Goal Setting 101

We all have hopes and dreams, but only a few of us actually define those dreams and set concrete goals to achieve them. Many people shy away from goal setting either because they’re afraid of failure, think setting goals is silly, or just don’t want to invest in the time required. It’s possible to achieve success without ever setting goals, especially when everything goes right. However, when there are bumps in the road, effective goal setting can be the difference between quitting and persevering.


Why is it important to set goals? Well, in the words of Harvey MacKay, “A dream is just a dream. A goal is a dream with a plan and a deadline.” Think about your own ambitions. Do you explicitly state your goals and plot a step-by-step course to achieve them? If the answer is no, you’re not alone. It’s estimated that only 20% of people set tangible goals, and of that small percentage, only 3% actually write them down.

We know that writing down our goals exponentially increases our chances of actually achieving them. Therefore, I invite you to dive in and follow these steps to begin crafting the life you want.

Step 1 – Write a vision statement

This is, in my opinion, the most fun part of goal setting. Why? Because you get to dream up your ideal life! Write 4-5 sentences describing your perfect life. Where do you live? What does your house look like? Are you married? Single? Do you have children? What does healthy or successful look like to you? What’s your occupation? What do you do for fun? Do you travel? If so, where do you go? In this exercise, you are essentially identifying what makes you happy and putting it down on paper. Think big! Your vision statement should be broad and encompass every aspect of your life.

Step 2 – Set outcome goals

Once you have a clear vision for your life, set one outcome goal in each of these three areas: 1) health, 2) career, and 3) personal development. Make them SMART goals, which is an acronym for:

Specific (Is the goal clear, well-defined, not too broad?)

Measurable (How will you know when you’ve achieved this goal? What does success look like?)

Adjustable (Be flexible with your deadline)

Realistic (Goals should be challenging, but achievable)

Timely (Set a realistic time deadline, but be willing to adjust it within reason)

Here are 3 examples of SMART outcome goals:

  • Health – I will run a half marathon by February 2016.
  • Career – I will be promoted to Director within my company by November 2015.
  • Personal – I will go on a 2-week African safari in April 2016.

These three goals are specific, measurable, adjustable (you can change the date if you need to!), realistic, and time-based. They are also “I will” statements, which is much more direct and powerful than “I want”.

Step 3 – Work the process

Once your outcome goals are defined and written down, shift your focus from the end game to the process. What are the short-term goals you need to achieve en route to your long-term, outcome goals? If your health goal is to run a half marathon by February 2016, then a few short-term goals may be:

  1. Sign up for a half marathon by August 20, 2015.
  2. Buy new running shoes by September 1, 2015.
  3. Start day 1 of training by running/walking 2 miles on September 3, 2015.

The smaller the intermediate goals, the more likely you are to achieve them and stay on track.

So . . . you’re now armed with the tools you need to set powerful and achievable goals. But goal setting is only effective if it actually changes your behavior. While writing down SMART goals as “I will” statements is critical, action must follow. So get to it!


Daya Alexander Grant, Ph.D., M.S., is a neuroscientist, sport psychology consultant, and certified yoga instructor.  She helps athletes and weekend warriors work the mental game to achieve peak performance.  She also works with the LoveYourBrain Foundation to make yoga accessible for people with traumatic brain injuries and to empower everyone to live a brain-healthy lifestyle.  

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