It’s easy to set big, challenging, long-term goals, and that’s why most of us set goals for ourselves - often! But how frequently do we actually achieve our goals? Not nearly as much as we should.
Most of us set goals when we go through periods of motivation and spurts of energy, but we often aren’t prepared for what is actually required to reach the goal.
Sometimes we lose the will to keep going when we come across difficult or unexpected obstacles.
Other times we may not have accounted for the inevitable loss of motivation after dealing with repetitive, redundant, or consistently challenging tasks over time, and don’t have a plan in place for how we’ll keep persevering even when our minds and bodies are fighting against us.
Or, we didn’t marry our goals with the reality of our social and family lives before we started, and gave up completely when our personal lives and our goals clashed too much.
Alternatively, sometimes we don’t create a detailed plan for what reaching that goal entails, and hit a standstill when we can’t accomplish a vague set of ideas of what the next step should be.
Despite how hard they can be to reach, setting goals, and accomplishing them, is incredibly important for our well-being. When we’ve been challenged, and we live up to that challenge, our sense of self-worth and value grows tremendously.
Often, the goals we set for ourselves by themselves help us to grow and improve. In every way, setting and achieving goals is exceedingly beneficial. Therefore, we must learn to develop a system whereby we can actually succeed in reaching our goals, so that we can grow in self-love and also improve our health, skills, talents, and so on.
The key to accomplishing big, long-term goals is to have a detailed and realistic strategy in place that will allow you to hit your goals. On top of this, it is critical to be disciplined and consistent, and not to stop when failure or mistakes are made. In other words, to reach your goals, you must have a clear strategy with the foresight to consider how long it will take, how it will work into your daily life, and how to push yourself when you just feel like giving up.
This guide will provide you with the backbone of what you need to be able to achieve your goals, including developing a concrete plan that fits into your reality, and recommending strategies for being diligent and staying on track.
If you’ve got a solid plan and you’re diligent about following it, eventually you will hit your goal. There is no other option but success! But you must, MUST, have a solid plan. Without that, even the most diligent among us will just spin their wheels and get nowhere. And you must, MUST, be consistent. Without consistency, even the world’s greatest and most strategic plan won’t by itself make you fluent in French.
Without further ado, here is the ultimate guide to setting long-term goals so that you can actually achieve them:
- Start by making a list of goals, short-term and long-term.
Make this list of goals as long as you want, with as many goals as you want. But after the list is made, narrow it down to the top one or two most important goals for you, and the ones which are also realistic.
For example, learning a language is a realistic goal. Playing basketball for the NBA, if you are 82 years old, is not. Be real with yourself and what you can achieve – don’t bring yourself down – but set goals that are achievable.
Next, focus on accomplishing these one or two goals at a time. Only try to accomplish more than two goals if each goal will take a small amount of time or energy every day over several years, and you can’t wait that long to accomplish the other goals on your list.
Be careful not to spread yourself too thin – most people can only devote a limited amount of mental energy to developing a new habit and overcoming challenges.
- Describe each goal in as much detail as possible.
From the narrowed-down list of one to two most important goals, spend some time thinking and physically writing down detailed descriptions of your goal. This can be done in a notepad or a journal, on your computer or a blog, or anywhere that you can look back easily and reference it.
Write your goals in detail. Don’t just write things like “I want to learn French.” Instead, write “I want to learn proficient French so that I can speak with my French mother-in-law conversationally. I want to be able to ask her how her day is, describe my problems and understand hers, and talk to her about how I feel about things or how the children are doing.”
Or, “I want to learn French fluently so that I can move to France with my husband and not have any problems getting around. I want to learn idioms, how to joke in French, and how to think in French instead of English.”
Be as detailed as you can possibly be, because this will help you to set up your timeline and the smaller steps that it will take to reach your goal.
The other advantage to writing down your goal in great detail is that you will stumble upon any kinks, whether that’s logistical or otherwise, and deal with them. The better you describe your goals, the more you’ll know if it’s something that you can realistically achieve.
- Describe your motivation for wanting to accomplish each goal.
Inevitably, the motivation for accomplishing long-term, difficult goals will fade over time and it may become hard to stay consistent. To pre-emptively deal with this, expand upon your detailed descriptions of your goals to include your motivations behind why you want to achieve them.
For example, elaborate upon “I want to lose 25 pounds and become a size 8” to include thoughts about improving your self-confidence and physical and emotional relationship with your husband, to be able to live a longer, healthier, life so that you can fully enjoy late years of life with your grandchildren, and so on.
This is the place where you want to write as much as possible – don’t be afraid to elaborate here. Add to the list every time you think of a new reason, until it’s so long that you can’t even imagine a reason NOT to achieve that goal!
Then, when your motivation wanes while you’re working hard to accomplish your goals, reference this list. Reference it as much as you need to, and place copies of that list anywhere and everywhere you need to have those reminders that will help to keep you on track.
- Make a comprehensive list of the smaller goals required to achieve the bigger goal.
Accomplishing big goals requires achieving many smaller goals in increments. At the onset, you may not even know exactly what small tasks are required to achieve the bigger goal. Therefore, take the time to research the exact strategy that you will use to accomplish the goals, and create milestones to be achieved on the way.
For example, if you want to learn French, research all of the different courses for learning a language and select the one that best fits your lifestyle and budget.
Following that, look up the syllabus or different sections and write down the name of each section that needs to be completed for you to become proficient, or fluent, in French. Once you have the milestones set, explain how each will be completed. For example, write “I will spend 30 minutes from 8:30-9:00 PM on Tuesdays and Thursdays after the kids are in bed until each milestone is achieved."
You can even make researching what you need to accomplish your goals as step one! If you want to grow a blog, you can make “watch ten YouTube videos on growing a blog” as your goal for this week.
Make sure that each goal is measurable and not vague, so that you can easily see when you’ve accomplished it and when it’s time to move on to the next goal.
- Set a realistic timeline for each of your smaller goals.
Now that you know what is required for each small goal or task, you have a better idea of how long each one will take.
Estimate a realistic timeline for completing each goal, and write this timeline down somewhere that you can go back and reference. When creating your timeline, be flexible, but not too flexible. Accommodate your social and work schedules, but don’t make so many exceptions to staying on track that you never hit that goal.
Once you’ve got a completed timeline created, write down your next immediate task somewhere that you’ll see every day. For example, write “eat 1450 calories per day Monday-Saturday this week” on your bathroom mirror with a Sharpie, and check off each day as you stick to your goal!
- Execute each task, systematically.
Now that you’ve put in the work to create a realistic, strategic, and self-defined timely plan for yourself, it’s time to execute each smaller goal until you hit the big one! This can be the hardest parts of hitting your goals – the oft-mundane, daily discipline required to be uncomfortable or challenged, until that big goal is met.
Some experts swear by the 21-day rule to build a habit, which states that after 21 days of forcing yourself to stick to a daily habit, it will start to become much easier to continue with that habit. This method works for me, but you may have to practice and try different methods until you find one that works for you.
No matter what, you’ll need to develop the discipline to attack each smaller task, and be patient with yourself when you miss the mark. Don’t stop when you miss a day, two days, or even a week of time towards achieving that goal. Keep going, be flexible, work around your home life, but keep going. Just don’t stop!
- Enlist support of friends and family.
Using your list of motivating reasons why you want to achieve your goals is a huge help for following through with them. However, even the strongest-willed among us will have times when they still can’t go it alone.
It is essential to lean on the support of your friends and family when you’re having trouble sticking it out.
In fact, right when you start trying to accomplish your goal, tell a select group of people that you love at the very beginning what your plans are and even consider showing them your list of your motivations for achieving that goal. Then they’ll also be able to remind you of why you wanted to accomplish something, and repeat it to you when you aren’t strong enough to convince yourself.
- Reward Yourself
Finally, make sure to reward yourself as much as possible. Did you lose a pound, or learn a new verb tense, or make all your shots from the free throw line this week? Buy yourself a new pair of athletic shorts, or treat yourself to a movie with your kids. It doesn’t matter!
Just make sure to consistently give yourself positive reinforcement (and don’t reward yourself when you haven’t reached your small goals!) to push yourself along.
Even better, pre-arrange for someone you love to give you the rewards as you reach each small goal. That way, you’re involving someone close to you and they can probably be better trusted than you to hang onto that reward until you really deserve it, and you’ll also both enjoy relishing in the satisfaction of your accomplishments.
If you can follow each of the steps on this list, you will have a MUCH better chance of reaching your goals than not. Just remember – be patient and kind to yourself. Big changes won’t happen overnight, but the future you will be so happy that the present you was willing to make those baby steps that led to huge changes in one month, six months, or a year from today. A year from today WILL come – will you have accomplished your goals, or will you be in the same place that you are today?