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Goal Getting

Why You Need Intermediate Goals And How To Set Yours

Written by Carl Pullein
Dedicated to helping people to achieve their maximum potential through better time management and productivity.
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One of the surest ways to improve your life, your sense of well-being, and fulfillment in life is to set goals. A study carried out by the Dominican University discovered that students who wrote their goals were much more likely to accomplish higher income levels than students who did not write their goals.[1] And one way to effectively set goals is to set intermediate goals.

There are many other reasons why we should be taking goal setting seriously, but before we get into the heart of this article, we should first define what we mean by” intermediate goals.”

What Is an Intermediate Goal?

From daily goals to lifetime goals, there are multiple types of goals, so what would an “intermediate goal” look like?

An intermediate goal is any goal you would like to accomplish in the next three to five years. We could give or take a year or two here, but a good reference point is between three and five years.

The Power of Intermediate Goals: Bridging Short and Long-Term Aspirations

An intermediate goal is a goal that bridges the gap between the goals you are working on this year and next year and your longer-term lifetime goals.

For instance, if you plan to have $2 million in your retirement fund by the time you retire, that would be a long-term goal. So, an intermediate goal that bridges that gap would be to save X amount of dollars in the next three years.


The problem with long-term goals is they are often a long way into the future, which means that the rewards for achieving those goals are too far away to excite us today. An intermediate goal bridges this gap by bringing a reward closer to you.

Our brains are programmed to crave instant gratification.[2] This is one of the reasons why losing weight is so hard.

Aside from the science on how our body stores and retains fat, losing weight is the basic principle of eating less and moving more.[3] The trouble is that when we feel hungry, our bodies desire food now! We need that instant gratification.

So, no matter how much we know eating that extra portion of rice will not help us lose weight, we eat it anyway because our brain prioritizes instant gratification over our longer-term desires.

Your Motivational Stepping Stones

You should view intermediate goals as stepping stones towards something much bigger.

One reason why so few people set and accomplish goals is their motivation over a long period falters and declines. Goals that are too far in the future are often forgotten about and only reappear when we think about our New Year’s resolutions.

Ultimately, whether you succeed with a goal or not is down to why you want to accomplish the goal.

Your reasons must be strong enough to pull you towards the goal. If your reasons are not strong enough, it will be like pushing a large, heavy rock up a never-ending hill.


On the other hand, your reasons why you want the goal, if strong enough, will be like a magnet pulling you towards accomplishing it.

If your dream is to own a yacht because you want to impress your old school friends, you will ultimately fail because achieving something to impress others is a weak reason for attaining a goal.

If, on the other hand, your reason for wanting to own a yacht is so you can live a life on the open water and have a place to go where you can enjoy the peace of nature, your reasons why will likely be strong enough to pull you towards achievement.

This is why setting intermediate goals works. They act as magnets to pull you towards achieving your long-term goal.

Crafting Your Milestones and Pathways

Imagine you have just graduated from school, and you start your first job. Your long-term goal could be to become a senior executive at the company. However, that could take ten to twenty years, which is a long time for a twenty-something to wait.

To make the goal more achievable, you can break it down into intermediate goals.

For instance, you may discover that all the top executives at your company have MBAs, so one goal could be to study for and complete your MBA.

Another goal could be to get yourself promoted to a managerial role within five years. Once you know what you want to achieve over the next three to five years, you can figure out how to make it happen.


Instead of having a big, long-term goal with an unclear pathway, you have created a clear path towards achieving your long-term goal.

Once you achieve your intermediate goal, you can pause, reflect and look for the next stepping stone towards the longer-term goal.

This methodology works with fitness goals, too.

For example, let’s imagine one of your long-term fitness goals is completing the Boston Marathon in five years. Now, the Boston Marathon is unique in that it has tough qualifying times. You must be able to prove you have run a marathon previously under a specific time for your age and sex.

For instance, to qualify for the 2021 marathon, if you are male, aged between 45 to 49, you would have to have run a marathon in under three hours and five mins. A female aged between 45 and 49 would need to have run a time under three hours and 50 minutes. That’s a tough time to achieve.

If you have never run a marathon before, you would need to start with some shorter-term goals—perhaps beginning with a 5k race followed by a 10k and gradually increasing the distance until you run your first marathon.

From there, you would have enough information to modify your training so that you could run a marathon before the Boston in the qualifying time.


These shorter-term goals not only move you closer towards your ultimate goal, but they also give you the incentive to keep going until your reach your longer-term plan. They pull you towards your longer-term goal.

How to Set Intermediate Goals

If you want to reap the full benefit of intermediate goals, you first need to establish a long-term goal—a goal that is sufficiently big enough to motivate and excite you.

To give you a real example, my wife and I have a long-term goal to build our house—a house we designed ourselves. We have estimated how much this is likely to cost—which is a lot—and so we have broken down the steps into intermediate goals:

  • The first is to save a given amount of money—enough to cover 50% of the total cost.
  • The next is to find and purchase a piece of land on which we can build the house.
  • Then we need to set about building the house.

In that longer-term goal, there are three intermediate goals. Save money, purchase land, build the house.

I have this long-term goal set up in my projects section in my notes app, together with images of the kind of house we want to build (to keep me focused), and this is broken down into the three intermediate goals. Now, we are currently well into the saving money intermediate goal.

Your long-term goal is the ultimate destination. It gives you a direction and a purpose to wake up in the morning.


To make that goal more achievable, intermediate goals serve to provide you with the stepping stones that will keep you on track and ultimately pull you towards your destination.

Final Thoughts

Everyone has long-term goals. But sometimes, it’s important to first take a step back and set intermediate goals that will allow you to eventually reach your long-term success.

These manageable targets keep you motivated and focused, breaking down ambitious dreams into achievable tasks. They strike a balance between immediate satisfaction and long-term fulfillment, maintaining your drive over extended periods.

Adopting intermediate goals is not just a strategy but a mindset that encourages continuous reflection and adaptability. It’s about making the journey towards significant achievements more attainable and less overwhelming.

By setting and pursuing these goals, you chart a clear, manageable path towards our ultimate objectives, turning aspirations into attainable realities.


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