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Nearly all people desire progress. Nearly all people fear falling short of their own and others’ expectations. Nearly all people struggle to make their life goals a reality because of fear, lack of motivation, or a simple lack of understanding on how to realize them.
At least one of those handicaps to progress can be surpassed. Knowing the requirements for goals that help progress-seekers achieve can make the fear or the lack of motivation small or non-existent in the face of hope and triumph.
Progress, goal completion, and success are ambiguous terms, but each of us knows how to get specific on the things we’d like to improve. It’s applying the specifics, the motivation to change, and dedication to the process that will lead to a resounding, joyful success.
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Edwin Locke: Theory About Setting Goals In Life
Ambiguous goals or goals that are too easy to attain won’t get the best results. Edwin Locke, an industrial and organizational psychologist found this to be true in his painstaking, twenty-five year project testing the effect of goal setting on task performance. Locke’s results show that setting high goals leads to better task performance.
The relationship between performance and goals is due to:
- Higher goals leading to greater effort
- Goals directing attention and effort to goal-relevant actions at the cost of non-relevant actions. For example, In order to meet the goal of writing a novel in one month, one must write every day; one must not spend time practicing the perfect typing technique, but perform the basic, most effective actions to get the job done.
There are some other important factors in goal completion, however. One can’t simply set a difficult goal and hope that the act of setting it inspires the desire to complete it. Completing goals also requires:
- Commitment to the goal, self-efficacy, and perceiving the goal as important
- Task complexity in which knowledge is hard to acquire
- Situational constraints: the means necessary to accomplish the task can’t be too much more than is required to complete it.
Locke’s theory doesn’t just apply to self-set goals, either. These goals can be assigned by others or set with someone else who is participating. Current research has only added to the evidence toward the effectiveness of Locke’s theory. However, some new warnings come with current research that teach us Goal Setting Theory isn’t foolproof and isn’t an exact science.
In some cases, setting a high, difficult goal was not more effective than simply being encouraged to do one’s best. It is possible for one who focuses so much on a specific goal to lose sight of bettering themselves, and simply aim straight for the task completion. In other words:
Goal Setting should help the setter to gain critical skills and not just reach the finish line.
Instead of finishing without learning anything, set shorter term, specific goals that will facilitate planning, monitoring, and evaluating progress (Seijts & Latham, 2001 qtd. in Latham, G.P. & Locke, E.A., 2006).
Not only is it possible to get tunnel-vision, race-to-the-finish-line mentality that is counterproductive to successful task completion, it’s possible for a goal setter to focus on failure rather than success and view their goal as a threat rather than a challenge. This mindset of failure will lead to lower task performance (Drach-Zahavy and Erez, 2002 qtd. in Latham, G.P. & Locke, E.A., 2006).
These warnings add up to a list of things to keep in mind as you set your goals:
- Complete small tasks along the way to your big destination; learn and grow as you proceed.
- Don’t get wrapped up in ideas or fears of failure. The more energy and worry you expend on this, the less energy you have to devote to success, and this will hurt your chances of bettering yourself.
Get Inspired: 50 Examples of Personal Goals
Everyone has something they’d love to change or better themselves with. Sometimes, though, it’s harder to make changes in the right direction when the way to get there is unclear. Making headway towards success might come down to making the clearest goal and the appropriate action steps to follow. Setting goals in terms that seem achievable, but still challenging will see a higher success rate for goal-setting.
These goals still have to intrigue and motivate you, speaking to your passions and desires. Specific examples of personal goals for school, work, art, health, finance, or relationships might include:
- Read one book a month for a year
- Read fifteen pages a day of course material
- Read a book considered “classic” literature three times a year
- Journal every night for a month straight
- Do something creative once a week
- Limit eating out to once a week
- Eat under 1800 calories a day, seven days a week
- Get seven hours of sleep six days a week
- Leave the house for date night twice a month
- Spend under $100 on entertainment a month
- Save five percent of each paycheck for a year
- Spend an hour outside (for fun) five days a week
- Turn in every assignment on time for your priority class all semester
- Apply to three jobs a week until a position is secured
- Take two classes to better your professional skills in a year
- Learn to do something new every month
- Learn and master a song on your chosen instrument once a month
- Spend thirty minutes of internet time a day learning about current events
- Turn in work assignments a day before the deadline for a month
- Sit down to eat at the dinner table five days a week
- Limit eating meals in the car to twice a week
- Declutter something bothersome once a week
- Keep and refer to a planner for a month straight
- Lose three pounds in one month
- Stop eating candy bars
- Limit carbonated drinks to once a week
- Limit alcohol consumption to one drink per special occasion
- Volunteer at the same local charity every week for a month
- Hand out one care package a week to a homeless person
- Recycle all plastic for a year
- Limit TV time to an hour a day
- Watch Netflix only after completing all tasks until project reaches completion
- Donate ten cans of food a month to local food drives for a year
- Stay off the internet for a full day once a week
- Get up a full hour before the necessary departure time for work or school
- Eat a healthy breakfast five days of the week
- Do an anonymous selfless act once a week
- Limit social media time to a half-an-hour a day
- Get cardio exercise into the routine for at least 30 minutes a day, every day
- Call a grandma a week for every month
- Participate in a club activity that interests you once a month
- Watch a new comedian’s standup routine once a month
- Eat vegetables with every meal of the day for a week
- Complete a Pinterest board idea once a week
- Complete an oil painting once a month for a year
- Learn authors, dates, and subject matter for each assigned reading in a literature class
- Learn the important geography for one country each month
- Meet with supervisors once a week and improve on one weak point after each meeting and before the next
- Meet with teachers to discuss holes in understanding once a week
10 Reasons For Setting Future Goals
It’s understandable that some think setting goals is unnecessary, but anyone who truly thinks this probably doesn’t realize how often they use goals casually. If you’ve ever thought, “Just make it through today and your bed will be waiting for you at home,” or “I will get that paper done tomorrow no matter what,” you’ve set short-term, challenging goals that are training you in endurance and commitment, among other things.
Setting future goals according to Locke’s theory is similar, if a bit more advanced and a bit further into the future, and the rewards for setting these kinds of goals will be even greater for your profession, mind, and heart. Here are some reasons you should start setting future goals:
1. Setting goals helps us meditate on things that need improvement.
2. Goals challenge us to do things better, more quickly, and more efficiently.
3. When completing goals, we widen our knowledge base and increase skills in a predetermined amount of time.
4. Set goals help us visualize final results that may otherwise seem ambiguous.
5. Setting goals gives us the opportunity to reward ourselves for behaviors we like, and therefore, learn life-changing habits.
6. It forces us to take steps to complete the goal instead of thinking in terms of “one day I will…”
7. Completing goals increases feelings of success and well-being (Wiese and Freund, 2005 qtd. in Locke, E.A., and Latham, G.P., 2006).
8. Goals help us to strive and yearn for something, breaking us out of stale, unsatisfied, motionless routines.
9. Setting goals can make big, seemingly impossible challenges seem more doable by cutting them into action steps and providing incentive to get it done.
10. Future goals give us a reason to look positively on the future. We can change our lives for the better.
My Life Goals List: 5 Goal Setting Worksheets (+PDF)
Setting future goals isn’t as simple as it may seem. There are a lot of factors that need consideration, including your own motivation and commitment. Worksheets for planning goals can take many forms and fulfill many functions.
They can help you brainstorm what you’d like to work on, create plans to help you make the changes, keep track of what you could use to achieve your goals and people you could rely on for accountability, and they can act as a sort of contract to refer to when you find your motivation dwindling.
1. SMART Goal-Setting Worksheet
The SMART worksheet is a simple, no-nonsense worksheet that fills in all the blanks for setting a goal and making sure it fits the qualifications of one that’s likely to be successful. The SMART principle creates a checklist for a goal, and one that meets the SMART standard must be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely. Using this strategy makes goal-setting a quantitative and qualitative procedure.
- Write your goal concisely. Don’t drone on about the picture you have in your head of what you’d like to achieve and what clothes you’ll be wearing when you achieve it. That’s a different worksheet to do on your own time. One sentence should be good.
- Answer the basic “who,” “what,” “when,” “where,” and “why” questions when making your goal specific and tailored to your situation.
- Answer in three ways how you intend to reach your goal. Create three action steps that you will actually help to reach it.
- Add details, measurements, and ways to track your progress. Identify what will happen or what it will look like when the goal is met.
- Identify resources that are necessary to complete your task. Write down ways to find the time in your schedule, things you need to know more about, and people you can rely on for support.
- State why your goal is relevant to you, describing why it is that you want to accomplish this task.
- Set a date before which you will accomplish your goal, identify a halfway point, and any other milestones. (SMART, Goal-Setting Worksheet, n.d.)
You can download the PDF here.
2. Action for Goals Chart
For the more visually inclined, this chart is a better way of “drawing” your goals, or making the process appealing with visual connections. It may also be better for those who aren’t quite certain what their most important goal is, or for the young and young-at-heart who hate filling out goals worksheets that look like homework.
- Refer to the examples at the top of the worksheet of goals that can be divided into actions.
- In each of the boxes, state a goal that you feel is important.
- Identify the mini-goals and actions necessary to complete each goal.
- Use this worksheet to accompany other worksheets that require more thought on designated time limits and offer space for reflection about your level of motivation. (Action for Goals, n.d.)
You can find the PDF here.
3. Stage of Life In-Depth Packet
- Find a place to complete the activity where you can complete it without distractions, and if not doing it with a friend, find a place to be alone.
- Fill out the “Health & Wellness Goals” section by adding weight and fitness goals, food and drink consumption, desired changes to unhealthy habits, and any more that you’d like to add.
- In the second section, write goals of things you’ve never tried before but would like to.
- For financial goals, record your debt, your desired reduction in debt, spending, investment, savings, and additional financial goals you can think of.
- The next section is comprised of educational goals that have to do with reading, visiting the library, learning about something of interest, taking classes and training, or higher education goals. Fill this out to record your mind-expansion goals.
- For those who have the desire to fix up their home or are imagining an expensive purchase that they’d like to save for, the next section is where you will write these down.
- Vacations are the subject of the next section, and this includes short day-trips, weekend getaways, family vacations, international trips, and more.
- Section seven is where you write any goals you’d like to tackle with friends and family that could include plans to start up a business or club; or, would you like to teach your children some important life skill? This is the place to record those plans.
- Volunteering and charity is the subject of section eight. Record here any plans to donate money, time, or resources, or where you’d like to volunteer.
- Personal goals, like many of the examples listed in the “personal goals” section above find their home in section nine. This is where you write ideas for personal improvement like getting up an extra thirty minutes early in the morning, or strengthening your bowling skills to reach a landmark score.
- The final section is for long term goals. For the ideas that you’d love to make a reality, but you know they’re a long way off, write them here.
- Fill out the final page for easy referencing: the Goal Summary page. This page makes it easy to rip it off and place it somewhere like the bathroom mirror, the refrigerator, or above the desk, so it can be referenced regularly. (Goal Setting Worksheet, n.d.)
You can download the PDF here.
4. Bridging the Gap
Another exercise for the young and young-at-heart, the bridging the gap worksheet screams “color me” or “use your most colorful pens.” It visually represents the desired outcome of your goals, the need to take steps to get there, and any obstacles that could crop up along the way.
- To start, fill out the area designated “current reality.” Fill this space with things that are happening now that you’d like to change, for example, “I’m too tired at work to function well for eight hours.”
- Next, fill out your desired outcome with something like “I want to be so productive at work, that I earn a promotion in a year.”
- Then, fill in your resources. Use ones that are relevant to meeting your goal such as: “accountability office mate,” or “understanding supervisors who want me to improve.”
- The “steps” section is where you list what steps you’ll absolutely need to take to reach your desired outcome. Write what you think you’ll need to do to get there: “Go to bed at 10:30 every night, even on the weekends to create a habit of sleeping well.”
- Last, fill in the obstacles that you can foresee standing in between you and your desired future. This can be things like, “limited knowledge of programming” or “seasonal depression.” (Bridging the Gap, 2011).
You can read more about this worksheet here.
5. Procrastination Purge
This worksheet is a relevant reminder of our stubbornness. Sometimes we refuse to really dive into something because of fear of failure, or often we’d just rather not do it. Filling this out will help remind you that you are procrastinating, and it’s time to realize what it is that you’re doing to halt progress, stop doing that thing, and work productively.
- In the “What Am I Doing?” section, write the project that you’re currently working on.
- Next, write what you’re really doing. This could mean that instead of working on your project, you’ve bought the stock in scrapbook supplies and you’ve made ten family albums of baby pictures from sixteen years ago.
- After this step, you must write what you’re really doing (what’s really going on). If you did spend ten straight hours making baby books, then perhaps you’re suffering from your child leaving the house to go to college. If that’s the case, then refer to the next section.
- List out the steps for things you need to do to reach your goal that don’t pertain to distracting “other” projects. Be very specific, so you can recognize when you’re really working on the project that needs to get done.
- Check the box at the bottom when you’ve finished these steps and reached your goal. Enjoy that feeling of deep satisfaction as you mark off that you’ve finished, and perhaps hang the proof of your accomplishment in a nice, mahogany frame (Sanders, C., 2015).
You can find the PDF here.
Goal Motivation: Achieve Your Goals In Life
Brian Griffith and Catherine Graham wrote in their article “Meeting Needs and Making Meaning: The Pursuit of Goals” that goals reflect values, reinforce our ideas of what our ideal self might be, help us compensate for feelings of inferiority, shield us from pain, give meaning to the present, and give hope for the future (2004).
Yes, it may be easier to live day-to-day, fall into easy routine, wash away your dreams and ambitions under the film of a nostalgic, long-lost you, but that is not what an exciting, ambitious life looks like. Goals present challenges, it’s true, but challenges are good. Without challenge, the highs of life seem commonplace, and they go unappreciated. Challenges are necessary for appreciating the best, peaceful moments of life. They prepare us for a rocky future, for hardships and turmoil, but also for success.
The most rewarding feelings in life don’t feel like rewards if there was no struggle to get there. Putting the key in the lock on one’s first home won’t feel as euphoric to one whose inheritance provided the necessary funds to purchase it as to the one whose countless hours of overtime and diligent saving secured it for his or her family.
10 Motivational Quotes About Future Goals
No matter how many ways it’s stated in this article that setting goals will greatly increase your chances for success, sometimes it’s best to leave the convincing in the hands of those who have tasted success and failure, who inspire us more than academic arguments. Refer to these quotes from the masters of innovation, creativity, and perseverance for a real dose of motivation.
1. “The starting point of all achievement is desire” (Hill, N., 1938 qtd. in Daskal, L., 2014).
Napoleon Hill wrote of Edwin Barnes who became the partner of Thomas Edison, and he also had this to say about Barnes achieving that goal:
“Barnes succeeded because he chose a definite goal, placed all his energy, all his will power, all his effort, everything back of that goal. . .He was content to start in the most menial work, as long as it provided an opportunity to take even one step toward his cherished goal” (Hill, N., 1938).
2. “The reason most people never reach their goals is that they don’t define them, or ever seriously consider them as believable or achievable. Winners can tell you where they are going, what they plan to do along the way, and who will be sharing their adventure with them” (Watiley, D. qtd. in Daskal, L., 2014).
3. “You measure the size of your accomplishment by the obstacles you had to overcome to reach your goals,” (Washington, B.T., 1901, qtd. in Daskal, L., 2014).
Washington knew what it was to struggle, to strive, and to make goals. In his autobiography, Up From Slavery, he also had this to say about hardship and success:
“Every persecuted individual and race should get much consolation out of the great human law, which is universal and eternal, that merit, no matter under what skin found, is, in the long run, recognized and rewarded,” (Washington, B.T. 1901, qtd. in Up From Slavery Quotes, n.d.).
4. “I think goals should never be easy, they should force you to work, even if they are uncomfortable at the time,” (Michael Phelps qtd. in Sweatt, L., 2016).
5. The Thing about goals is that living without them is a lot more fun, in the short run. It seems to me, though, that the people who get things done, who lead, who grow and who make an impact…those people have goals” (Godin, S. qtd. in Sweatt, L., 2016).
Seth Godin is a prolific blogger and published writer, and he often sends short, punchy messages to his followers about running successful businesses. On his blog post “Getting Clear About Risk,” he mentions something vital about worry that pertains to any and all people who want to change their future for the better:
“Worry is useful when it changes our behavior in productive ways. The rest of the time, it’s a negative form of distraction, an entertainment designed to keep us from doing our work and living our lives” (Godin, S., 2017).
6. “Many people fail in life, not for lack of ability, or brains, or even courage, but simply because they have never organized their energies around a goal” (Hubbard, E. qtd. in Fabrega, M., n.d.).
Hubbard was a writer and philosopher, and in his book Health and Wealth, he writes this about uncertainty and change:
“…I KNOW: That I am here / In a world where nothing is permanent but change, / And that in degree I, myself, can change the form of things / And influence a few people” (Hubbard, E., 1908).
7. “Begin with the end in mind,” (Covey, S. qtd. in Fabrega, M., n.d.).
Stephen Covey is the author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and on his blog, he writes about this habit of beginning with the end in mind. He says:
“…[D]evelop a Personal Mission Statement…It is your plan for success. It reaffirms who you are, puts your goals in focus, and moves your ideas into the real world. Your mission statement makes you the leader of your own life. You create your own destiny and secure the future you envision” (Habit 2: Begin With The End In Mind, n.d.).
8. “People are not lazy. They simply have impotent goals – that is, goals that do not inspire them” (Robins, T. qtd in Goals Quotes, n.d.).
9. “Getting organized in the normal routines of life and finishing projects you’ve started is an important first step toward realizing larger goals. If you can’t get a handle on the small things, how will you ever get it together to focus on the big things?” (Meyer, J. qtd. in Goals Quotes, n.d.).
10. “When we are motivated by goals that have deep meaning, by dreams that need completion, by pure love that needs expressing, then we truly live,” (Anderson, G. qtd. in Goals Quotes, n.d.).
Greg Anderson is the author of The 22 Non-Negotiable Laws of Wellness, and in his book, he also speaks to the issue of “tunnel vision” mentioned above in the article. To avoid heading for the goal without regard for the learning process that helps to grow you and your skills, refer to this quote:
“Joy is not found in finishing an activity but in doing it” (Anderson, G., 1996).
A Take Home Message
It’s not easy to set goals and keep to them, to make sacrifices and overcome obstacles, but who really wants an easy life, anyway? It’s not easy traveling thousands of miles to visit the Louvre, nor is it easy to obtain your pilot’s license. It’s not easy to get poetry published or get your family through counseling, but all those things are so beautifully worth the effort.
You are as capable as anyone of realizing your dreams. All you have to do is figure out what you really want, write the game plan, and go.
About the Author
Taylor Leasure is a graduate of Harding University with degrees in English and Psychology. She is a published poet, short fiction writer, blogger, and novelist. She loves to make things with her hands and use her degrees to better understand people and great works of literature.
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- Locke, E.A., Latham, G.P. New Directions in Goal-Setting Theory. (2006). Association of Psychological Science, 13:15, pp. 265-268.
- Lolly, D. (2017) 100 Motivational Quotes That Will Inspire You to Be Successful. Huffington Post. Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/lolly-daskal-/100-motivational-quotes-t_b_4505356.html
- Sanders, C. Procrastination Purge. (2015). Think & Grow Chick. Retrieved from https://thinkandgrowchick.com/beat-procrastination/
- SMART Goal-Setting Worksheet. (n.d.) Spark People. Retrieved from https://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/SMARTgoalsWS-NN.pdf
- Sweatt, L. (2016). 18 Motivational Quotes About Successful Goal Setting. Success.
- Washington, B.T. (1901) Up From Slavery: An Autobiography quoted in Up From Slavery Quotes. Good Reads. Retrieved from https://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/358903-up-from-slavery