It’s hard for a person to get somewhere if they do not know where they are going.

This is true in travel and it is true in life as well.

Becoming a person who is happy and feels well in every aspect of life requires intention and effort. Understanding what wellness looks like is a good place to start, however the actual journey to wellness requires actionable steps to guide the way.

Setting effective goals is like creating a map that leads to the desired destination.

Good Goals Don’t Just Happen

Most New Year’s resolutions are a classic example of poor goal setting. On January 1st enthusiasm is high, and people declare they want to lose 20 pounds or get a promotion at work or read 100 books in a year. These are all noble and healthy targets. What is often missing is the steps they need to take to get there and a realistic assessment of whether the end result is possible.

Knowing how to create a good goal is an essential tool to create lasting change.

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First Take Stock

Taking stock of the current situation and assessing where to go next is the very first step necessary to set a good objective. If the difference between a current habit and a desired habit is too great, it will be hard to be successful.

For example, if someone does not exercise at all it would be unreasonable to decide to work out every single day. This intention is likely not achievable in the short term. More importantly it doesn’t represent a realistic or healthy movement endeavor. Even committed exercise enthusiasts take days off to rest and recover.

An unrealistic ambition is like a route on a map that doesn’t go anywhere.

Having a clear vision for the desired outcome and being realistic about what can be achieved will make goal setting much more successful.

Characteristics of a Good Goal

1. The Best Goals Are Very Specific

If a person says, “I want to get up earlier”, the statement is too vague to be useful. Getting up five minutes sooner would technically meet that criteria but is unlikely to achieve the full intent.

A clear intent would be: “I want to get up at 6am each weekday morning.”

The more defined the ambition is the easier it is to make a plan for how to meet it. A clear objective also provides a metric for how to evaluate success along the way. If the goal is specific enough it will be possible to know when it has been achieved.

The best goals are very specific

2. Good Goals Are Challenging, but Doable

The goal to wake-up at 6am would be appropriate for someone who is currently getting up at say 7am. Moving their wake-up time by one hour will likely be challenging, but ultimately achievable.

If the goal was to get up at 6:45am that would be too easy and not provide enough motivation or sense of success. If the goal was 5am, that would be unreasonable and result in discouragement and feelings of failure.

A good goal has to allow for success. When a person achieves what they set out to do their self-confidence increases and they have more motivation to continue making positive changes. (1)

2. Good goals are challenging, but doable.

3. A Goal Without Action Steps Is Just a Wish

Once a well-defined, achievable goal is stated, an outline is needed to clarify actionable steps.

When it comes to changing a wake-up time, it would be a big ask to jump straight to a full hour earlier on day one. Instead, moving in small increments will allow the body to adjust to the change gradually.

Reasonable steps could include:

  • “I will set my alarm clock 10 minutes earlier than my current wake up time for 1 week.”
  • “I will continue to set my alarm clock 10 minutes earlier over the course of 5 weeks until I meet my goal of 6am.”

Building a new habit can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months. (2) There is no rush to get there immediately. Incremental changes allow what was once a goal to turn into a new way of life.

Take meaningful steps to arrive at your destination

4. A goal Needs a Time Limit

It is easier to be motivated to work towards a target when there is a time limit. This is part of keeping the goal challenging. If there is no deadline for when the objective should be achieved, it is easy to procrastinate because it feels like there is all the time in the world.

Some endeavors will need shorter or longer time limits and it’s good to be working on a mix of both. The example of waking up earlier is a goal that should be achievable in a month or so. It’s a great short-term goal.

Longer, big picture type goals are valuable as well. While it is good to use goal setting to change daily life or work habits, it is also important to have goals for how you want your life to look in the long term.

Just like short term goals, bigger life goals should be clearly defined and include steps for how to get there. If making a career change is a goal, it may require many long-term steps such as education or re-location. Breaking down the goal into well-defined smaller increments will result in achieving big change.

A goal needs a time limit

Goals Make Improving Wellness Possible

Goals create detailed maps that show the path to wellness. When used well, they allow us to move out of bad habits or situations into the kind of life we want to live.

We don’t need to get there all at once. Just one step and goal at a time.