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how to set goals

All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

People handle life one of two ways – they either float through life and allow things to happen or they make things happen. Those that make things happen know how to set goals.

At one time, I felt like setting goals would be a silly waste of my time. But as life continued on, I found that I tended to follow what everyone else wanted for me. I had chosen life paths that didn’t really fit my personality, let alone fulfill my desires.

Related: Smart Goal Setting - Goals on Track

It took me a long time to figure this out, but when I did, I realized why I had felt so unhappy and unfulfilled. Thankfully, as long as you’re alive, there’s a chance to turn things around. And as long as there is a chance to change it, you don’t have to accept the way your life is. 

Change, I did.

I sat down and questioned everything. Who I was, who I wasn’t, what I truly wanted out of life, what I believed and what I didn’t. I came to the conclusion that I wanted to be a source of inspiration for others. I wanted to positively impact the lives of people around me.

Once I had a general idea of what I wanted to do, I started thinking about how I could break that down and make it happen.

For my children, I wanted to be more than just their mother; I wanted to be someone that they could trust when all of the confusing things in life started happening – puberty, relationships, school challenges, peer pressure and more.

In my romantic relationships and friendships, I wanted to be a person that could care for themselves, not be overly dependent. I wanted to be a support system and learn how to effectively ask for support without being overly needy.

Then I wanted to reach out and inspire people I didn’t know and had never met. This was a bit more complicated since everyone needs something different, so I started looking at the paths I’d travelled up to that point. I asked myself how those might be of benefit to others.

I sought out therapy so that I could be emotionally healthy myself. I set deal-breakers for relationships and carefully analyzed how I interacted within those relationships.

Setting goals for relationships was harder than setting a goal for an educational path, career or other tangible things like a house, money, or car. So I took a deep look at myself and made goals based on how I needed to improve myself so I could improve my relationships and the world around me.

Today, my kids and I have talks that I never would have been able to have before. I have very close friends that I admire, respect and appreciate. I have a husband who loves me for me, and who respects the person I am.

I am still working on reaching out to people that I don’t know. I’ve taken steps in the right direction, but I’m not quite there yet. Right now, my focus is on sharing what I’ve learned through my mistakes and offering support and knowledge to victims of domestic violence and their families.

It’s not going to happen overnight, and sometimes, I still forget why I set my goals in the first place. I make mistakes, just like everyone else, but I have a better awareness of those mistakes and why they happen. Overall, I’m happy with the direction my life is going.

How to Set Goals for a Happier Life

I could very easily tell you my goals and how I came up with them, and you could base your plan on that. But that would defeat the purpose, wouldn’t it? The idea here is for you to achieve what you want out of life.

Decide what you want — Here’s how.

If you’re struggling with what you want out of life, consider some of these questions:

  • What things do I value in life? Are they tangible things like a job, a career, education, a home? Or is what I value less tangible – relationships, humanity, animal treatment, world hunger, etc.?
  • What would I like to see changed about the things I value?
  • Do I have any experience or qualities that can help make change happen?
  • What are those qualities?
  • What do I still need to learn to make changes possible?
  • What kind of support system do I have?
  • Where can I go if I have questions or need information?

These are just a few of the questions that will help you move on to the next step – actively learning how to set goals.

Take what you want and turn it into a goal.

You should already have a pretty clear picture of what you want to achieve. Now you just need to learn how to use that and turn it into a goal. When looking at the answers to your questions above, evaluate the thing that you would like to see changed. Most of the time, you can simply reword this into a goal.

However, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes, the change is too big to tackle at once. You need to learn how to set goals that are easier to achieve. Other times, the goal is not something you can achieve alone; you need to build a circle of resources, people that are passionate about the same thing as you.

No matter what the reason your change seems so impossible, or unobtainable, you can learn how to set goals to make these desires more achievable. The following tips will help:

  • Set smaller goals that are easier to achieve.
  • View failures, setbacks and difficulties as a chance to learn, grow and reevaluate rather than a reason to give up.
  • Look for other ways that you can implement your current goal into your life. When I decided that I wanted to be an inspiration to others, I looked at all the ways I could apply that to my life – my kids, my friendships, my romantic relationships and strangers.
  • Find ways that you can measure your success. For me, this was difficult since you can’t really measure relationships. But there were things I could measure – like the discussions I had with my children, the amount of time we spent together in which we actually felt like a family. The happier and more secure I felt about the relationships I had, the more I realized that I was actually accomplishing my goals.
  • Learn the art of self-affirmation. When you think positively about your goals and you speak them into existence, it helps align your mind with your goal. It also primes you for success.
  • When you feel yourself pulling back from your goals or procrastinating, question why. Do some problem solving to see if you can get back on track. Ask yourself the hard questions and, even if there aren’t any real answers, find a way to move forward.
  • Anyone who teaches people how to set goals will tell you to write your goals down, put them in every place you can think of – on your refrigerator, in your car, at your desk, etc. There is a valid reason for this; by putting them in front of you every day, they stay in the forefront of your mind – conscious thought, if you will.
  • Reward yourself for small accomplishments. No big or amazing goal is going to happen overnight, and short term goals and celebrations help give you the willpower and strength to move forward. Our family took a vacation this year – our very first – and it was a reward for all the hard work we’d done to become a closer, healthier family. So wonderfully worth it.

Remember, no matter what you want to achieve, there is a way to make it possible. The first step is learning how to set goals in a way that works for you.

The rest is to know yourself, being mindful of what you want, being your own best cheerleader, and recognizing that if you want it enough, you will find a way to it.

Your Turn

If you were an expert at goal-setting, what else would you say about how to set goals? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Image by plaits.

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