A goal without a plan is just a dream… or is it?

According to Dr. Sean Young, the director of the University of California Institute for Prediction Technology and author of the goal-setting book, Stick With It, it’s not.

In this article, we’ll answer the question of how do short-term goals differ from long-term goals (and how they even differ from dreams). While these may seem subjective, there’s real science that shows how our brain responds differently to different goals based on different timelines.

Research shows, again and again, that goal setting is critical to success. Learn how to best frame your goals in an optimized timeline to better your chances of success.

We’ll share examples of what this looks like for both short-term and long-term goals, for areas such as career, finance, lifestyle, relationship, and health.

Goal setting worksheet printable pdf template

How Do Short-Term Goals Differ From Long-Term Goals?

Short-term versus long-term goals. What are the differences and some examples please.

Scientists can measure not just the success rate of goals based on a timeline, but even how the brain changes in response to them.

The good news is that even setting goals — no matter the timeline — has been scientifically proven to increase your chances of success. That’s why people who set New Year’s Resolutions are 10X more likely to achieve them, according to a 2002 Scranton University study.

A review published in the Psychological Bulletin takes it one step further by summarizing how goal-setting creates new pathways in the brain between your amygdala (where emotions are controlled) and your frontal lobe (where you problem-solve). Therefore, setting goals literally changes your brain’s structure.

What’s most interesting is that this same review found that 90% of the studies found the highest success rates when the goals were challenging yet realistic.

And one of the biggest factors in setting a challenging yet realistic goal is finding the best timeline.

So, how do short-term goals differ from long-term goals? This timeline provides the best answer.

The Best Goal Timeline

Not all goal timelines are created equal, and it’s this difference that can set apart success from failure.

But how long is a long-term goal… a year? And how short is a short-term goal… a few months?

Wrong, and wrong.

Your short-term and long-term goals are probably shorter than you might think.

Dr. Sean Young with the University of California found through his studies that there are four types of goals and lays out the timelines:

A Dream (Never been done before)

Simply put, a dream is something that you’ve never done before. No matter how realistic it is for you to achieve it, if it’s your first time, it’s a dream.

Long-term Goal (1-3 Months)

A long-term goal is defined as anything that you can achieve in 1-3 months.

Short-term Goal (1 Week – 1 Month)

A short-term goal can be achieved in 1 week to 1 month.

Step (1 Day – 1 Week)

A step is anything that can be achieved in 1 day to 1 week.

Understanding these timelines is important when choosing which goals you want to undertake. If it’s longer than a week, it’s a short-term goal. If it’s longer than a month (but less than three) it’s a long-term goal.

Stick With It found that when you’re ready to tackle a goal — no matter the size — your brain creates five steps to get there. That’s why it’s so important to create a stepping-stone pathway toward your goals and make sure that each is realistic in size.

To help, we created this free Goal-Setting Worksheet PDF download that helps you plan and lay out your goals visually.

Printable Goal Setting Worksheet PDF - Ryan and Alex Duo Life

Printable Goal Setting Worksheet PDF

Download our simple goal setting worksheet, print it, and draft a smart plan to achieve your goals.

Included is goal setting worksheet example to guide you.

Short-term and long-term goal examples

Now you’re familiar with the timelines and how do short-term goals differ from long-term goals. Next up, examples.

What is an example of a short-term and a long-term goal?

Of course, everyone’s goal and timeline are unique to them, but below we’ll share short-term and long-term goal examples for the following categories:

  • Career
  • Finances
  • Lifestyle and Self-Care
  • Relationship
  • Health

Now’s a good time to grab a pen and paper.

Career Goal Examples

Long-term goal (1 Month – 3 Months)
  • Earn a new qualification or certificate
  • Start a side gig
  • Hit higher performance numbers
  • Create a better work-life balance
  • Send your resume to five new companies
Short-term goal (1 Week – 1 Month)
  • Attend a networking event
  • Schedule a meeting to ask for a raise
  • Find and work with a career mentor
  • Read a personal development book
  • Request to start a personal project at work

Finance Goal Examples

Long-term goal (1 Month – 3 Months)
  • Pay off an area of debt (credit card, student, etc.)
  • Build an emergency fund
  • Start saving for something (retirement, down payment, vacation)
  • Create a plan to go FIRE (financial independence, retire early)
  • Spending progressively less every month
Short-term goal (1 Week – 1 Month)
  • Track your monthly spending and set a budget
  • Start investing
  • Have a candid conversation with your partner about money
  • Stop paying for unnecessary subscriptions
  • Donate to charity

Lifestyle and Self-Care Goal Examples

Long-term goal (1 Month – 3 Months)
  • Finish reading a book for pleasure
  • Find and sign up for a local club
  • Quit alcohol and tobacco
  • Declutter your home
  • Compile a family recipe book
Short-term goal (1 Week – 1 Month)
  • Write a journal entry every night
  • No screens after 8 pm
  • Complete a 30-Day Self-Care Challenge
  • Meditate or stretch nightly before bed
  • Build or order a standing desk

Relationship Goal Examples

Long-term goal (1 Month – 3 Months)
  • Plan and go on a vacation
  • Check one thing off your couple’s bucket list
  • Have a session with a couple’s coach (we recommend the Relish app)
  • Exercise together every week (try this yoga class)
  • Watch Emily Morse’s MasterClass on Sex and Communication
Short-term goal (1 Week – 1 Month)
  • Give each other a massage
  • Take the 5 Love Language Quiz
  • Do our free DIY Marriage Retreat At Home
  • Start a board game marathon together
  • Watch a movie that could cut your divorce rate in half

Fitness and Nutrition Goal Examples

Long-term goal (1 Month – 3 Months)
  • Train and run a marathon
  • Do 10 pull-ups
  • Learn to swim
  • Finish a fitness program (here are our favorites)
  • Cook every recipe in a cookbook (we recommend this one)
Short-term goal (1 Week – 1 Month)
  • Partake in Meatless Mondays
  • Walk at least 10,000 steps a day
  • Take dance lessons
  • Meal prep weekly and cut out takeout
  • Drink more water

Closing THoughts on Short-Term Vs. Long-Term Goals

How do short-term goals differ from long-term goals? If something can be accomplished in 1 week to 1 month it is a short-term goal. If it can be achieved in 1 month to 3 months, it’s a long-term goal.

Outside of that, you have steps which take less than a week to accomplish, or dreams, if they take longer than 3 months. These are definitions from research conducted by the University of California Institute of Prediction Technology that help us reframe our mindset when setting successful and achievable goals.

No matter how you define your goals, make sure that the timing matches the intensity of the goal, and create steps to achieve them along the way. With some planning and a hand-written plan, you’re on your way to achieving your dreams!

There’s no better time than the present to start achieving your goals!

While this strategy is especially useful for your work, career, and professional goals, we highly recommend you apply it to your personal, health, relationship, and life goals.

Best of luck and focus on progress, not perfection. For more helpful resources, such as ourhabit tracker printable or our printable self-care checklist, head over to our Healthy Lifestyle page.

Printable Goal Setting Worksheet PDF - Ryan and Alex Duo Life

Printable Goal Setting Worksheet PDF

Download our simple goal setting worksheet, print it, and draft a smart plan to achieve your goals.

Included is goal setting worksheet example to guide you.

As Seen In Feature Bar Ryan and Alex Duo Life

Hey we're Ryan and Alex

The creators of Ryan and Alex Duo Life. We are a husband-wife duo and “lifestyle engineers.”

After eight years working in the corporate world as engineers, we left our high-powered jobs to tackle our true passion — helping couples engineer their best lives.

The synergy of our engineering minds and ten years of health coaching experience produced Ryan and Alex Duo Life. Our mission is to help you transform your bodies, minds, and relationship as a couple.

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