The different types of life goals and how you can set yours.
Life goals are the desired states that people seek to obtain, maintain or avoid (Nair, 2003). Our lives include many different pieces so life goals can include relationship goals, career goals, financial goals, and more.
Researchers believe that the reason we set life goals is to resolve “discontent” with aspects of our present situation. Indeed, we may want something in our lives to be different—our relationship, career, or health, for example. And indeed, the simple act of setting a goal makes it more likely that we will reach it.
Setting specific and slightly difficult goals—like “I will run a marathon by running a little further each day for a year”—tends to go better than setting vague or abstract goals, like “I’m going to be rich!” Commitment to the goal also seems to help us achieve it. And getting feedback from others and tracking our progress also help us achieve our goals (Locke & Latham, 2006).
To set effective life goals, we can use the “SMART” acronym. Although there are some variations in what SMART stands for (Rubin, 2002), here is one example:
- S: Specific
- M: Meaningful
- A: Achievable
- R: Realistic
- T: Trackable (or time-based)
Achieving easier, shorter-term goals can help us feel like we’re making progress and motivate us to keep going towards long-term goals. That’s why it can be helpful to break longer-term goals up into a bunch of short and mid-term goals—things that we could accomplish in an hour, day, or week. For example, if I want to go to college, I might study for the SAT one hour per day for several months. Over time, these short-term goals allow me to accomplish my longer-term goal.
Most short-term goals can be broken down even further into objectives—or actionable parts. For example, if my goal is to get into college, I might plan to study an hour per day (a short-term goal), but what I do during that time would be to accomplish my objectives. I might complete 10 math problems, memorize 10 vocabulary words, and quiz myself each evening on my vocabulary works. Those would be my objectives.
- Career Goals. Career goals are goals that have to do with your work or maybe even your purpose. Career goals might involve achieving a particular title, income, role, position, or employer.
- Financial Goals. Financial goals might help us live our values, change our lifestyle, take care of our families, or even promote the well-being of others in some way.
- Relationship Goals. Regardless of whether we are in a romantic relationship, we might have goals about the quality or function of our closest relationships.
- Wellness Goals. Your life goals might include fitness, body, health, or emotional wellness goals—things you’d like to change to feel better or healthier.
- Educational Goals. We might have a life goal of getting an education, perhaps as a precursor to pursuing a particular career.
- Other Personal Life Goals. Most of us have other life goals unrelated to the big categories. For example, I have a goal of living mostly sustainably. What about you? What are your other life goals?
- Getting good at a hobby or sport
- Spending more time doing your favorite things
- Developing a new skill
- Cultivating a soft skill like listening, resilience, or emotion regulation
- Getting to know new people
- Create a list of goals.
- For each goal, break it down into smaller steps.
- Plan out how you’ll take these smaller steps.
- Think about how you’ll overcome barriers that block your goals.
- Be kind to yourself along the way.
Setting life goals can be good for us. If we take just a little more time to set the right goals in the right ways, we’ll have a greater chance of reaching those goals and manifesting some of our dreams.
- Nair, K. S. (2003). Life goals: the concept and its relevance to rehabilitation. Clinical Rehabilitation, 17(2), 192-202.
- Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (2006). New directions in goal-setting theory. Current directions in psychological science, 15(5), 265-268.
- Rubin, R. S. (2002). Will the real SMART goals please stand up. The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, 39(4), 26-27.