How to Optimize Your Goal Setting in 6 Easy Steps

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Verified by Mindmonia

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Goal setting organizer

For many people, the beginning of another year marks the starting point of new ventures. People suddenly seek new opportunities, chances, and new motivation. This time of the year appears to be the golden time for goal setting and dreaming big. Some even set their Life Goals during this period.

In fact, most people’s resolutions cover topics such as getting out of debt, exercise more or eat healthier. The bad news is: just a tiny amount of 8% of people actually achieve their resolutions.

In this guest post by Chrissi Wagner, you will learn how to do and optimize goal setting, instead of setting resolutions that are doomed to fail. The following strategies can be used to set yourself legit goals at any time of the year that last longer than the first week of January. 

Goal Setting Instead of Resolutions

“Next week, I will finally…”

“In the new year, I will begin…”

“At the end of the summer, I will stop…”

These are some typical excuses to break or postpone your resolutions. Maybe you even riot against resolutions and this may sound familiar to you: “Everybody wants to improve their diet in January? I will not give in to this!”

The truth is that you will eventually lose faith in yourself and end up with this mindset: “I don’t stick to my resolutions anyway, so it’s not worth setting resolutions or goals.” Some are secretly not even planning to commit to their resolutions anyway.

Starting to pursue your dreams with such an attitude is doomed to failure. After all, good intentions are basically nothing more than vague “nice to have” ideas.

This makes it a particularly easy target for procrastination, as well.

Instead, you should turn your resolutions into real goals, by mastering the art of goal setting. Let’s get started!

6 Steps to Successful Goal Setting

Real goals help you become a better version of yourself and improve your quality of life permanently.

For this purpose, you will learn six systematic steps, that will not only help you figure out the most important goals for yourself but also keep help you achieving goals.

This system will especially help you with medium-term goals. Medium-term goals are goals for a few months, up to one to six years.

Step 1: Do a Self-Reflection

Woman sitting in a cafe shop thinking

In order to devote yourself to your dreams, wishes, and goals, you should first create space in your mind and calendar. 

This is a good opportunity to assess your current situation and review the past months. It also gives you the opportunity to get to know yourself better.

The aim of this exercise is to look back on your past experiences with the help of specific questions and to answer everything frankly and free of judgments.

All you need is a piece of paper or a notebook and a pen or – if you prefer to work digitally – your note app.

Now ask yourself the following questions:

  • What did I learn recently?
  • What am I particularly proud of at the moment?
  • What things made me happy lately?
  • What didn’t work out as expected?
  • What did I recently do for the first time?
  • What did I do to leave my comfort zone?
  • What were my last insights into myself?

If your main focus is on setting goals for your career, the following questions can help you in your review: 

  • Who are the colleagues I enjoy working with most?
  • What are the tasks that I enjoy most?
  • What are the tasks that I do not enjoy?
  • What feedback did I receive from others at work?
  • What do I find satisfying about my working environment?
  • What are the feelings I have about work / a particular customer / colleague / supervisor?
  • What are or would be optimal workdays?

Some memories may be almost forgotten, while others come flooding back. In the end, you will gain clarity about what you want to move forward with and what you would rather let go of. These insights will be very helpful for your further goal setting.

Self-Reflection is also important when it comes to time management. Improving this skill is therefore worthwhile.

Step 2: Prime Yourself With Your Word of the Year

Word game

If you don’t know where you’re going, even the best compass won’t help you. 

In the context of goal setting, you should start using the “word of the year”. It’s like a motto that gives you a direction, drives you, supports you and keeps you grounded.

Accordingly, the word of the year not only helps you setting your goals but also achieving them.

It’s best to decide on your word (can also be a sentence) after the first step of self-reflection. At this point, you will have a better idea of where you want to go.

A word of the year can be anything that motivates you, fits your values or describes how and where you’d like to be.

Here are a few examples:

  • Balance
  • Freedom
  • Courage
  • Self-love
  • Listen to your heart
  • Openness
  • Mindfulness
  • Curiosity
  • Magic
  • Change
  • Authenticity
  • Zeitgeist
  • Movement
  • Being present
  • Visibility

Keep a record of this word somewhere. For example in your calendar, as wall decor in a picture frame or as a smartphone background. Check out this article in case you want to read more about priming.

Step 3: Create a Vision Board

Dices stating the word vision

First, you should be aware of where you roughly see yourself in the future and what inspires you. Even without definite goals, everyone has wishes and ideas about their ideal life. The vision doesn’t have to be specific or realistic at this point.

A Vision Board is a great way to visualize this. With the Vision Board, you represent your ideas figuratively and you visualize them. It shows where you want to be in the future, but it’s not set in stone.

For example, if you wish a motivational work environment, you may not yet know all the details of what it should exactly look like. You do know that you want to change something.

You could stick a photo of your dream workplace on the Vision Board. Whether your new office really looks like this or completely different is not relevant. It’s about visually expressing the wish: “I want a working environment that motivates me”. 

Your wishes will more likely turn into reality if you can see and feel them.

Start your Vision Board with your current situation and go from there. Ask yourself: Where am I right now in life? Then proceed with: Where do I want to be in one year (or in two, three, four, five years? 

Use the following questions to dig deeper:

  • How would you like to be? For example, a person who likes to do sports (wish) instead of an unhappy couch potato (status quo)
  • What would you like to do? For example speaking Mandarin to travel through China on your own (wish), instead of always having to rely on others for communication (status quo)
  • In what environment would you like to be? For example surrounded by open-minded, inspiring people (wish) and no longer surrounded by naysayers (status quo)
  • Where would you like to live? For example at the coast of southern France (wish) instead of a big city (status quo)

Next, take a large sheet of paper and stick photos, quotes and other inspirations on it. Print out pictures of Pinterest or your favorite websites, write your word of the year on it and whatever might help you. 

It’s not about making a perfect board, it’s about bringing your thoughts onto the board. 

You can also do this exercise digitally, with a Pinterest board, for example.

For your personal success, it’s really important that you print your Vision Board out and place it somewhere, where you can see it every single day

Not everyone is a visual type and remembers things best through their eyes, but with a Vision Board, you regularly visualize your goals, plans, and dreams and keep remembering why you’re doing what you’re doing. 

Whenever you’re in a phase of demotivation, this works as a great motivator. Even if you are not yet where you want to be, the Vision Board will inspire you to dream and awaken your imagination

After this exercise, you will have explored first ideas for your future dream life, which you can turn into specific objectives in the next steps.

Here you will find detailed instructions on how to design a Vision Board.

Step 4: Specify Your Goals

Man watching on wall full with notes

With the previous step, you gained further clarity and have more specific ideas of your goals. Now, it’s all about formulating your medium-term goals using these ideas.

Since specific goal setting is difficult, proceed step by step to transform your wishes and ideas into realistic goals. 

Let’s say your word of the year is “Mindfulness” and you want to bring your mind into harmony. Your Vision Board is full of pictures of meditating people and yoga postures and you already read a lot about this topic. Now you decide that you would like to start meditating.

First, be aware of what you want to achieve. How can you tell when you have reached your goal of meditation?

When you meditate daily? When you do it for 30 days? Or did you reach your goal when you meditate for an hour at a time?

As long as you’re not clear on what you want to achieve, your goal will always become a “nice to have”-resolution that you forget or ignore after some time. Of course, it may be that you just want to learn how to meditate in order to learn something new. Even in this case, you should be able to measure your goal.

A sprinter would run forever if he wouldn’t know that his goal was the 100 meters line.

Change and success can only be measured if you have a target.

This is where your goal comes into play. You differentiate between:

  • Annual goals: They make sense for big, time-consuming tasks
  • Quarterly goals: Ideal for measuring goals over a longer period of time
  • Monthly goals: Mostly sub-goals for bigger goals

Depending on what you want to aim for, you can set larger ones and divide them into smaller steps.

In this example, the sub-goal for your annual goal is to “Integrate meditation into my daily life on a regular basis”.

Make a specific plan of what you need to do to reach this goal.

Divided into small steps, it could look like this:

  • Download a meditation app
  • Meditate for 5 minutes every morning immediately after getting up using the app
  • Increase to 10 minutes after 30 days

This method may sound simple, but it will help you to reach your goal more likely.

If you use a calendar, add these mini-goals to your calendar. Since you look at your calendar on a daily basis, you will not lose sight of them.

Step 5: Define Your Goals With the SMART Method

Growing money

The SMART method goes one step further and gives you an essential formula for successfully setting goals.

“SMART” is the abbreviation for:

S = Specific – What exactly do I want to achieve?

M = Measurable – How do I know when I reach my goal?

A = Achievable – How do I make my goal achievable?

R = Realistic – Is my goal realistic?

T = Time framed – After how long do I want to reach my goal? 

Your goals have to be specific, measurable, achievable and realistic, as well as have a time frame. 

Using this method, you will learn to analyze your goals more precisely, to phrase them and to internalize them at the same time. Therefore, you can’t omit the SMART method for setting goals.

A common goal, which is not formulated with the SMART method, is: “I want to do sport regularly.”

For this reason, you first divide the goal according to the individual characteristics:

S = The specific goal: I go running.

M = The measurable goal: I go running three times a week.

A = The achievable goal: I go running for 30 minutes each time.

R = The realistic goal: I walk for one minute every five minutes.

T = The time frame: I will do this by the end of the quarter.

Altogether this results in “Until the end of the quarter (time frame) I go running (specifically) three times a week (measurable) for 30 minutes each (achievable). Every five minutes I take a one-minute walking break (realistic).

It doesn’t matter in which order you formulate your goal.

It may be that the SMART method appears challenging at first, but after some practice, you will have no problem defining SMART goals quickly.

Step 6: Write Down Your Goals

Person taking notes

You already wrote down the answers to the questions in the first step and created a vision board to make your goals visible. Even more important is to write down the finalized and defined goals.

By writing them down you will memorize your goals much better.

In addition, there is a remarkable Harvard study which discovered that the 3% of MBA graduates who wrote down their goals had a much higher income later than the remaining 97%.

Some advice: Write your goals in first person (I) and in the present.

  • Don’t: “It would be great to do more sports.” 
  • Do: I’m going to the gym twice a week for 45 minutes for the next three months.

By addressing yourself, you are suggesting to your subconscious that you already became this person who does sports regularly.

You make it apparent to yourself once again that you really want to achieve this goal.

Moreover, people tend to lie to themselves. The mere thought “I’m going to start exercising regularly.” can be postponed, changed or ignored far too easily.

Writing down your goals in the first person immediately gives your goals a different significance. It is a contract with yourself, so to speak.


In this article, you learned that good intentions and resolutions are in fact more likely to be seen as “nice to have” and, unlike goal setting, lack a true commitment.

For goal-setting, there are six crucial steps to improve the process and output: 

  1. Do a self-reflection
  2. Prime yourself with your word of the year
  3. Create a Vision Board
  4. Specify your goals
  5. Define your goals with the SMART method
  6. Write down your goals

These six steps will guide you from “nice to have” ideas to truly achievable goals.

Don’t get demotivated right away, if the goal-setting doesn’t work out at first. You might have to get used to the process and develop a feeling for what are realistic goals and what aren’t.

Moreover, by reading this article, you reached a higher level of mindfulness for this topic. This will help in the future to identify what is important for successfully setting medium-term goals.

You can learn more about our guest author Chrissi Wagner on her website. Have a look in the author box below this article.

Did you like this article? Learn more about various topics around Mindfulness and subscribe to our free newsletter here.

Picture of guest author

Guest post by Chrissi Wagner

Former procrastination expert, Content Creator

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