Personal Growth, productivity

The Importance of Goal Setting and How to do it

It’s common around this time of year for people to start reflecting, and to think about the year ahead and any resolutions they might want to achieve. Some may even be thinking more long term, about what they want to achieve in their lives, and I want one of those people to be you. Long term goal setting is really important, whether you’re 18 years old and just starting to figure your life out or you’re 50 years old and already have lots of life experience, and in this article I’m going to show you why. 

We talk about setting goals so casually and pretty much everyone will have at least a couple of goals for their day, or their life, but for most people, they stop there. They set a goal, and then they just wait, thinking that somehow the goals will achieve themselves. So what do you need to do after you’ve had that lightbulb moment, that initial idea to achieve something? 

Keep reading to find out!

New Year’s Resolutions or New Year’s Goals

Have you ever set a New Year’s Resolution? 

I have. I’ve actually set quite a few. But I’ll be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever achieved a single one. Why? Because they were all either too vague or too unrealistic. In fact, according to a New York Times article, 80% of people fail to keep their New Year’s Resolutions. Are you one of them?

So instead of making a New Year’s resolution, I’m going to teach you how to make New Year’s Goals, that you can actually stick to and achieve. And not just New Year’s Goals, goals for every aspect of your life.

The Five Principles of Successful Goal Setting

According to Positive Psychology, there are five key principles of achieving your goals.

Commitment – how committed are you to achieving your goals?

This is all about WHY this is one of your goals? Do you want to run a marathon because you want to get fit or raise money for charity? Or just because your friend told you you couldn’t do it and you want them to prove them wrong? Make sure you’re setting goals for the right reasons, set goals to make YOU happy, not just to make others happy.

Clarity – how specific are your goals?

We will go into this in more depth later on, and I’ll show you exactly how to do it properly, but if you’re setting goals such as ‘I want to lose weight’ or ‘I want to read more’, you NEED to keep reading.

Challenge – do you have ‘goldilocks goals’? Goals that are not too challenging but not too easy?

If you set a completely unattainable goal, you’re not going to have the motivation even start working towards it. If I said I wanted to run a marathon in three weeks time (I haven’t run further than a mile in years), it would be really unrealistic. But if i said I wanted to run for 10 minutes continuously in three weeks time, that would be more achievable. 

As well as not setting goals that are too hard, you shouldn’t set goals that are too easy either. The satisfaction from achieving a really easy goal won’t be anywhere near as much as achieving something a little harder.

Complexity – is there a feasible route to achieving your goal?

Overly complex goals can actually have the opposite effect and severely impact your motivation. If a goal is completely out of our skill set, we might just spend so much time wondering how to even attempt to achieve the goal that we never actually start it. In this case, you might want to consider setting smaller, more achievable goals within your skillset.

Feedback – do you go back and review the goals that you set?

There’s no point setting goals that you don’t hold yourself accountable for. Once you’ve set a goal, you should regularly review it and most importantly, review and adjust. Things happen in life that mean our plans don’t always work out, so you have to regularly review and adjust plans in order for them to be successful.

So why don’t people know how to set goals properly?

Most people have goals, but don’t necessarily know how to set them properly to actually achieve them. As Abby Rike says in her post on goal setting, a lot of people create goals backwards. We plan our days in order to achieve short term goals, but not for long term goals, goals that really matter. Instead, she talks about having creating legacy goals, and thinking about ‘what it means to have a successful life?’.

Goals can be categorised in different ways, short-term, immediate goals, and long-term life goals, and both have different plans of attack.

Why does goal setting even matter?

I think we can all agree that we want to achieve something in the short time we are on this planet.Very few of us have absolutely no life goals or any idea of what they should be doing, but even you are one of those, that’s okay, because now is a really good time to sit and think about what it actually is that you want to be doing. 

For some people, their life goal is being famous, curing cancer, starting a successful business, for others, it might be more simple: just to be happy. But whatever your life goal is, without a proper structure, it’s going to be pretty hard to achieve it. 

Thinking smaller for a second, having structure and proper planning can help you to achieve smaller, more short term goals, such as paying off a debt or running a marathon.

These techniques actually work, a 2015 study showed that people who wrote down their goals, were 33% more likely to achieve them, than those who just kept them in their heads.

So… what do I need to be doing?

Thinking big

When setting goals, it’s best to start thinking big and then work out all the smaller details. So take a moment to really think about what you want to achieve in your life. I’m not trying to lead you into an existential crisis, so let’s add some structure.

Get a piece of paper and draw out nine columns, each of these columns is going to be a category. We’re going to use the Mind Tools Team’s categories to get you thinking. If you can think of any other categories that might be specific to you, feel free to add that.

The main categories of goal setting you’re going to think about are:

  • Career – what job do you want? What career level do you aspire to reach?
  • Financial – how much do you want to save, by when? Do you want to be able to pay for your children’s education, or buy them a home?
  • Education – do you want to get a degree in marketing or maybe you want to learn a new language?
  • Family – do you want to have children? Do you want to get married?
  • Artistic – do you want to take up an artistic habit such as painting or writing poetry?
  • Attitude – do you want to become a more positive person? Is there something about your attitude or mindset that you dislike?
  • Physical – do you want to be able to deadlift 100kg, or run a marathon? Or maybe you want to be able to still walk 5 miles a day at age 80?
  • Pleasure – What’s something that makes you happy that you want to achieve? Do you want to have watched every Avengers film by the time you’re 25? Or maybe you want to visit at least one country in every continent in your lifetime?
  • Public service – how do you want to impact the world around you? Do you want to volunteer regularly, or set up a charitable foundation?
diagram of the different categories of goals

Adding the details

Once you have these big goals in mind, break them down into more achievable steps, and incorporate them into 1, 5, and 10 year plans. Break them down even further, where do you need to be in 6 months, 1 month, what’s something that you need to be doing weekly or even daily, in order to achieve these goals. The key to this is having daily goals that contribute to long term goals. You can learn more about this in my time management techniques post.

You should have a page of main goals, broken down into mini goals that are trackable and achievable. The next part is going to really help you formulate these goals properly so that you can actually achieve them, and it’s called the SMART Goal method.

SMART Goal setting

You might have heard of SMART Goals already but if not I’m going to break it down for you. All goals that you set should be SMART, and this stands for:






infographic of smart goals

So now I want you to re-write out your goals on another piece of paper using this SMART formula.

Let’s do one together.

When thinking about the categories above, let’s say that you said you wanted to buy a house. So how do we make this a SMART goal.

  • Specific – I want to buy at least a two-bedroom house in an area close to where I work
  • Measurable – I can measure this easily as I will have the own the keys and contracts for my new house
  • Attainable – This is attainable because I am on a good salary and I should be able to save up for a deposit and then pay my mortgage and bills once I’ve purchased the house
  • Relevant – This goal is relevant to me because I will need a place to live after I move out of my parents’ house.
  • Time-bound – I want to achieve this in the next 5 years. 

The first and last parts are the most important to write down as they allow you to track your progress, the other three are there to check that goal is actually achievable and that there is a real purpose to achieving it. 
Setting a time limit on your goals adds pressure and can give you that motivation boost to get up and achieve them. You can learn more about how this pressure motivates us in my post on Parkinson’s Law of productivity.

What else can I do to achieve my goals?

Visualising and Manifesting used to sound like complete rubbish to me, but now they’re tools I use quite a bit. They’re both something I’ve recently added to my morning routine and they’re actually proving very useful tools.

In the morning, whilst I’m still in bed, I like to visualise the day ahead, and mentally ‘slot in’ when I want to complete certain tasks and goals. It might seem silly at first but try doing it for a week and see if it has any effect on your day. Also visualise your life in front of you, and key achievements along the way.

One way of using manifestation in goal setting is to write I am, instead of I will. For example, instead of writing:

I will be the highest achieving student in my year. 

Read my Let’s Talk About…Visualisation post

Write: I am the highest achieving student in my year.

Put out into the world what you want to happen.

Writing your goals out

As I said earlier, people who write their goals are 33% more likely to achieve them, and I have just the template for you!

This Goal Tracker is amazing for not only writing your goals, but also breaking them down AND keeping yourself accountable.

A Goal Tracker downloadable sheet, annotated with how to use it, on a pale green background

This template is available in both the Productivity Planners and the New Year’s Goals and Manifestations Planners.


  • Proper goal setting is critical if you actually want to achieve your goals, not just make them in your head and forget about them within a week. 
  • Start big and think about what you want to achieve in your life and then add in the details
  • Use the SMART goals method of setting goals, all goals should be: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound.
  • Also use visualisation and manifestation to keep your mind goal orientated.
  • Get the Goal Tracker template as part of the Productivity Planners or New Year’s Goals and Manifestations Planners.

Want to become a more productive student? Want to work on your personal development? Want to learn about how to get into medical school?

If you said YES to any of the above, then stick around because you’re in the right place!

Whether you’re a current or aspiring student, I share tips and tricks that are going to help you out.

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