Published on July 19, 2021

Why You Need Intermediate Goals And How To Set One

Why You Need Intermediate Goals And How To Set One

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.

What Do We Use Intermediate Goals For?

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.

View Intermediate Goals as 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.

Create 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.

Key Takeaways

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 goals. Here are the key takeaways on how to set intermediate goals.

  1. Establish a long-term goal and why you want to achieve it.
  2. Break your long-term goal down into sections that cover three to five years.
  3. Decide what you need to do to complete your first intermediate goal and start doing it.
  4. Review your intermediate goals frequently (at least weekly).

More Goals Setting Tips

Featured photo credit: Estée Janssens via



More by this author

Carl Pullein

Dedicated to helping people to achieve their maximum potential through better time management and productivity.

How to Become a Morning Person: 8 Steps to Kickstart How to Focus and Concentrate Better to Boost Productivity 7 Best Free Scheduling Apps That Make Scheduling Easier Why You Need Intermediate Goals And How To Set One 6 Golden Rules to Make Progress Towards Achieving Goals

Trending in Goal Getting

1 What Are Process Goals? (With Examples) 2 8 Simple and Effective Ways to Start Reaching Goals Today 3 How to Create an Action Plan and Achieve Your Personal Goals 4 20 Excuses Most People Make That Stop Them From Reaching Their Dreams 5 Goals vs Objectives: What Are Their Differences?

Read Next


Published on September 16, 2021

What Are Process Goals? (With Examples)

What Are Process Goals? (With Examples)

Ready. Set. Go. For years, this was my three-step mindset when it came to goals. I would reach for the moon and hope to land among the stars without feeling the pain of the fall. This approach was all or nothing, and as a result, I experienced loads of burnout and almost zero productivity. In short, my task list was filled with high-level intentions, but I hadn’t taken the time to create a map to reach the destinations. I was lost in the planning stages because I didn’t understand process goals or have any examples to follow.

Since then, I’ve learned how to embrace the journey and break my outcome goals into smaller and more manageable process goals. This approach has improved my focus and reduced frustration because I’m now working towards a surefire strategy that will take me where I want to go––I’m creating a plan of action with achievable daily targets (a process goal).

What Is a Process Goal?

A process goal is not a destination, it’s the path you plan on taking to get there. For example, if you want to become better at writing, your process goal would be to post one blog article per week and learn from the feedback you receive. The destination is a monthly goal of 12 articles.

This distinction is important because it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that these types of goals are not all or nothing. Think about it. You’ve heard it said: it’s not about working hard but working smart.

Well, a process goal is an actionable target with what we call SMART criteria:


  • Specific – The more detailed your goal, the better. For example, instead of “I want to be fit,” you would say, “I want to lose five pounds.” Make sure your goal is crystal clear.
  • Measurable – You need a way to measure progress and success, so it needs to be quantifiable. This is where you decide what “fit” actually means for you (more on this later).
  • Achievable – If your goal isn’t challenging, then it’s not going to be motivating. On the other hand, there must be a steeper mountain to climb if you want substantial results.
  • Realistic – “I want to run a marathon” is not practical for most people. Ensure you have the time, energy, and resources (e.g., training program) required to achieve your goal.
  • Time-Bound – Your goal needs an assigned deadline or it’s just a pipe dream. There’s nothing wrong with dreaming, but what happens when the fantasy ends?

To summarize, these are the essential components of any process goal: specific, measurable, achievable within a certain time frame, and realistic.

What Is a Destination Goal?

A destination goal is a point in time when you plan to be at a particular destination. For example, if your goal is to get to represent your country at the 2025 Summer Olympics, you right need to focus on smaller increments to attain that success. On your way to that goal, you need to focus on smaller destinations. First, make the national team. Then, compete in a few events and so forth.

If you try to make it to the Olympics from the very start without any milestones along the way, it would be too daunting. On the other hand, if you focus on each milestone as a destination goal, it will all seem possible and achievable.

Process Goal Template

Let’s say you want to become a better cook. Here is one way of writing the process goal: “I will save $100 per week by cooking all my meals at home for 12 weeks.” This would be your destination (monthly), and the steps required to achieve this goal (weekly) would be:

  1. Spend one hour on Sunday planning my meals for the week.
  2. Shop for groceries after work on Monday and Tuesday nights.
  3. Cook all meals at home on Wednesdays through Sundays.
  4. Pack my lunch for work on Mondays and Tuesdays.
  5. Save $100 per week in cash by cooking at home.

This process goal will help you become a better cook by teaching you to save money through planning, shopping, cooking, packing your own lunch, and trying new recipes. It also includes a weekly reward (saving $100 in cash) that will help you stay motivated.


Process goals encourage you to reach your ultimate goals. When you feel like you can accomplish smaller goals along the way, you gain sustainability and confidence to move forward.

In many ways, process goals are a lot like faith. Each accomplishment brings you closer to seeing the fullness of the life that you desire––it breaks through the fog and makes things clearer.

What Questions Helped Me Find My Process Goals?

After several years of setting lofty goals and becoming increasingly frustrated when I wasn’t getting the results I wanted, I decided to take a closer look at my approach.

Now, there are many ways you can do this, but here’s how I went about it. Last year, I asked myself the following questions:

  • What am I doing right now?
  • How can I get better at this?
  • Is this process goal leading me closer to my ultimate goals?

The choices I made from the answers to these questions became my process goals. They were the driving force that kept me motivated and moving forward when I wanted to give up and throw in the towel. Since then, I’ve been able to accomplish lifelong goals that I had given up on years ago. For example, I’ve been able to obtain a publishing contract, create more digital products for my business, and enjoy the moment.


Before I broke down my goals into smaller ones, I was struggling to just get out of bed. The thought of my endless list kept me stagnant. Now, I look forward to each morning and taking on smaller projects to reach profitable outcomes.

What Are Some Process Goals You Can Try?

So, now that you understand the importance of process goals, let’s get you started with some examples that you can utilize this week:

  • Sign up for a new class.
  • Complete one portion of your project by Thursday.
  • Start walking around the block instead of running a mile.
  • Improve your writing by spending 30 minutes everyday journaling.
  • Practice your interview skills.
  • Read at least one book from the library this week.
  • Do ten push-ups each day before you leave for work.

You get the idea. These process goals don’t have to be complicated. If anything, you want to break down your plans to the point of them feeling easy or at least doable without needing a week’s vacation. By breaking your goals down into smaller pieces, you can accomplish a lot more in a shorter period. You’ll also feel more confident that you’re able to accomplish something within the moment.

It isn’t easy to continue towards your goal if achievement feels too far away. You need to celebrate the small things and embrace the process.

What Do You Need for Process Goals?

Think about how much time and money you’ve spent on new clothes, books, technology, etc. Many of us want to keep up with the latest trends and purchase the best gadgets from Apple or Microsoft. But all of these extra investments come at a steep price.


To find your process goals, you may have to face some difficult emotions or situations bravely and confront them head-on. You might need to forgo the new outfit or the latest Mac book to meet your overall objectives.[1] Remember, process goals not only protect you from feeling overwhelmed, but they also keep you from being distracted.

Final Thoughts

You may feel overwhelmed at first when trying to set a process goal. Sometimes, just thinking about change triggers stress hormones, which only leads to more worries and anxious feelings. However, if you keep yourself focused and take small steps in the right direction, you’ll soon realize that goals don’t have to be complicated.

You can achieve your process goals one day at a time, and you can start today by breaking down your larger goal into smaller steps. It doesn’t matter if the process takes a week or six months, what matters most is that you’re moving forward and doing something to make yourself better.

Now, go on out there and achieve one of your process goals!

Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via



Read Next