How to Set Specific Goals for Change: Three Simple Steps

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…

Photo by Caputre Queen

Recommended Resources

Looking for more ideas and inspiration? The following are some of our favorite resources:

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Best Books to Change Life – one book can change your life. This is our recommended reading list for personal change and growth. The selection is a mix of time-tested classics and more recent bestsellers. Click here to see our Recommended Reading list.

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10 thoughts on “How to Set Specific Goals for Change: Three Simple Steps”

  1. Your blog is such an inspiration. Keep up the great work! My co-author and are working on a post that will go up the first of the year that is all about creating and maintaining a life in balance. I hope you can check it out!

  2. This is excellent advice. The main reason New Year’s resolutions don’t work is because as humans we are way too vague. And also, because we SHOULD change but don’t really want to. I like the idea of really breaking down the goals and being more specific. I’ve found that works the best for me. Small daily steps or tasks eventually get the whole job done.

  3. Solid post, as always, Ali!

    I love the way you start talking about goals by tlaking about assessing where we’re at before setting any. Such an important step that’s so often neglected in posts (and even whole books!) about goal setting. But in the season of goals, yours provides an excellent way to focus and direct our goal setting to achieve what we want to achieve the most. I also like the way you get us to think about the goals we should set by fosusing on what will most impact us, what will most inspire us and what can be acheived the quickest.

    All such important considerations to improve the result of what so many will be doing tonight and tomorrow morning.

    Have a wonderful New Year, Ali and Peter!

  4. My goal is simply to “be me”
    small chunks – focus, how to use my time, mymentality, what I do everyday etc…
    I find once we have an overlying theme, it helps
    because when I have to make a decision, i ask myself “does this help me be me?”
    or “am i being me” when I find myself feeling negative emotions
    Thanks for the inspiration, timely for 2012

    Happy New Year Ali and Peter, all the best to your personal endeavours for 2012!

    Noch

  5. I couldn’t agree with your post more. I’ve been working with a trainer for a couple of months and have found that he consistently gets me to define my goals in a specific way. I’ve also taken onboard a 12 month project to introduce 52 small weekly changes in my life in order to be healthier, happier and more productive. The principle here is that we try to take too much on, fail and then give up, whereas small incremental changes introduced over time are more likely to stick. Fingers crossed!!

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