Career & Finance

The Definitive Guide to Setting Successful Goals

We’re a month into 2016 and it couldn’t be more obvious. My 6 a.m. yoga classes have been completely packed, the spiralized zoodles (zucchini noodles!) are flying off the shelves at Whole Foods and social invitations have gone from grabbing drinks to grabbing smoothies. A few years ago, I stopped making New Year’s resolutions altogether. Because honestly? I find them to be complete hogwash. I mean, it’s pretty hilarious that just because it’s January we’re suddenly so optimistic about the weight we’ll lose, the debt we’ll pay off, the nasty habits we’ll quit… the list goes on. It’s like no one realizes that any of these things could start happening any given day in a calendar year.

By definition, a resolution is a firm decision to do or not do something, which sounds great on paper. The problem is that to err is human, so we’re going to slip up in just about everything we do. Therefore a “firm decision” to give up sugar suddenly becomes a “firm decision” to tell your diet to shove it the second you inhale a cupcake (faster than you can actually say cupcake). So when we lose track of a resolution, we tend to throw the towel in all together. We’re ashamed of our failure to stick with all those “firm decisions” and so we move on.

But goals? Ah, sweet goals. These babies have become my bread and butter. You see, a goal is simply an object of one’s ambition or a desired result. A goal is conducive to my flawed, human lifestyle. Because even when I mess up, I can still work toward the same desired result. I just have to adjust my course and get back on track. Comparisons aside, setting goals has taken me skydiving, running half-marathons, and filled up my passport with stamps.

So in the spirit of shifting from resolutions to goals, here are a few takeaways for you to get started:

1. Write down as many goals as you can.

As many as you possibly can! (I’m talking at least 50.) It may feel greedy, overwhelming, or like you’re setting yourself up for failure. But the more you dig the more you’ll realize the things you really want. You’ll discover gems buried deep inside you that you didn’t even realize.

Don’t be intimidated by the type of goals. Not everything has to be as epic as winning the Pulitzer Prize

Don’t be intimidated by the kind of goals they are either. Not everything has to be as epic as winning the Pulitzer Prize (nor should it all be—be realistic, people). Think of it as a bucket list. Where are the places you’ve always wanted to travel? The books you’ve wanted to read? Is there a lesson (dance? art? writing?) that you’ve always wanted to take? Now stretch a little more. What are the experiences you want? Sure, I love to travel and I want to see the whole wide world. But I want to experience seeing Alaska with my dad (the only state he’s never been to). I want to experience the Almalfi Coast with my mom because I’ve told her a million times how much she would love Capri. Don’t limit yourself in any way, shape, or form. Just start writing it all down.

2. Set timelines.

Once you have your goals down, think about when you could actually accomplish them and set some deadlines for yourself. Sure, it may be a goal of mine to fund a school for women in India but I’m taking crazy pills if I think it’s happening next week. And the fact that I want to write a book someday is great! But if I don’t have a deadline in mind, pretty soon my someday will be never. I’ve found the easiest way to divvy your list up is to categorize each goal with a 1, 3, 5, or 10. Is this something I want to achieve in one year? Three years? Five or ten? Start with your one year goals and focus on accomplishing those first. And those 10-year goals? What are some steps you could take to get closer to them? Add those things to your one, three, or five-year list.

The real magic happens when you start to share your goals

3. Find some accountability.

Writing down goals is an accomplishment in itself. But the real magic happens when you share them with people (especially people who care about you and your happiness). Saying something out loud (not just to yourself, but to the people around you) motivates you to actually do something about it. It means I can ask you if you’ve booked that trip to Peru yet, or how those Spanish lessons are going. No more slinking silently into the shadows and giving up when the going gets tough.

4. Give yourself grace to change your mind.

Many lists ago, I set the goal that I wanted to get into watercolor painting (I took an art history class and suddenly I felt artsy and intellectual). Turns out, I found painting to be terribly boring (and also that I’m terrible painter). So I took that right off my list. But guess what? I’m no longer haunted by the thought of wondering if I could have been the next Monet, but never tried. That’s a big fat negative. On to the next dream.

5. Know why you want it.

Take a look at all those goals on your list. Now ask yourself why you want to accomplish them. Is it for shallow bragging rights? Because that’s the lamest motivation I’ve ever heard. It’s gotta be more meaningful.

For me, a large majority of my goals involve travel and I understand why. Because I know the feeling I get when airplane wheels leave the runway or when I arrive in new, uncharted territory that I’ve never explored before. I understand what that unexplainable heart racing, adrenaline pumping, fullness of life feels like when I’m doing what I love the most. And it motivates me to do whatever it takes to keep doing more of it.

Tap into that feeling.

Let yourself dream stupid crazy big dreams and let those shape the goals you set. You’ll only feel silly until the things on your list actually start happening. And suddenly you’re free falling from the plane, crossing the finish line while saying, “Oh my God. I actually did that.”

How do you set successful goals? Share your tips with us.