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Goal Getting

Why Is It Important To Set Realistic Goals?

Written by Stacey MacNaught
Small business owner, public speaker and marketing expert obsessed with working smarter.
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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]


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!

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]

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.

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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