How to set goals to improve your life| Updated: |
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It is essential to set yourself goals. And it is even more important to set yourself good goals. Indeed, not each goal is the same. Having good goals will make it easier and more motivating to reach them.
And the beginning of the year is the best time to start setting goals! But this time, you will reach them!
Since I have started to work on my personal finances, I have set myself some goals every year. It helped me a lot to increase the shape of my personal finances.
As I said, a goal can be good, but it can also be bad. Some of the goals I set in the past were not good. I realized this, and I have been improving my goals.
There are many things you can learn to make better goals for yourself. If you do not set goals at all, then it is the perfect time to get started.
In this article, I go over what makes a good goal and how (and why) you should set goals for yourself.
Why set yourself goals?
There are many reasons to set goals for your life.
Setting goals is a good exercise to discover what you want for your life. It forces you to think about the direction you want your life to take. I think this is extremely valuable. Many people do not think much ahead for their life.
The second apparent reason is to make you improve the areas of your life that you want. Without goals, it is difficult to improve yourself, and it is easy to procrastinate.
Another reason is to focus your efforts. By setting proper goals, you will focus your efforts on improving your life. You will have a sense of direction.
Moreover, by setting goals, you will be able to achieve more. You will have to stretch yourself. And you will probably have to plan your progress to reach each goal.
If you set proper goals, you will also be able to track your progress. It will give you information as to where you are in your journey.
I have been setting goals for some of my projects for a long time. But I have never set any personal and financial goals before starting this blog. Now, I plan to do this every single year. I consider them a valuable tool. You can have a look at my goals to give you an idea. Keep in mind that this is only my second try. Some things are not great with my goals!
What kind of goals is there?
You can define many different kinds of goals for your life. Most things from this article would apply to each type of goal.
You could define Financial Goals. For instance, you could try to save 50% of your income each year. Or you could try to reach 100’000 CHF of net worth in six months. Depending on the way you choose, you could have goals to improve your income or reduce your expenses.
You could also define a goal regarding your career. For instance, you could try to get a promotion next year. Or you could try to get a 10% raise next month.
Personal goals are also good to have. For this, a goal about health or happiness is always a good idea. You could set yourself the goal of losing one kilogram per month for a year. Or you could decide to go to the gym three times a week for an entire month. And what about reading a book per month?
You could even set some goals for your side projects. For instance, in 2019, I had the objective of having 500 page views per day on my blog. Or, if you are in DIY, you could have a goal to build three wood projects by the end of the year. If you are into side hustles, you could have money goals for your side hustles.
Keep in mind that these are only examples. There are many examples, and the specific goal will depend on you. A goal is a personal thing. You should not compare your goals with others. If you are satisfied with your objectives and they work for you, this should be enough for you!
You probably have some very long-term goals. You may want to buy a house in the next five years. Or you may want to become financially independent in less than ten years. Or you could even want to become King of Norway!
These are your main long-term goals. You probably do not have many of them. And if you do, you may want to reconsider that. These the things you are aiming at, and they are essential to you.
Now, it is great to have some long-term goals! But you should not track them directly. The problem is that they are too far in the future. It means you can lose motivation if you look too far in the future.
It is better to list some shorter-term goals that will go in the direction of your long-term ones.
For instance, let’s say you want to reach Financial Independence in ten years. You may have the following goals (or some of them) for next year:
- Increase your income by 10%
- Reduce your spending by 5%
- Save 200’000 CHF
- Invest 3000 CHF per month
- Go to the gym twice a week (you want to retire healthy)
These are only examples. You may focus on only one of them or more of them. Be careful that the more goals you have, the more difficult it becomes to reach them.
I believe it is essential to have these long-term goals. These will drive your focus over the years. And your shorter-term ones will help to achieve your life objectives.
Now, I will focus on shorter-term goals. I think they need more work than long-term ones.
One cannot talk about setting goals without talking about SMART. SMART is a methodology to define good ones. According to this methodology, if a goal is good, it should have five different properties.
If you have read several articles on the subject of SMART goals, you will probably have seen that not everybody agree on each of the letters. And there are some variations in the meaning of each letter as well. So, this is only the version that I think is the most relevant.
SMART is not the ultimate answer to goals. There is a lot of value in this methodology. But just because a goal is following the SMART ideas does not mean it is perfect. And it does not mean you will be able to reach it.
Each goal should be clear and well-defined. It should be as specific as possible.
For each goal, you should know:
- Who is involved in the goal (ideally only you)?
- What exactly do you want to achieve?
- Why do you want to achieve this goal?
If you can answer these questions, your goal is probably specific.
For instance, you should not have a goal to write a book. You should have a goal to write a book on a specific subject. Similarly, a goal to get in shape is not specific. But a goal to go four times a week to the gym is much more specific.
This quality of a goal is vital. And many people do not bother too much about it. I think it is a bad mistake.
You should set measurable goals. Otherwise, how will you know if you are reaching them? For instance, wanting to become slimmer is not measurable. It will be very subjective to know if you are slimmer than when you started. On the other hand, the goal of losing ten pounds is very easily measurable.
Now, not every goal is easily measurable. Saving X amount of money or losing X amount of kilograms are examples of the best measurable goals. But if your goal is to get a promotion, it is not quantifiable. You can know when you reached it, of course. But you will not know how far ahead you are until you know if you got the promotion or not. It does not make it a bad goal. But you could probably do better.
Instead of setting yourself the goal of getting a promotion, you could set yourself a goal of reaching 90% performance during your quarterly performance reviews. It is easier to measure. It is a goal you can track, and you can work on improving. And it will help towards getting a promotion. Also, it only depends on you. It does not depend on the whim of your manager and company to give a promotion.
Having a measurable goal also lets you track it over time. I track the progress of each goal every month. You could even do it every week or every day. I think that monthly goal tracking is the minimum you should aim for.
Here are a few examples of measurable goals:
- Save 10’000 CHF
- Lose 10 pounds
- Build 5 DIY pieces of furniture
- Read 12 Books
- Visit three countries
Achievability is another crucial quality of a goal. Your goals should be achievable.
There is no point in setting a goal that is impossible to reach. For instance, if I set myself the goal to get one million dollars by the end of the year, I know I will not be able to do it. Or if I want to become the CEO of my company, this will not happen either. Having goals that are not achievable will make your journey worrisome.
Now, this does not mean you should set easy goals. They should still require a stretch. You need challenging goals. For instance, if you saved 5000 CHF last year, trying 4000 CHF for the next year is probably not a good goal. But trying to reach 8000 CHF the next year will be a stretch goal. It is achievable. You could increase your income or reduce your expenses. But it is more challenging than doing nothing and achieve the goal.
It is up to you to decide if a goal is achievable or not. It is something at which you will get better over time. The first time I set goals for myself, some were too easy, and some were not-achievable. I have gotten better at this.
Here are a few achievable goals:
- Save 50’000 CHF in a year
- Read one book per month for a year
- Visit one country next year
But these are not achievable for me:
- Save one million in a year
- Read four Books per month for a year
- Visit three countries
Your goals should be relevant to the direction you want your life to take.
Sometimes, a goal is not really meant for you. You need to make sure that each of them should be done by yourself. If another person should do it, drop it.
There is a time for each goal. Right now may not be relevant to some of them. You need to do your goals at the right time. Depending on the economic situation, it may not be the right time as well. For instance, a recession may not be the best time to change job!
You also need to consider your goals together. They need to be relevant together. If two of your them are going in the opposite direction, you will not reach them both.
For instance, let’s say you have two goals. The first is to start a family. And the second is to do work training in your free time or travel for your work. Then, you may have an issue reaching these two goals. They do not work well together.
It is essential that you time-bind your goals. You need to set a due date for each goal.
It goes hand in hand with several of the qualities we just saw. If you do not have a schedule for a goal, you will not know if it is achievable or not. And if you do not have a duration, it will be difficult to measure its progress.
For this, you need to set a final date for each goal. You could want to reach a goal by the end of the year. Or it could be by the end of the month. Or it could be by June 2019. But you need to set a timeframe for each goal.
Having time-bound goals is more important than you may think. Most people do not do that, and most people do not achieve their goals. If you want to achieve something by the end of the year, you will achieve it much faster than if you did not set a date for it. And generally, you will feel better about a goal if you can achieve it in advance. If it is not time-bound, you will not be able to reach it in advance. And you will have no pressure to achieve it in time either.
Here are some time-bound goals:
- Lose 5 kilos before Christmas
- Become financially-independent before you are 50 years old
- Get a million dollar by April 4th, 2021
Tips for setting better goals
If you follow the SMART methodology, you will already have a very good start. But there are a few things that are not covered by SMART.
Let’s take a look at a few tips you can use to set even better goals.
Write down your goals
It may seem too simple, but many people do not write down their goals. They have them in their minds.
But it can help tremendously to have them written down. Several studies have shown that merely writing down goals helps a lot towards achieving them.
Just write each goal down on a piece of paper. Or write them down in Excel or Google Sheets. Ideally, you need to keep them in your sight.
You need to be able to see your objectives often. You could put them on the wall. Or keep a tab in your browser with your goals open.
It will also help you track them. Write down your progress when you did something towards your goals. Some people even keep a journal of the progress they do. You do not have to go that far. But make sure you are writing your goals down!
Do not set goals too far in the future
One thing that too many people do is to set goals that too far in the future.
The problem with a goal like this is that you often lose motivation to reach them. If you do not see progress for a long time, you are likely to forget about a goal.
I would recommend never to have a goal that lasts more than a year. You can have a bigger-picture goal for ten years in the future. But you should not track this goal directly. You should track sub-goals that will help you reach this bigger goal.
Some people even say that yearly goals are too long. Quarterly goals make a lot of sense also. Some people set themselves monthly ones. For me, this is too much. But if it works for you, knock yourself out. The important thing is that you find a goal system that works for your situation.
Do not set too many goals
Depending on the horizon of your goals, you should set a reasonable number of goals.
If you set too many goals, you will not be focused. Your efforts need to be focused if you want to reach your goals.
Now, the actual number of goals you need will significantly vary based on you and their nature. Some people can tackle many more at once than others. And some goals sometimes work well together.
If you have two goals that require the same kind of effort, this will not matter. For instance, if you want to lose weight and go to the gym often. Going to the gym often will help you lose weight. And the more you lose weight, the better you will be at the gym.
The same thing stands for some money goals. If one goal is to save more each month and another one is to reach a certain amount of net worth, you can easily work on these two.
But some goals will not work so well together. For instance, if one of them is to improve your career by learning new skills, it will not work well with spending more time on your side hustles. That is not to say that you cannot have these goals. But the more the direction of your goals is different, the fewer you should have.
Avoid goals that depend on other people
You need to make sure that your goals depend mostly on you.
One of my mistakes was to have goals that depended on external factors. They were something I wanted to achieve. But the achievement did not depend on me. It does not make a good goal. First, you do not have to work a lot for this goal since it does not mainly depend on you. And second, you are likely not to reach this goal if you cannot influence this person.
Therefore, you should only focus on goals that will be achieved based on your efforts. Now, if they depend on a person you can work with, this is different. But, it is still not as good as a goal based on yourself. If they depend on your life partner, this is generally fine.
Track the progress of your goals
Once you have time-bound and measurable goals, you have no excuse not to track their progress!
I am using Google Sheets to track my own goals. I am checking the overall progress as well as the current progress. If you have six months to achieve a goal, you should accomplish a sixth of it every month. Seeing this month after month can help you see if you are on track to meet your objectives.
You can track your goals on paper if you prefer. Or you can use Excel on your computer. And there are probably many applications to track them. But I prefer to keep it simple, and I think Google Sheets is perfect for that.
Once you track them, you can take action if you not on the right track. If you see that a goal is lagging, you can shift more focus towards reaching this goal. And you can devise a plan to make sure you will achieve all your objectives. It will help you focus further.
I check each goal in detail every month. At this point, I can decide if something needs to be done to improve reaching this goal. And every quarter, I do a complete review of my goals and try to plan my actions for the quarter.
This system suits me, but it may not suit you. You need to find the system that suits you the most. Try a few systems, and once you find a good one for you, stick with it.
If you read until here, you should have all the tools you need to start setting goals for your life.
The most important thing is to get started. Maybe in the first year, your goals will not be perfect. But you will be able to improve over time. The first time I set goals for my life, they were far from perfect.
I hope I convinced you that goals are essential. If you do not set goals for your life, I encourage you to try it. If you are already setting goals, then I hope these tips will help you improve them.
If you want to learn even more about goals, you can read this great guide.
Are you setting goals for yourself? Do you have tips on setting goals?
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11 thoughts on “How to set goals to improve your life”
Thanks for this great article! The SMART method seems like a great one to formulate actionable goals. I took your article as inspiration to write down my own smart financial goals for the first quarter of 2021. If you are interested, feel free to check them out on: https://expatfinance.ch/posts/financial-goals-2021-q1/
Hi Expat Finance,
Congratulations on setting goals for yourself. This is really important.
I like your analytical way of setting your net worth goal. However, I would add an extra few % on top of your estimation. It is always good to not know exactly how to reach your goals. That will force you into working harder for them :)
Good luck in your journey to Financial Independence.
Thanks a lot for having a look!
So you’re saying don’t play it too safe with your goals but rather make them such that you need to stretch a bit? I kind of like that approach :)
Yes, a little bit of stretch is good :)
It’s like someone with a salary of 10’000 CHF per month having a goal of 120’000 CHF per year income (dumb example indeed), it’s projected income, not really an income goal. Making it 125’000 CHF income goal would be more interesting :)
Nice post. I have one goal this year well maybe two. My first goal is to get back to my college weight. My second goal will to be ti buy a new residence and downsize, but a lot of things have to fall into place first.
I set 3 goals per year and that’s pretty much all I can realistically handle. They are broad goals but require a lot of execution and sometimes even daily/weekly/monthly actions.
I also agree that setting long-term goals to be less effective. The 10-year horizon sounds more like a journey so it’s best to set a vision instead of a goal!
Hi Mama Bear,
If you set three important and completely independent goals, this is already a lot. Personally, I like having a bit more goals, but several of them work towards a broader meta goal.
That’s a good point, a very long-term goal could be called a vision :)
Thanks for stopping by!
Thank you for the good inspiration! By the end of last year, I already thought of defining some goals for myself and for my wife (together) so that we can improve our financial situation. It all came after reading your blog, so thank you for that!
I followed a bit of your structure as well but expanded to all the areas that we want to improve in our lives during 2020. It includes finances, health (eating better, making more sports, meditating more), relationships (be more active with friends & network), career, and travel.
I am afraid we have too many goals now, but, at the same time, I have the feeling that one year is a lot of time and it would be great to make some progress on all the aspects mentioned above.
To ensure that we don’t forget the points that we agreed that we want to improve on, we will have a simple follow-up every week, just going through the main points to see how we are doing. Every month I will combine the review of all those goals with the financial review.
Ah, regarding tips to setting goals, I really like that you suggested the SMART approach – that’s really helpful.
Another methodology that I like a lot is to use OKRs – Objectives & Key Results. It’s used a lot in tech companies and helps you to keep the focus on the right things. As I’ve been using it for work, I thought it could be nice to use it for personal goals as well.
I am glad you liked this part. There are several methodology for good goals and ever for SMART people do not agree :)
I do not really know OKR but it sounds really interesting. I feel it would work well for personal goals as well.
Thanks for sharing this!
You are welcome! Congratulations on starting to set goals.
It’s good to expand on your goals. I have a few more myself that I do not cover on this blog because they are not relevant. Just make sure you do not have too many of them. Otherwise, it will be difficult to make progress on all of them.
That’s a good point that one year is a long time. Each month, you can work on a few of the goals. You do not have to do something for each of them each month.
It’s really great if you can check them up every week and month. This will definitely help you!
Thanks for stopping by!