Write a Goal

“What am I doing with my life? What do I want? Where am I going?" These are common questions people ask themselves. Usually, such visionary thinking starts the process of making and writing goals. While some people stop at vague or general responses to these kind of questions, others use a similar line of questioning to create definable, actionable goals. Taking the time to write clearly defined goals can make you more likely to achieve them. And achieving goals is correlated with happiness and wellbeing.[1]


Defining Your Goals

  1. Define what you want. If you have a general idea of what you want or would like to achieve, it can be tempting to simply start working towards it. But, if you don't have clearly defined goals, you might find yourself working or drifting towards a vague goal or a goal that has changed. Defining a goal can prevent wasted time or energy. It may actually motivate you to accomplish goals.
    • For example, an employee may not feel like starting a vague assignment that has no clear structure or guidelines. But, employees are more motivated to work when they're given clear goals and feedback.[2]
    • Examples of vague or general goals include: "I want to be happy," "I want to be successful," and "I want to be a good person."
  2. Be specific when defining terms. This is vital to understanding what you really are trying to achieve. Define any general or vague terms.[3] For example, if you stated that you want to be successful, you must define what success means to you. While it may mean making lots of money to some people, others may consider it to mean raising healthy, confident children.
    • Defining general terms and goals will help you start to see yourself as the person or quality you're defining.[4] For instance, if you see success as meaning professional success, you may create goals to get professional training and launch a career.
  3. Think about whether you really want these things. It's normal to think you want something without really questioning why you want it. But, sometimes you may decide that those goals don't actually match the dreams and desires in your life. A good example of this stems from social perceptions and ideas. Many children might say they want to be doctors or firefighters when they grow up, not really understanding what it means or discovering later that those goals have changed.[5][6]
    • Ask yourself if your goals have been influenced by people around you, like the expectations of parents or significant others or by social pressure from peers or the media.
    • Your goals should be something you want to do for you, not someone else.
  4. Consider your motives. Are you trying to achieve or do something to prove someone wrong? While the "right" reasons are different for everyone, you need to ask yourself if your goals are right for you. If not, you might find yourself feeling unfulfilled or burnt out.[7]
    • For example, if you want to become a doctor, is it because you want to help people or because they make a lot of money? If your motive isn't right for you, you may have a harder time accomplishing the goal or feeling fulfilled by it.
  5. Set realistic goals. It's easy to become carried away when thinking about goals. But, there are some things that may be outside your control. Depending on what kinds of goals you set, this may become a problem. Your goals should be realistic and attainable.[8][9]
    • For example, someone might want to be the greatest basketball player ever, but factors like age and height may be limiting and beyond your control. Setting goals that aren't achievable in the first place can make you feel let down and unmotivated.

Writing Your Goals

  1. Imagine your possibilities. Spend 15 minutes informally jotting down your visions, goals, and dreams. Don't worry about writing clearly defined goals or putting things in order. Just make sure these goals and dreams are consistent with your identity and values. If you're getting stuck, try free-writing exercises. You could describe: [10]
    • The ideal future
    • Qualities you admire in others
    • Things that you could be doing better
    • Things you want to learn more about
    • Habits you want to improve
  2. Break your goals into specific steps. Once you've found future dreams and ideals, choose a few specific goals to help you reach them. Try to be specific when describing these goals. If your goal is large or long term, break it up into smaller goals or steps. Think of these steps or goals as a strategy to achieving those future dreams and ideals.[11][12]
    • For example, "I want to become a good runner by my 50th birthday," is vague and may be a long-term goal (depending on your current age). A better goal would be, "I want to train for a half-marathon. I plan on running a half-marathon within 1 year and a full-marathon within the next 5 years."
  3. Rank your goals according to impact. Look at your goals and decide which ones are the most important or desirable. Think at each goal in terms of how achievable it is, how long it will take, and what impact working towards and achieving it would make in your life. You should also ask yourself why you value a certain goal over another. Make sure goals on your list aren't in conflict with each other.[13][14]
    • Ranking your goals by impact can motivate you to work towards them. It also helps you imagine achieving that goal and its potential benefits.
  4. Set benchmarks and deadlines. Track your progress by setting smaller benchmarks and deadlines for your goals and steps. Reaching these will give you a sense of accomplishment, increase your motivation, and give you feedback about what's working and what's not.
    • For example, if you're goal is to run a half-marathon in 1 year, give yourself a deadline of training for the next 6 months. Once you've met that goal, tell yourself to run practice half-marathons for the following six months. If you realize early on that you need more time, you can adjust the benchmark.
    • Try using a calendar as a visual cue for keeping you committed to your goals and the timeline you set for yourself. It is also extremely satisfying to cross out a completed goal or objective.
  5. Try the S.M.A.R.T. model for setting goals. Look at each of your goals and write down how the goal is specific (S), measurable (M), attainable (A), relevant or realistic (R), and time-bound, having deadlines (T).[15] For example, here's how you could take a vague goal, like "I want to be a healthier person,” and make it more specific using S.M.A.R.T:[16]
    • Specific: "I want to improve my health by losing some weight."
    • Measurable:"I want to improve my health by losing 20 pounds."
    • Attainable: While you may not be able to lose 100 pounds, 20 pounds is an achievable goal.
    • Relevant/realistic: You might remind yourself that losing 20 pounds will give you more energy and make you feel happier. Remember you're not doing this for anyone else.
    • Time-bound: “I want to improve my health by losing 20 pounds within the next year, with an average of 1.6 pounds a month.”


  • There is proven evidence that writing one's goals increases the likelihood of reaching said goals. A study of 149 participants by clinical psychologist Dr. Gail Matthews at Dominican University showed that those who wrote down their goals accomplished significantly more than those who did not write down their goals.

Related Articles


  1. McGregor, I., & Little, B. R., 1998
  2. Locke, E. A. (1968). Toward a Theory of Task Motivation and Incentives. Journal of Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 3, 157-189.
  3. Fischhoff, B., Slovic, P., & Lichtenstein, S. (1988). Knowing what you want: Measuring labile values. Decision Making: Descriptive, Normative and Prescriptive Interactions, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 398-421. (Chapter 18)
  4. Fischhoff, B., Slovic, P., & Lichtenstein, S. (1988). Knowing what you want: Measuring labile values. Decision Making: Descriptive, Normative and Prescriptive Interactions, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 398-421. (Chapter 18)
  5. Brunstein, J. C. (1993). Personal goals and subjective well-being: A longitudinal study. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 65, 1061–1070.
  6. Perrone, K. M., Civiletto, C. L., Webb, L. K., & Fitch, J. C. (2004). Perceived barriers to and supports of the attainment of career and family goals among academically talented individuals. International Journal of Stress Management, 11, 114–131.
  7. Schunk, D. H. (1990). Goal setting and self-efficacy during self-regulated learning. Educational Psychologist, 25, 71– 86.
  8. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/coaching-and-parenting-young-athletes/201311/keys-effective-goal-setting
  9. http://www.appliedsportpsych.org/resource-center/resources-for-athletes/principles-of-effective-goal-setting/
  10. Marisano, Hirsh, Perterson, Pihl, and Shore (2010) from Peterson and Mar, 2004.
  11. Austin, J. T., & Vancouver, J. B. (1996). Goal constructs in psychology: Structure, process, and content. Psychological Bulletin, 120, 338 –375.
  12. Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (2006). New directions in goal-setting theory. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 15, 265–268.
  13. Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review, 84, 191–215.
  14. Schunk, D. H. (1991). Self-efficacy and academic motivation. Educational Psychologist, 26, 207–231.
  15. http://www.hr.virginia.edu/uploads/documents/media/Writing_SMART_Goals.pdf
  16. Lawlor, B. & Hornyak, M. (2012). SMART Goals: How the Application of Smart Goals can Contribute to Achievement of Student Learning Outcomes. Journal of Development of Business Simulation and Experimental Learning, 39, 259-267.https://journals.tdl.org/absel/index.php/absel/article/viewFile/90/86

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