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Last Updated on May 13, 2021

Why Is It Important To Set Realistic Goals?

Why Is It Important To Set Realistic Goals?
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Across social media, I’ve lost count of the number of friends of mine who’ve shared the infamous Norman Vincent Peale quote:

“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”

In other words, aim high and set far-reaching goals, and even if you’re not quite there, you’re going to be in a good place. I very much agree with the sentiment behind setting ambitious goals in all areas of life. However, Norman Vincent Peale and I may disagree in framing such goals from the outset in a way that already talks about the possibility of failing to hit them or setting and achieving goals that might be impossible.

In my view, a goal needs to be a well-balanced combination of being ambitious and being realistic (very much in keeping with the concept of SMART Goals).

I work in marketing. As a result, the idea of a measurable objective is no stranger to me. From day one in this career, it was almost drummed into me that everything must be goal-led and that has served me well in my career. But goal setting and, importantly, goal-getting can have a significant positive impact on all professional and personal aspects of your life whatever you do as a career.

Let’s look at why it is important to set realistic goals and what are some of the benefits of realistic goal setting.

1. Goal Setting, Goal Getting, and Your Self Confidence

We have a real self-confidence crisis on our hands. A 2021 study showed that the majority of women (62%) and half of men do not believe they are intelligent. Staggeringly, over 60% of us do not believe we’re good at our jobs.[1] Moreover, low self-esteem is associated with an increased risk of depression, anxiety, and even suicide.[2]

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So, what does this have to do with goal setting?

A study by George Wilson on “Value-Centred Approach To Goal-Setting And Action Planning” made clear associations between goal hitting and improved self-confidence.[3] In other words, setting concrete goals, even if you have not hit them yet but are making progress towards them, can result in higher self-esteem.

2. Setting Goals Motivates Us

Another reason why it is important to set realistic goals is that it helps motivate us.

Let’s face it, motivation is a battle for many people at the moment. A year of turbulence and uncertainty is enough to make even the most enthusiastic of us struggle. But well over half of people in a study said that setting goals helps keep them motivated.[4]

Particularly in times of difficulty, having goals to work towards can help you maintain focus and motivation both in your work and in terms of personal goals as well.

3. The Power of Micro-Goals

To quote the wonderful Baz Luhrmann, this particular tip “has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience,”—well, in my experience and that of others I’ve shared with anecdotally.

I’ve been on a mission over the last year to lose a ton of weight—not a literal ton, to be clear. But if we’re going to be specific, I was setting out to lose 56 lbs. It’s not the first time I’ve set out on that particular mission, and on my previous three attempts, I got around halfway there before quitting and then undoing all the good work. Hello, self-destruct mode!

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This time, I approached it differently. Instead of setting out with the goal of “I want to lose 56lbs,” I’ve broken it down into micro goals that feel more realistically achievable in a short time frame.

  • Goal 1: 14lbs
  • Goal 2: 28lbs
  • Goal 3: 35lbs
  • Goal 4: 42lbs
  • Goal 5: 49lbs
  • Goal 6: 56lbs

I recently passed goal 4 and am on the way to goal 5.

so, what’s the difference this time?

I feel motivated by having already achieved 4 of my goals. On the last attempt I made, by being 25lbs, down I was becoming frustrated that my goal still seemed so far away. This time, I celebrate wins more frequently by putting smaller goals that contribute to the bigger goal in place. It helps with my determination and commitment.

4. Dopamine Loves Realistic Goals

Dopamine is often referred to as the “pleasure chemical.” It’s the chemical that’s released when we’re happy. That happiness can be created by bad habits or good ones. Some illegal drugs work by interfering with the body’s dopamine system, which is what makes them so addictive.

Micro goals, as it turns out, give us a sense of reward. Achieving smaller goals regularly on the way to a bigger one gives us a great little hit of dopamine, which helps keep us motivated on the road to the bigger goal.

5. Realistic Goals Give Us “Oomph!”

One remarkable finding of a 2017 study by Granot, Stern, and Balcetis found that setting goals actually increases our systolic blood pressure, which in turn makes us feel ready to act. But the findings went a step further. They confirmed that when the goals felt “difficult to achievable” (in other words, “realistic”) the boost in SBP was more pronounced than in cases where the goal felt too difficult.[5]

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In other words, setting realistic goals has a physical impact on our bodies to give us the “oomph” we need to go out and get it.

6. Realistic Goals and the Goldilocks Rule

Goals, by their very nature, are outcomes we want that require action from us to attain. Achieving goals only happens when we stick with the required course of action we need to hit them. And sticking with anything, whether it’s a diet, a pledge to write 500 words a day, a running regime, or a target of hitting a certain sales number requires motivation.

In an article, James Clear talks about the Goldilocks Rule. The premise of the Goldilocks rule is that humans are only motivated when the task at hand is the absolute optimum level of difficulty.[6] Clear argues that if something is too easy, then you simply get bored. In other words, if your goal is too simple, then your motivation will die off because you are, quite frankly, not feeling challenged enough.

If, on the other hand, the task is far too difficult (impossible, even), then you become demotivated, believing that no matter what you do, you won’t be able to achieve it. Think about playing chess as an amateur against a Grandmaster. Being obliterated over and over again is likely to result in your eventual giving up.

Clear argues that the “Goldilocks” zone for a goal is that space where it’s difficult and challenges you to the edge of your capabilities but is still definitely achievable. This is where humans remain most motivated and stick with the actions that it takes to achieve goals.

So, bear in mind that the next time you set your goals, they need to challenging but by no means impossible.

7. Goal Setting Can Change Your Life

So, we know that realistic goals and micro goals help us to stay motivated on the journey to bigger goals. And ultimately, this is what really has life-changing benefits.

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As an adult, I’ve had goals in all sorts of areas. I set out with an income goal (which I broke into micro-goals) when I was in my early 20s and each time I achieved one of the micro-goals, I’d reward myself with an experience (a visit somewhere usually). I’m not at my end goal yet, and so that continues.

More recently, I’ve set health goals around weight. I’m well on my way using realistic micro-goals. These smaller more realistic goals add up. For me, they’ll add up to being healthy and financially comfortable—life-changing things.

It might be something totally different for you. But I’m a firm believer in setting big life-changing goals, breaking them down into smaller, more realistic goals, and achieving them.

Go Get It

What do you want? Is it an income level? Or do you want a job in a certain company, a business in a certain industry, or to be able to run at a certain speed? I hope reading these 7 benefits of realistic goal-setting has made you realize why it is important to set realistic goals.

Only you know what life-changing goals look like for you. But here’s something to try:

  1. Write down the end goal(s) and how long you think it might take to achieve.
  2. Break it out into smaller goals that can be realistically achieved in a smaller timeframe.
  3. Write down what you’ll do to achieve that first micro goal.
  4. Go get it.

Good luck!

More Tips On Setting Realistic Goals

Featured photo credit: Markus Winkler via unsplash.com

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Reference

More by this author

Stacey MacNaught

Small business owner, public speaker and marketing expert obsessed with working smarter.

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Last Updated on July 25, 2021

A Complete Guide to Goal Setting for Personal Success

A Complete Guide to Goal Setting for Personal Success
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If there was a rule book of life, there would be one particular page that was highlighted, underlined, and titled as most important. It would be the one which told you that you need to master effective goal setting and have an aim in mind before you get on with the process. While there may not be an actual rule book of life, we do have this helpful goal setting guide to offer.

Yes, goal setting is important. In fact, it’s more important than achieving the goal itself. This is because it is the sense of direction that is needed for you to fulfill any task in life.

You don’t have to feel overwhelmed if this sounds new to you, as all the following information has you covered.

Today, you’ll find out all about the importance of goal setting, types of goals, and tips to define realistic goals for yourself!

What Are Goals?

To kick off our goal setting guide, you need to first recognize what goals are and how they are different from objectives, dreams, and expectations.

A goal is essentially your aim for the long-term future. It is the bigger umbrella, the main focus.

Objectives, on the other hand, fall under the umbrella of goals. They are the stepping stones that help you achieve your goals[1].

Objects vs goals for goal setting tips

    For example, you may decide you want to learn a new language. Your goal is to be fluent in the new language. Everything you do to achieve this goal, such as the daily tasks and monthly learning aims, are the objectives.

    Similarly, your expectations, visions, and dreams are not your goals. If you wish to learn a new language someday, that is your dream. If you see yourself fluently speaking multiple foreign languages, that is your vision. If you think you’re capable of learning a new language, that is your expectation.

    However, if you aim to fulfill these visions, dreams, and expectations practically, that is your goal.

    Why Is Goal Setting Important?

    Why should you bother with goal setting at all? Wouldn’t it be more convenient to just get on with your daily objectives, follow a dream or vision, and let life take you wherever?

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    While that road can feel exciting and spontaneous, if you actually want to tick off things from your list of goals to achieve, learning how to set goals is necessary.

    Being committed to a goal puts your brain to work in one specific direction. Believe it or not, by having a defined goal, your brain does its magic unconsciously, 24/7, with full efficiency, to achieve the desired results[2].

    Goal setting is important to shift your focus, boost your motivation, and give you a sense of direction. Without formally defining a particular aim that you want to reach, you won’t be able to keep your objectives in line.

    Hence, this one tiny step can end up saving you a lot of hassle and time while also encouraging your productivity.

    Types of Goals

    Before we move onto the technique of setting effective goals, we need to first take a look at all types of goals in this goal setting tips.

    These categories will not just help you brainstorm new one for yourself, but it will also guide you to list them down in the right way.

    Time-Based

    One of the two broad categories of goals is based on time. These goals define how far in the future you want to achieve them.

    Daily

    There are certain smaller goals that you can easily achieve in a day or two. In fact, some of these daily goals can be recurring, too. For example, you may want to run for an hour every morning.

    Now, these daily goals can also serve as objectives for a long-term goal. You may be running every day because, in the long-term, you want to increase your stamina.

    Daily goals are highly effective for people who want to improve their mental wellbeing, time management skills, and stress management.

    Short-Term

    Next in line are short-term goals. As you would have already guessed, goal setting in this area is aimed at the near future.

    The great thing about these is that they are generally easier to achieve. This is because short-term goals are set for the foreseeable future. You are aware of the circumstances and have a general idea of how much the situation can change.

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    Just like daily goals, short-term goals may also serve as objectives for a long-term goal. Your short-term goal may be to lose 5 pounds in one month. That could be a goal in itself, or maybe it is just one objective to fulfill your goal to adopt a healthy lifestyle in the next two years.

    Another example of a short-term goal is to fulfill the checklist for promotion within the next 6 months. Or, you may want to reduce your screen time within the coming week.

    Long-Term

    Lastly, we have long-term goals that are meant to be completed over a stretched period.

    Whatever you want to achieve in a later stage of life is a long-term goal. An insurance plan, for example, is a long-term goal.

    Some long-term goals don’t have any time frame at all. They are goals that you want to accomplish at some point in your life. So, something like traveling the whole world is a lifelong goal with no specific time constraint at all.

    There’s one thing about long-term goals that isn’t great.

    They are the hardest to keep up with since you’re not seeing any huge achievements regularly. This may take a toll on your motivation. To tackle this problem, it is best to divide a long-term goal into various, short-term and daily objectives so that you’re always tracking the progress you’re making.

    Life-Based

    Moving forward, you can also start goal setting based on the results you want to achieve instead of the time period.

    Career

    Like most people, you will likely want to succeed and excel in your career. Anything that has to do with this intention, regardless of the time frame, is a career goal. These are usually measurable goals, such as receiving a promotion within two years, finding a job at a certain company within the next six months, etc.

    You can learn more about how to set successful career goals here.

    Personal

    The past few years have all been about emphasizing your personal health. So, when it comes to goals, how can we forget the ones that have to do with our personal gains?

    From health to finances to relationships, everything that brings you happiness and composure as a person is a personal goal. It’s important that these are realistic and attainable goals for your life.

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    Whether you want to get rid of your debt, quit smoking, start a side hustle, have children, or travel the world, all of these goals are personal and very important to have on your list.

    How to Set Goals

    The best way to guarantee the fulfillment of goals is to set them the right way.

    1. Use SMART Goals

    Every goal you define has to be SMART[3].

    SMART stands for:

    • Specific
    • Measurable
    • Attainable
    • Relevant
    • Time-Bound

    In summary, your specific goals should be very well defined. They shouldn’t be generic or broad, and every detail should be clarified as you’re goal setting. 

    If you want to start running, how often do you want to do it? How long will each session be? For how long will you continue this habit?

    There has to be a connection between your goals and beliefs or you’ll never be able to achieve the results you want. Most importantly, do not be unrealistic. You cannot learn to fly, and forcing yourself to try is only going to demotivate and stress you out.

    2. Prioritize Your Goals

    As you’re looking into how to write goals for the next month or year, it’s likely you’ll come up with more than one. In this case, it’s important to prioritize which are the most important or the ones that have the tightest deadline. This is going to be subjective, as only you know which goals will have the most impact on your life.

    3. Think of Those Around You

    As you’re working on goal setting, keep your loved ones in mind. You may have a partner, children, or employees that depend on you, and you should take them into consideration with your goals. For example, if you set a goal to travel to 10 different countries in the next two years, how will this affect your children?

    If you want to lose 30 pounds this year, is there something your partner can do to support you? S/he will need to be made aware of this before you set off on your weight loss journey.

    4. Take Action

    Setting goals is the first step, but in order to be successful, you have to follow this with action. If you set goals but never act on them, they become dreams. Create an action plan laying out the steps you need to take each day or week in order to achieve your big and small goals.

    You can also check out Lifehack’s free guide: The Dreamers’ Guide for Taking Action and Making Goals Happen. This helpful guide will push you to take action on your goals, so check it out today!

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    5. Don’t Forget the Bigger Picture

    Most people refer to the big picture as their vision. Whether it is the long-term result or the connection of the goal with your desire, keep it in mind to keep yourself from getting distracted.

    You can learn more about creating a vision for your life here.

    I also recommend you to watch this video to learn 7 strategies to set goals effectively:

    How to Reach Your Goals

    You can ensure your progress by following some foolproof tactics. The use of relevant helpful tools can also keep you on the right track.

    Tactics

    One rookie mistake that most people make is that they work on too many goals simultaneously. Create an action plan and focus on one thing at a time.

    Divide your goal into smaller, easily achievable tasks. Taking it one step at a time makes it much easier. However, do not break them down too much. For example, for long-term goals, you should go for weekly checkpoints instead of daily ones.

    Also, keep track of your progress. This will keep you motivated to work harder.

    Tools

    With so many categories of goals and so many aims, it is almost impossible to remember, let alone work, on all of them.

    Luckily, numerous goal tracker apps will help you keep track of your goals, as well as your plan to achieve every single one. Have at least one installed in your smartphone so that your plan is always within reach.

    The Bottom Line

    In conclusion, using a goal setting tips guide is not rocket science. All that it takes is strong will power along with all the knowledge that you’ve learned so far.

    Try out the tactics and goals setting tips mentioned above to be able to set successful goals so that you can achieve the life that you want!

    More Tips on Achieving Success

    Featured photo credit: Danielle MacInnes via unsplash.com

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    Reference

    [1] Smart Insights: The difference between marketing objectives and marketing goals?
    [2] Confluence: Goal Setting Theory
    [3] University of California: SMART Goals: A How-To Guide

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