Setting Personal Goals

See also: Self Motivation

There is a strong correlation between self-motivation, personal goals and achievement. 

In order to get properly motivated, and indeed to achieve, it helps to spend some time thinking about your personal goals and what you want to achieve in your life.

We all have an inbuilt desire to achieve.

What we want to achieve, however, is personal to us and may change through life. At school, for example, you may want to achieve good grades, then later you may want to pass your driving test or get a job.

It is important to set yourself clear goals if you wish to achieve your ambitions.

The Relationship between Motivation, Goals and Achievement

People want to know that they have achieved, or have the ability to achieve, something of value, meaning or importance.

Generally, the more people achieve, the more self-confident they become. As self-confidence rises so does the ability to achieve more.

Conversely, when people fail to achieve and meet their goals, self-esteem and confidence can suffer, affecting their motivation to achieve more.

Understanding the relationship between self-motivation, personal goal setting and achievement will help you set realistic personal goals, which in turn will allow you to achieve more in the longer term.

Personal goals can provide long-term direction and short-term motivation.

Goals help us to focus on what we want to be or where we want to go with our lives.  They can be a way of utilising knowledge, and managing time and resources, so that you can focus on making the most of your life potential.

By setting clearly defined personal goals, you can measure your achievements and keep sight of your progress; if you fail to achieve at one step you can reassess your situation and try new approaches. Keeping your life goals clearly defined and updated as your circumstances change and evolve is one of the most powerful ways to keep yourself motivated throughout life.

Life Goals

It is important to remember, when thinking about what you would like to achieve in your life, that change is inevitable.

Your circumstances and priorities will change through your life. You may realise at the age of 40 that you are never going to be a concert pianist – as you had planned when you were 19. However, there will be other things that you can achieve instead, and you can still continue to improve your piano-playing and get pleasure from it.

See our page on Personal Change Management for more on coping with the inevitable changes in life.

When thinking about your lifetime goals, it is a good idea to make them challenging and exciting. Base them on your strengths but make them relevant to you and ultimately achievable.

It may be useful to categorise life goals:

  • Academic goals – what knowledge and/or qualifications do you want to achieve?
  • Career goals – where would you like your career to take you, what level do you want to reach?
  • Monetary goals – what do you aim to earn at a given point in your life?
  • Ethical goals – do you want to volunteer some of your time to a good cause or get involved in local events, politics etc.?
  • Creative goals – how do you want to progress creatively or artistically?
  • Domestic goals – how would you like your domestic life to be in the future?
  • Physical goals – do you want to develop your skill in a certain sport or other physical activity?

Once you have thought about your life goals, you can start to plan how best to achieve them.  Set yourself smaller goals for the future.  In ten years I will be…  in five years I will be… etc. 

Work out plans of action with smaller and smaller sub-goals until you can arrive at an action plan that you can start working on now.

Worked Example: Breaking Down Goals

If one of your life goals is to write a book, your plan might be:

  • 5 years from now – publish my book
  • 4 years from now – finish the first draft of my book
  • 3 years from now – complete a university degree in creative writing
  • 1 year from now – develop an outline for my book
  • Next month – think about ideas and research potential story lines for my book
  • This week – read two books and research potential university courses.

Although this example is a very simplistic outline of a major life goal, it should give you an idea of how you can structure big goals and work out the sub-goals that you need to achieve along the way.

Making Your Goals SMART:

It can be useful to make your goals and sub-goals fit the SMART criteria.

These are:



Make each goal specific, so you know exactly what it is.

Take some time to clearly define your goals and sub-goals, the more detail about what your goals are and how you intend to achieve them the better.



Make each goal measurable so you know how you are progressing.

You need to be able to see how you are progressing to reaching your goals. What metrics can you use to measure your progress?



Don’t set impossible goals, make sure each goal and sub-goal is attainable.

The larger the goal the more impossible it may seem but if you split it down into simple sub-goals then you will find each step is more attainable.



Make your goals relevant.

Ensure your sub-goals are relevant to your life goals. Try not to set goals that don't ultimately help you to achieve your overall life goals.



Set time-limits or deadlines for each goal and sub-goal.

If you can set and stick to realistic deadlines then you'll avoid too much distraction or procrastination and keep yourself motivated.

Reviewing your Life Goals

As with anything in life, just setting goals is not enough.

You have to review your goals regularly, perhaps every few months, and certainly every year, to make sure that:

  • The goals are still relevant to what you want to achieve; and
  • You are on track to achieve them.

If not, you need to revise them, in line with your current situation.

Your goals need to motivate you and excite you

It doesn’t matter if you haven’t had as much time as you would have liked to devote to learning to play the piano; it does matter if you haven’t done anything towards it because you’re really not that bothered about it.

If your goals don’t excite you, abandon them, and develop new ones that you really want to achieve.