month is very specific – you’ll know for sure if you’ve reached it or not, as well as if you’re on track to reach it. And once you know how much you want to make per month, you know what your daily and weekly goals should be.
- Attainable: While setting your goals high is awesome, make sure it’s something you can actually accomplish. Consider what will be required of you to complete this goal, and carefully consider whether you have that to give.
- Relevant: Make sure your goal is in harmony with your core values and what you’re working toward in life. If your ultimate dream is to work from home full-time, then setting a goal of $1,000/month in the first year is awesome because you’re totally moving in the right direction.
- Time Bound: Don’t make the time frame for reaching your goals open-ended. We tend to take as long to accomplish a task as we are allowed. If your goals are completely open-ended, they may never seem urgent enough to get to. As you can see, we set a time frame of one year for the goal we’re using as an example.
- Exciting: Let’s be real – it’s going to be a lot easier to make time to work on goals that excite and inspire you. Emotions are a big factor when it comes to goal-setting, and you’re far more likely to reach for things that excite you.
- Routine Bound: I firmly believe that creating routines and habits is the absolute best way to make changes in your life. Incorporating your goal into your daily routine ensures you’re making time for it and gives you a MUCH better chance of reaching it. For example, you might say that every evening you get home from work at 6 pm and work on your online business until 8 pm. It becomes a daily routine and ensures you’re putting in the time to reach that $1,000/month goal.
STEP 4: BREAK DOWN YOUR GOALS
Now that we’ve picked our big goal, it’s time to break it down. Looking at your goal as one big, huge step is going to be super overwhelming. You’re probably going to get discouraged pretty quickly because you just don’t know where to start.
When I’m planning the action steps for my goals, I like to start by breaking the goal down into categories or mini goals. Basically, what big-picture things need to get done in order for you to reach your big goal?
I do this by breaking down my big goal into categories. Then I break those categories, or mini-goals, down into smaller chunks. And then break those down into smaller chunks. And I just keep breaking them down into smaller and smaller pieces until everything leads to tiny, bite-size action items that can be put on your to-do list.
Once you’ve done that, get those action items scheduled on your calendar or to-do list ASAP.
Depending on the size of your goal, you might be talking about 90 days of action items, you might be talking about one year of action items, or you might be talking about even more. Just make sure you know what that time frame is (remember the T in SMARTER stands for Time-Bound).
STEP 5: CREATE POSITIVE HABITS
Setting goals is the fun part. It’s the follow-through that tends to get a bit rocky. The absolute best way to follow through on your goals and make time to work toward them every day is to form positive habits and daily routines that incorporate your goal.
Let’s say your goal is fitness related. Maybe you want to run a marathon or lose a certain amount of weight. By working fitness into your daily routine and making it a habit, you won’t have to remind yourself every day or try to talk yourself into it. You’ll just do it.
Here are a few things to keep in mind to REALLY make sure the habit sticks:
- Focus on ONE habit at a time. Implementing a new habit is really hard. Implementing a bunch at once is damn near impossible.
- Smart SMALL. If you want to start incorporating fitness into your life but NEVER work out right now, don’t try to start working out for an hour every single day. Start small and work your way up.
- Anchor your new habit to an existing habit. Your day is already filled with habits. Anchor your new habit to one of those existing ones to make SURE it gets done.
- Schedule it. A new habit might be hard to remember the first few weeks, so schedule it or set a reminder on your phone.
STEP 6: CREATE ACCOUNTABILITY
I tend to be a little overzealous when it comes to goal setting. And when I say a little overzealous, I mean a lot overzealous. But for years and years, I found that I would set these big lofty goals, and then they would fall through the cracks.
Sometimes I would work toward them for a while and then lose my motivation. Or worse, I would lose my motivation pretty much right away and forget all about them.
The best way I’ve found to stop this from happening is to create a system for accountability right away.
So how do we go about creating accountability? Here are some ways to do just that:
- Write down your goal. Seriously, this is a step most people DON’T take.
- Share your goal. Pick just one person to share your goal with who can help keep you accountable, whether that be a partner, a friend, a parent, etc.
- Track your progress. Remember that SMARTER goals are MEASURABLE, meaning you can measure their progress. Find a way to do this by using a notebook, journal, spreadsheet, etc.
As with literally anything, advice is only as good as the amount of time and effort you’re willing to put into it.
But if you are truly diligent about implementing these steps and following through with the tasks you’ve put on your calendar, you are sure to reach your big goal this year.