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



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Carl Pullein

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

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Last Updated on July 29, 2021

A Complete Guide to Goal Setting for Personal Success

A Complete Guide to Goal Setting for Personal Success

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 tips 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?


    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 guide.

    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.


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


    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.


    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.


    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!


    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.


    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.


    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



    [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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