How to Set Specific Goals for Change: Three Simple Steps

setting specific goals
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When we think about change, we’re often tempted to shoot for huge goals – like “get fit” or “eat healthy” or “find a better job” or even “have a better life”.

These goals set you up for failure. They’re not specific – and so they’re hard to work towards, let alone achieve.

When you set goals for real change in your life, try following this simple three-step process:

Step #1: Figure Out Where You Currently Are

One of the problems with big, vague goals is that they don’t always take into account where you currently are. If your goal is to “get fit” and you currently get out of breath after a 5-minute walk, you’re going to have a very different plan from someone who wants to “get fit” and who already plays football twice a week.

To work out your current reality, you need to have some firm data or statistics. Here are some examples for three different goals:

Goal: Lose Weight

Data: Your starting weight (and body measurements too). A food diary showing what you currently eat and an exercise diary showing how active you currently are.

Goal: Save More Money

Data: How much money you already have (in your checking account and savings account, if appropriate). Your current spending – keep a log for at least a week or two. How much you currently save each month, if anything.

Goal: Be Happier

Data: A daily journal where you record your mood (perhaps with a number out of 10). A list of things which make you happy, together with an estimate of how often you currently do them – or the date when you last did each one.

Step #2: Pick One Goal to Work With

You might end up tracking data for several different potential goals. It’s important that you choose one thing to work on, at least initially. Chasing five different goals is just going to result in failing at all of them.

It’s up to you how you choose to prioritize your goals, but you might consider choosing:

  • The goal that will have the most impact on your life. Perhaps your analysis of your current reality demonstrated that there’s a particular area that’s holding you back.
  • The goal that you can achieve fastest. This works a bit like the “snowball” method for getting out of debt – by seeing quick gains, you’re motivated to keep going.
  • The goal that you’re most inspired by. You’re more likely to stick with something that you genuinely want rather than something that you’re trying to achieve just because you think you “should”.

At this point, get specific. Your goal isn’t “lose weigh” – it’s “lose 50lbs” or “get back into my old jeans”.

Step #3: Break Your Goal Down

Now that you’ve chosen one specific goal, you need to break it down into small chunks. This helps prevent overwhelm and that horrible feeling that your target is so far away, you might as well give up.

Make these small chunks specific and active. For instance, if your goal is “be happy and content with my life” then your chunks might be:

  • Keep a gratitude journal for at least five out of seven days a week
  • Declutter one small area of my home every Saturday
  • Have two hours just for myself every weekend
  • Talk to my boss about a change in roles at work

You don’t need to have every single step planned out. Just look for a handful of simple things that will take you in the right direction – you may well find that other ideas emerge once you start moving.

So, over to you! What goals do you have at the moment? How can you make them specific and break them down into simple steps or chunks? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments…


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