How to Set Goals to Change Your Life

Julie after placing first in her age group (5K)

photo of Julie after winning her age group in a 5K benefiting Imagine No Malaria

Toward the end of last year, I started thinking about what I wanted to accomplish in the coming year. I thought I knew how to set goals even though my list seemed long and my time seemed short. Within a week, I became overwhelmed and abandoned my new year’s resolutions before the new year even started.

I still had resolve, and I still had goals. I just needed to figure out how to make those two elements work together for me instead of making me feel that every moment should be productive … except for the times when I was relaxing so I could get recharged to be productive again.

Fortunately, one of Michael Hyatt’s podcasts on mistakes people make when setting goals gave me clarity on my errors (and made me feel better about my failed resolutions; he reports that 25% of resolutions are abandoned in their first week and 50% are gone within six months).

I am confident that I can set goals and reach them. After all, I’ve reached my goal of finishing a 5K in under 26 minutes and completing a cycling century. My difficulty is applying my goal-setting prowess to all areas of my life when there is so much I want to accomplish.

The takeaways from Michael’s talk are so valuable, I wanted to share them. Here’s what I learned and how I plan to apply these lessons to my goals this year:

  • Record your goals.

    This step is routine but still important. Let me tell share my goals (refined based on Michael’s guidance):

    1. Publish a total of 150 articles on my new investing blog, Investing to Thrive.
    2. Hike Mont Blanc in Europe.
    3. Complete Rosetta Stone’s French course.
    4. Run a 10K in less than 54 minutes.
    5. Create a new product, such as an e-book, guide, or online course.
  • Limit the number of goals you set.

    I really didn’t want to limit my goals. As I’ve gotten older, I have been more and more aware of how quickly life passes. So I have wanted to cram all my goals into one year, hoping that I’d make tremendous progress in 12 months and then quickly move toward increasingly meaningful projects.

    Sadly, having too many goals is counterproductive. I need to focus on a handful of goals in order to accomplish them. That doesn’t mean that I will be lax in other parts of my life; I am still pursuing goals on the side. But there are main goals that I work toward regularly.

  • Set goals that are specific, measurable, and can be finished.

    Realizing that I should set a goal that could actually be finished was a breakthrough moment for me. I no longer had to commit to writing x number of hours per day (though that is part of my routine!) or running a certain mileage per week. I could set a goal, achieve that goal, and then move on. I could actually get to “done.”

    An example of how being specific works is learning French, which I decided to tackle because of my hiking trip around Mont Blanc. This trip will take me (and my husband/hiking partner) to French-speaking areas of Switzerland, France, and Italy. Rather than say that I am going to learn French, I am going to complete a Rosetta Stone course; I realize that I may not become fluent in French but I should know more than if I had not completed the lessons.

  • Do things that you enjoy.

    I am very fortunate to be at the point in my life that I can set goals based on what I enjoy. Sure, I have obligations that I find fulfilling at times and feel like drudgery at others. But my goals should be ones that inspire me and that I happily and eagerly pursue, not to-do list items that I think I should do.

    It’s perfectly fine, then, to be kind to yourself and set goals that are meaningful to you.

When I think about how much I’ve improved in running and cycling, I realize how every success just built on itself. Sure, my progress seemed slow at the beginning but after I mastered one aspect of the sport, I moved to next level. After I reached one goal, I set another generally more aggressive one. Over time, my efforts have transformed my fitness levels. Now I hope the same is true of my writing, French-learning, and business endeavors.