You’ve probably been told you should set goals in life—from financial and career to personal. But why is it important to set realistic goals and what do you get from it?
In this article, we take a closer look at the importance of setting goals and how you can benefit from having realistic ones. We also offer some tips for keeping yourself accountable as you work toward achieving your dreams.
It’s important to set goals to improve personally and professionally
The importance of goal setting lies in psychology. Working toward an objective provides your brain with focus and direction. This, in turn, gives your life more purpose and structure.
In addition, setting goals helps you improve both your personal and professional life. Think of it like a beacon: It helps guide you toward the best version of yourself. For example, improving your self-motivation through goal setting could make it easier to focus at work and help you land that promotion you’ve had your eye on.
3 benefits of goal setting
Setting and achieving your aspirations has many benefits for your mental health and well-being, including:
- Increased productivity: Goal setting helps you be more productive in all areas of your life. Goals give you a distinct path to follow, which is broken up into smaller steps. With a clear path to your objective, you won’t waste time trying to figure out your next move.
- Improved decision-making skills: As you work toward an objective, you’ll be forced to make decisions that can potentially take you closer to or further from it. The more goals you set—especially long-term ones—the easier it gets to make effective decisions.
- Clarity and direction: When you have goals, you know what you want and how to get there. You can use this improved sense of clarity to determine what you want out of life, including your career, relationships and personal accomplishments.
But remember: It’s important to set realistic goals
Sometimes setting realistic goals gets overlooked, but it’s just as important as setting any at all. A realistic goal is achievable, while an unrealistic one is not.
Why does this matter?
Simply put, achieving one goal is the easiest way to motivate yourself to achieve another. If you set unrealistic goals that you’ll never reach, you’re more likely to give up on all of them.
Using SMART goals
The process looks a little different for everyone, but many goal-setting books and experts stress the importance of setting SMART goals:
- Specific: Vague ideas create unclear paths to reaching them. Instead, aim for plans that have a clear and specific outcome.
- Measurable: Create a way to quantify or measure progress so you know how close you are to achieving your dreams.
- Attainable: They should be challenging to reach, but not impossible.
- Relevant: Set goals that are relevant to your life or align with the overall idea of who you want to be.
- Time-bound: Use deadlines to motivate you to reach your objectives, but make sure they’re realistic.
5 tips to stay accountable
Staying on track to reach the goals you’ve set for yourself is important, but it can be a challenge. Use these five tips to help you stay motivated.
1. Use micro-goals to work toward the important ones you’ve set
So, you’ve got a lofty, long-term goal and you’re excited to work toward it. But what happens in a month? A year?
You might start feeling less motivated because you’re not noticeably closer to your objective. Using micro-goals can help you stay motivated for long-term ones. These are the specific steps you need to take to reach a bigger, long-term objectives.
For example, you want to save $60,000 for a down payment on a house, which might take years. A more realistic, micro-goal to set is saving $5,000 per year toward your larger down payment. Now you have a specific, smaller steps to tackle while still working toward your larger one.
2. Define steps to reach your goals
Consider your goals as the destination of a long road trip. While you know where you want to end up, you have to plan the route to get there.
After setting a goal, be sure to list out the steps you can take to reach it. These steps should be as specific and actionable as possible. Non-actionable steps can lead to burnout or confusion about what to do next.
You can even use goal-setting apps or worksheets to help you plan out action steps. Writing down the steps is a great way to map out the route, and each step can be used as a micro-goal.
3. Reward the little wins
It might take a while to achieve your dreams. You’ll likely have setbacks or delays—and that’s OK. Rather than focusing on the setbacks, reward yourself for the wins.
Rewarding micro-goals or milestones encourages you to stay motivated, which is important when pushing toward the final goal you’ve set. Your reward doesn’t have to be big either. Rather than throwing a big party or spending money on a physical reward, look for something meaningful to you to celebrate the occasion.
4. Review your progress
The best part of using SMART goals is knowing you have a way to measure your progress toward achieving them. Review your progress periodically through the goal’s timeframe to see how far you’ve come and where you need to go.
Your review shouldn’t only be a practical check-in on your goals. You should also use it as an opportunity for introspection on your dreams. Ask yourself these questions when reviewing your progress:
- What setbacks have I had? Could they have been avoided?
- What wins have I had? What did I do to make them happen?
- How do I feel about it? Is it still something I want?
- What could I improve on to better reach my goals?
5. Adjust them as needed
Most goals shouldn’t be a strict, rigid plan. Don’t be afraid to make adjustments or changes as needed.
You might not meet your objective in the timeframe you hoped or you might realize it’s unrealistic for your current situation. Rather than giving up completely—which will lead to feeling down and defeated—reflect on your goals and adjust them to fit your current needs.