A puzzle with five pieces. The corners read "vision," "planning," "process," and "strategy." The center piece says "goal"

Choosing what goals to set

A lot of people feel lost in the world, aimless, adrift, and not getting anywhere worthwhile. One reason for this is that they haven’t thought about what they want to get out of their one wild and precious life. They haven’t considered setting goals for themselves. They’re on a journey with no destination, no way to actually get anywhere in life.

Where to start

To start setting goals, you have to first choose what goals you want to set. Where do you want to be this time next month? Next quarter? Next year? What does your life look like in five years? Ten? Twenty? 


I read somewhere once that setting goals gives you long-term vision and short-term motivation. It gives you focus to organize your time, muster your resources, and acquire the knowledge you’ll need to accomplish everything you want out of life. 


Setting goals, then achieving them, gives you a real sense of accomplishment, a reason to be proud of yourself. You’ll feel more confident in your ability to actually go somewhere with your life instead of just aimlessly drifting as that life passes you by.


Deciding what goals to set is often where people get stuck. So I’m going to help you break it down into categories and give examples in each category. First we’ll look at long-term goals. Then we’ll break those down into medium-term goals. And then turn those into the short-term goals you’ll start working on today

A puzzle with five pieces. The corners read "vision," "planning," "process," and "strategy." The center piece says "goal"

Types of goals


Do you want to get a promotion at work? Find a new job? A new career entirely?


How much money do you want to have in the bank? Do you want to invest in the stock market?


Do you want to have kids? A spouse? Spend time with your parents, siblings, or extended family?


Do you want to paint, draw, or sketch? Throw pottery or sculpt? Write? Create music?


What knowledge do you want that you don’t already have? Do you want to earn a college degree? Go to grad school? Take professional development courses?

Personal development

Is your mindset where you want it to be? Do you have habits or behaviors you want to change? How do you want to change to be the best you you can be?


Do you want to lose weight? Gain weight? Work out a certain number of hours a week? Be able to run a marathon? Ride horses? Pull a tractor trailer with your teeth? Have good health well into your older years?

Public service

Do do you want to volunteer for a charity or cause you believe in? How can you make the world a better place?


Do you have hobbies you want to spend time on? Are there new activities you want to take up? Genealogy, stamp collecting, bird watching, swimming?

Spend some time brainstorming goals you might want to pursue in each category. Make sure they’re goals YOU want to achieve, not ones your parents, friends, teachers, or boss want you to go after. Once you have a few listed, start narrowing down your focus. 

Choosing your goals

First, narrow your choices down to one option in each category. Then trim it down to no more than five goals. Any more than that, and you’ll find yourself stretched too thin to be effective in reaching any of your goals.


Once you have your five big, long-term goals, start breaking each one down into smaller chunks. 


For example, let’s say you want to give a TED talk. Before you’re ready to write and hone your 18-minute speech of a lifetime, there are smaller steps to take. 


Medium-term goals might include speaking at colleges and universities, or speaking at large conferences. Short-term goals could be taking a course in public speaking, joining Toastmasters, giving talks at high schools, and speaking at local service club events. 


Finally break those short-term goals down into daily to-do’s, like researching your topic for an hour, practicing speaking into a mirror, making one contact a day to find a place to speak.

a brightly colored polka dot covered piece of paper with "to do" written at the top

How to structure your goals

Instead of using the popular SMART system of setting goals, I prefer to use PACT goals instead.

P: Purposeful


You should focus on your goal’s foundation. Where is it coming from? Purposeful goals aren’t frivolous, but speak to who you are as a person and what you want out of life. You don’t want to set a goal of showing up at work every day, but of going the extra mile every day to earn a promotion.

A: Actionable

Your goals have to be based on things you control and can act on today. So if you’re in sales, all you can control today is how many times you dial the phone. You have no control over whether people pick up, much less if they’ll talk to you, let alone buy anything. So your goal wouldn’t be to sell $1500 this week. Your goal would be to dial the phone 50 times this week.

C: Continuous

Continuous goals involve routines to help you avoid choice paralysis. They keep you from over-analyzing and over-researching your options. Thus, your actions are ongoing, simple, and repeatable. It’s about constant improvement day after day, week after week, month after month. So if your goal is to gain 2500 new followers on your blog in the next six months, you want to publish 25 new blog posts in the next 25 weeks.

T: Trackable

This is NOT the same as measurable. Trackable is a binary approach. Did you do the thing or not? You don’t want to measure your goals, as you would in the SMART system of goal setting. Not “have you made your 50 phone calls?” but did you make any phone calls? Not  “did you eat more healthfully all week?” but did you eat healthfully at all? Not “did you write a blog post this week?” but did you write anything?

Next steps

After you’ve set your goals in the PACT system and made your to-do lists, all that’s left to do is to take action. Start out with your to-do’s and thoroughly enjoy crossing them off your list. Move steadily and methodically towards your goals and reap the rewards of a job well done.

More on goals:

25 of my favorite thought-provoking quotes about goals





Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *