Knowing how to write goals is a critical life skill. According to science, there is a proven process to write your personal goals for work and life.

In this article, you’ll learn how to write SMART(er) goals and how to set up a realistic timeline to achieve them. 

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how to write goals

How to write your goals… sounds like it should be easy. But writing actionable goals includes several key elements for success.

It’s not simply writing down every wish that comes into mind.

There’s a reason why upwards of 92% of people never achieve their New Year’s Resolutions. Most goals are simply too vague, too large, or don’t have a solid, accountable plan.

Luckily, just incorporating a few things while writing your goals will greatly increase their chances of success.

Why Write Personal Goals

According to a Harvard Business School study, 83% of people do not have goals, 14% have an unwritten plan, and only 3% have written goals.

So how did these people fare?

The study revealed that the 14% of people with an unwritten plan are 10 times more successful than the ones without a plan.

Best yet, the 3% with written goals are 3 times more successful than the 14% with unwritten plans!

It seems you can’t risk not setting intentional goals, ideally written by hand.

What are some examples of good goals to set? That’s a great question. This article teaches you how to create effective goals and a plan to achieve them.

For SMART goals examples, check out our ‘Examples of Goals‘ article.

How to write goals for work and life

Now that you’re committed to writing down your goals, that alone means you’re significantly more likely to succeed.

But don’t stop there. Here’s how to write effective goals, backed by an actionable plan.

Speaking of “effective” and “actionable” personal goal setting, size matters.

How Big Should Your Goals Be?

According to Dr. Sean Young, the Executive Director of the UCLA Center for Digital Behavior, best-selling author of Stick With It, and an expert on habit formation, goals can be broken down into several types.

Here are the 4 types of goals.

1. A Dream

A dream is something you’ve never done before.

2. Long-term Goal

A long-term goal is something that you can achieve in 1-3 months. If it takes longer than that it’s not a goal, it’s a dream (unless you’ve done it before).

3. Short-term Goal

A short-term goal is achievable in 1 week to 1 month.

4. A Step

Anything that you can achieve in 1 day to 1 week is a step.
Understanding the timeline is incredibly important in writing achievable and realistic goals.

Studies show that once tasked with a goal, people create an average of five steps to get there.

However, if your goal is a dream, the five steps you created will seem impossible by themselves and you’ll likely fail. We don’t want that. So, how do you plan a goal? 

Writing a Goal Timeline

A good plan is a simple timeline for achieving your goals.

For example, let’s say your goal is to eat healthier (which, by the way, is a top New Year’s Resolution year after year). What five steps might you come up with?

  1. Stop drinking alcohol
  2. No more soda
  3. Stop ordering out
  4. Eat a salad for lunch every day
  5. Skip breakfast

While these might sound like good behaviors, they are horrible steps that we DO NOT recommend for achieving the goal.

But you can see how making these grand statements like “stop drinking alcohol!” is setting you up for failure.

Doing anything cold turkey (especially if you’ve never done it before) and heavily restrictive is like pushing a boulder endlessly uphill.

It’s exhausting and you’re on the road to failure.

Instead, reframe your goal like this:


Eat healthier to set an example for my kids (your intrinsic motivation and purpose).

Long Term Goal:

Have my kids help me cook a healthy meal at least once a month.

Short Term Goal:

Make healthy home-cooked meals at least twice a week.

Step 1:

This week, watch a healthy eating documentary, like The Game Changers.

Step 2:

This week, ask a healthy friend for an easy recipe and to keep me accountable.

Step 3:

This week, write down the ingredients for my healthy recipe on my grocery list to buy.

Do you see how much more detailed this task list is when you break down your goals into timed, bite-sized tasks?

The motivation also clarifies the goal and makes it less vague. Plus, there is now a deadline for which to measure the dream.

Adding in a strong motivation, like being in shape for a ski trip and not holding the others back, puts the dream in perspective. This is something that you can remind yourself over and over even during the toughest days.

Now that we’ve discussed how big your goals should be and how to organize them into a goal timeline, it’s time to review SMART goals.

Whether you’re setting personal or work goals, they’re far more meaningful if they meet the five SMART goals.

How to Write SMART Goals

The SMART method is one we’ve heard often incorporate annual meetings. Here’s what the acronym, SMART, stands for.

S – Specific

Exercise more vs. complete the full program of the Resistance Bands Workout Routine.

M – Measurable

Get stronger vs. do 20 pull-ups.

A – Achievable

Claim space at the gym’s mat area vs. work out in my living room every Monday-Saturday at 8 AM.

R – Realistic

Lose 20 pounds in a month vs. never miss 2 days in a row of working out.

T – Time-specific

Run more vs. compete in the Turkey Trot 10K on November 26th.

By employing a combination of these strategies — from breaking down dreams into five steps and writing SMART goals — your chances of success skyrocket.

For SMART goals examples, check out the below article.

Science-Based Tips for Setting Personal goals

Ready to put these strategies together? Here are our top tips on how to write goals that will lead you to success:

1. Write Down Very Specific, Intentional Goals

Name how, where, and when you want to achieve your goal. Instead of writing “run more often,” create a final destination, like “qualify for the Boston Marathon by May after running the Chicago, Madison, and Minneapolis marathons.”

2. Know Your Intrinsic Motivations

Harness internal, important reasons to work towards your dreams. Start by asking yourself “why?” at least five times.

Why do you want to lose weight? Why do you want to look good in your swimsuit? Or does it mean more energy to play with your kids at your next beach vacation?

Not sure how to find your motivation? Head on over to our article, “Find Your Why to Live a Healthy Life.”

3. Create an Action Plan

Each dream can be broken down into smaller, bite-sized long-term goals, short-term goals, and steps. Make sure each step can be achieved in just a few days.

4. Track, Review, Adjust

Write down your goals and plan to review them at least once every six months. That way, you’re reminded of what’s important in the big picture, or perhaps if your goals have changed.

5. Bring in an Accountability Buddy

The data shows that relying on like-minded groups and having an accountability buddy is one of the best ways to not only improve but to get the feedback that you can’t see yourself.

We like to lean on our partners, as couple’s goals enrich marriages and relationships.

For some marriage-specific aspirations, check out our article, “Marriage Goals.”

Ready to get started on your goals? The art of how to write goals is simple, but not easy. Don’t shy away from making goals that seem too small, because every time you can cross off an item once completed, you’ll feel that surge of success and motivation.

For specific examples of SMART goals — including 32 fitness goals, nutrition goals, relationship goals, and mindset goals — don’t miss our article, “Examples of Goals for Life.”

Good luck and cheers to your success!

Closing THoughts

We hope this guide has inspired you to write goals for yourself.

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.

We do this at the start of each year (and review progress quarterly) when we write New Year’s Resolutions.

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


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