What’s the Best Way to Phrase Your Goals?

Thanks to Anna for inspiring this post with her questions last week!


You’ve probably heard the saying that “a goal is a dream with a deadline.” Maybe you’re familiar with the suggestion that goals need to be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. A lot has been written on the topic of goal setting, and different methods work for different people.

Here are two methods that have worked for me:

1. Make short-term, specific goals. Instead of saying “I’m going to lose weight,” say “I’m going to lose ten pounds by March 15th.” Instead of saying “I’m going to write a novel,” say “I’m going to create a plot outline for my novel by January 31st, and then I’m going to write the first two chapters by February 28th.”

There are studies showing that you’re more likely to achieve a goal if it’s both specific and achievable in the near future. The reason for this is you only have to focus on one part of the process at a time and it’s easier to sustain motivation if you know you’re close to getting what you want.

Once you reach the short term goal, you set the next one, of course, until you get to where you want to be.

2. Set goals that focus on the habits you want to achieve. This one actually works better for me, because I know I’m on track if I complete my daily checklist, but it does require some faith that changing your habits is going to lead to the result you want.

For example, I want to lose weight in 2012, but the goals I’m setting focus on taking small consistent actions, like:

  • Walk for 5 minutes every day, increasing by 1 minute each week until I’m walking 30 minutes per day.
  • Do my ten minute stretching routine.
  • Eat less than 15 g of sugar every day.
  • Keep a food diary.
  • Start doing three strength-building exercises, increasing by 1 repetition each week, until I’m doing 30 reps.

My long-term goal is to establish the habits of a person who writes prolifically and maintains their ideal body weight. I want to become the kind of person who automatically makes good choices without having to force myself or feel deprived.

I’m a type A person and a perfectionist too, and it’s so easy for me to get upset with minor setbacks. For me, focusing on whether or not I’m building the habit keeps me from getting overwrought when the scale says I gained 0.2 lb even though I stuck to my diet and worked out.

But regardless of how you phrase your goals, you still need to have a plan for how you’re going to achieve them. Do you know what specific action(s) you need to take this week to make progress on your goals?

Do you know what you’re going to eat today that will put your body into fat-burning mode?

Do you have ten minutes set aside for that mid-afternoon walk?

If you haven’t yet broken your 2012 goals down into a series of actions you can take, these recent posts will walk you through the process:

Goals, Part 1
Goals, Part 2
Goals, Part 3

What goals would you like to accomplish in 2012?

What’s the first step you’re going to take toward achieving those goals?


Is one of your 2012 goals to get rid of your clutter?

Leo Babauta and Courtney Carver are holding the “Clutterfat Challenge” this month, where they invite you to join them in a month-long decluttering spree: http://zenhabits.net/clutterfat/

Don’t forget to sign up for the free kickoff webinar for tips!


Thank you, Julie, for the lovely review of The Kaizen Plan for Healthy Eating you posted on Counting My Spoons: fibrokitty.blogspot.com

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One Response to What’s the Best Way to Phrase Your Goals?

  1. Anna says:

    🙂 Thank you.

    I am having success already by doing little habit changes.

    Great post! I’ll keep refining my goals. I like the quote about goals being dreams with a time limit. I hadn’t thought of that.

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