On May 6, 1954, professional runner Roger Bannister broke the long-standing four-minute mile record that had been in place for almost seventy years. Breaking the four-minute mile had become “the Holy Grail of athletic achievement,” and a psychological and physical barrier for athletes in North America, Europe, and Australia, until the record was beaten by Bannister.
Only 46 days after Bannister’s record-breaking run, another runner broke the barrier. Then a year later, three more runners broke the four-minute mile in a single race. Today, more than a thousand athletes have run miles in under four minutes, hitting a goal that was once perceived to be impossible.
The story shows that once the unreachable becomes reachable, humans will achieve it. Setting personal goals transforms your mindset, helping you break through previous limitations or barriers.
Research shows that creating specific and timely goals makes you 10 times more likely to succeed and enables a motivated and productive mindset. However, 80 percent of adults never set goals for themselves, according to Reliable Plant.
In this article, find out more about how to set personal goals that motivate and inspire you to achieve your top aspirations and foster long-term healthy habits.
- Only 20% of adults set personal goals for themselves, even though the benefits of goal-setting are well-researched.
- Among people who do set goals, only 3% write them down, which makes you 42% more likely to achieve your goals.
- Research suggests that forming SMART goals that are written down, actionable, and measurable increases your success rate by over 40%.
What Are Personal Goals?
Personal goals are aspirational statements that a person works toward to help them grow and achieve more in life. They allow you to create a long-term vision for your personal health, relationships, plans, and dreams.
Research published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine states that goals are “mental representatives of desired outcomes.” Goal-setting allows us to identify specific objectives, and determine how and when they will be achieved. Setting both short- and long-term goals will improve motivation, help you to work through barriers, and give you a greater sense of self-awareness.
There are several types of personal goals, including:
- Personal development goals: Improves your skills, experience, knowledge, and character in an effort to reach your full potential.
- Professional goals: Creates personal targets for work, focusing on your unique position, tasks, and aspirations.
- Financial goals: Refers to goals related to your personal finances, including budget and investment strategies.
- Health goals: Focuses on goals that will improve your health, including fitness and dietary targets.
- Social goals: Aims to improve social connections and relationships.
Why Setting Personal Goals Matter
“The trouble with not having a goal is that you can spend your life running up and down the field and never score.”Bill Copeland
Additionally, goal-setting contributes to personal growth by:
- Improving well-being: Setting personal goals and having a growth mindset—knowing that you are always learning and growing—improves your mental and physical health.
- Building confidence: Setting and achieving personal goals gives you a sense of control over your life and helps you build confidence in your unique abilities.
- Initiating positive behaviors: Having personal goals in place initiates positive behaviors and improves overall well-being.
- Aligning your focus with your purpose: Setting personal goals helps you gain clarity on what matters to you most and where you should put your focus during personal and professional hours.
- Improving performance: Setting and achieving goals boosts motivation and productivity. It also allows you to learn from mistakes and address barriers that stand in your way of accomplishing long-term targets.
Remember that challenges and setbacks are a natural part of life—they are bound to happen. Don’t let them derail your progress and attention to goal-setting. Instead, think of them as an opportunity to learn and grow. The key is to accept the obstacles and power through them.
Numerous studies show that the “intention behavior gap,” or intention to change behavior alone, doesn’t often result in actual behavior changes. Think about the typically unfulfilled New Year’s Resolution—it’s usually a vague goal with no measurable success benchmark or realistic timeline. That’s exactly why a majority of resolution-setters (some reports claim 80%) end up quitting within a few months.
Setting SMART Goals
In the world of goal-setting research, the SMART acronym is often used as the universal standard. It was created as a management tool to help companies develop clear and aligned objectives and goals.
The SMART framework stands for:
- Specific: The goal is precise, defining the “who” and “what,” and it contains one clear verb.
- Measurable: The goal can be clearly measured over a specific period of time.
- Achievable: The goal should be within reach, with enough time and resources to achieve it.
- Relevant: The goal should contribute to other personal goals, and align with your values and life vision.
- Time-Bound: You have a reasonable date that the goal should be accomplished, allowing ample time for success, but not for procrastination.
Ensure personal goals are clear and actionable. They should also include a deadline and a measurement for success.
- Practice morning meditation: Spend 20 minutes meditating each weekday morning before eating breakfast. To do this, increase meditation time in five-minute increments each month, and reach 20 minutes total by April 1.
- Increase contribution to savings: Increase monthly savings by 10% by automatically transferring $100 from each paycheck to your savings account on the first day of the month. In six months, you will have saved $600.
- Increase leadership skills: Complete one leadership book every month for the next six months, reading nightly on weekdays from 9:00–10:00 p.m.
To make a SMART goal, be sure to write it down and share it with someone, such as your spouse or good friend, for accountability. Review your progress regularly during your goal timeline and when the deadline comes, track your success and reflect on what you’ve learned. Then formulate new personal goals and repeat the pattern. The more you do this, the more likely you are to be successful in achieving your personal goals.
25 Examples of Personal Goals
Family and Relationships
1. Improve the Relationship With Your Spouse/Partner
Research suggests that a good marriage or partnership is good for your health. Maintaining a thriving relationship takes effort and should never be left on the back burner. A better relationship with your partner or spouse can improve communication skills, mental and physical health, and self-confidence.
- Go to bed together at 9:00 p.m. every weeknight in order to spend time discussing the day, its challenges, and happy or proud moments.
- Go on at least one date every month for the next year. This could include a meal out, time spent outdoors, or another outing that reflects your shared interests.
2. Spend More Time With Family
Spending time with family is so important, it can actually increase your lifespan. Keeping a close connection with your parents, children, or siblings, boosts well-being, according to research presented at the American Sociological Association.
Time with family goals:
- Plan monthly family outings or adventures, such as hiking together.
- Cook and share meals together every week.
- Catch up with family members during weekly or biweekly phone calls.
3. Expand Your Friend Circle
Close friendships increase your sense of belonging, boost happiness, and reduce stress. Having a circle of friends with different interests and hobbies will allow you to explore new perspectives and continue to grow.
- Reconnect with an old friend with at least one phone call or text every month.
- Introduce yourself to your neighbor and ask them over for a cup of coffee.
- Every week, introduce yourself to one person in one of your after-work activities, such as at a yoga class, the gym, or a community event.
Skills and Education
4. Read More Non-Fiction Books
Making time for continued education is key to learning and growing. Setting aside 30–60 minutes every day to read is a personal goal for improving skills, whether it’s leadership books, or other topics such as mental health, history, and travel. Choose a subject that’s interesting to you.
Reading goal: Dedicate 30–60 minutes to reading every weeknight, beginning at 9:00 p.m. and finish a total of five books in the next six months.
5. Spend More Time Creating
Engaging in creative behaviors improves brain function, eases anxiety, and helps your overall health. Even if you don’t consider yourself a creative person, try using adult coloring books, making new dinner recipes, building a piece of furniture, or redesigning a room in your house.
Creativity goal: Work on a specific creative project for one hour every week with a completion date within 30 days.
6. Engage in Hobbies and Passions
Engaging in hobbies has proven to promote a more positive mindset, reduce stress, and improve life satisfaction. The type of hobby is up to you, so follow your passions and choose something that provides a sense of ease and comfort.
Hobbies goal: Cook one new recipe for dinner every Wednesday for six months. Prepare ahead of time by choosing a recipe on Sunday and adding the ingredients to your weekly grocery list.
7. Take a Class
Taking an educational class or workshop is a great way to build new skills and learn about a variety of topics. Many local community colleges offer classes for adults. You may also have a local artist studio or creative space that provides educational workshops.
Goal for taking a class: Complete one educational course every year in order to learn more about business management.
Career and Finance
8. Attend Networking Events
Networking events or conferences are an opportunity to build new relationships while improving your own self-confidence. These events can be a crucial piece of your professional development plan. At these events, use small talk to build your contact list and learn more about businesses in your area or industry.
Networking goal: Attend one networking event every month and introduce yourself to five new people at each event.
9. Increase Your Annual Savings
A common personal financial goal is increasing your savings over a distinct period of time. One of the best ways to do this is automatically transferring a specific amount of your paycheck to your savings account. Choose an amount that works for your budget and financial needs.
Increase savings goal: Automatically transfer $100 from each paycheck to your savings account, amounting to a total savings of $2,400 after one year.
10. Set Healthy Boundaries
Setting healthy personal and professional boundaries impacts your sense of trust and respect. Having healthy boundaries improves relationships and your own sense of worth. Saying “no” when you need to is an important tool for keeping boundaries intact.
Healthy boundaries goal: Say “no” when you’re asked to take on an additional task without compensation.
11. Improve Time Management
Time management skills are essential for organizing important tasks, meeting deadlines, and maintaining a healthy work-life balance. Make time management a goal by creating a daily schedule and sticking to it. At the end of each day, review your to-do list and set up your schedule for the following day.
Time management goals:
- Time-block two hours from 9:00–11:00 a.m. every workday to do “deep work” without interruptions.
- Schedule one hour of refuel incentives, such as time on hobbies or leisure activities, on Friday afternoons for the next six months.
12. Create a Vision Board
Creating a vision board and looking at it repeatedly allows you to imagine yourself taking the steps necessary to fulfill your dreams. It’s a type of manifestation that includes words and images associated with the life you aspire to live.
Vision board goal: Create a vision board within two weeks, hang it up in your bedroom, and look at it every day for one year.
13. Exercise Daily
The list of exercise benefits is long, so it makes sense to add it as a personal goal to improve your mental and physical health. Research shows that adding even 30 minutes of exercise to your daily schedule will reduce your risk of disease, improve the health of your brain, relieve stress, and help you to manage a healthy weight. The type of exercise is completely up to you, as long as your heart rate is increased.
Daily exercise goal: Exercise every morning before breakfast for at least 30 minutes, five days per week for one year.
14. Spend Time Outdoors
Studies indicate that spending time outdoors reduces stress and improves overall health, having a positive impact on heart rate, blood pressure, and your state of mind. Set a goal that gets you outdoors throughout the week. For example, take a walk, sit in a green space, have a meal, or enjoy any other outdoor activity that brings you peace.
Time outdoors goal: Take a 30-minute walk outdoors every Saturday morning after eating breakfast for the next three months.
15. Drink More Water
It seems simple, but nearly half of American adults aren’t drinking enough water throughout the day, so it makes sense to add it as a personal goal. Drinking water allows the body to maintain a healthy temperature, cushions the joints, protects the spinal cord, and aids digestion.
Water goals: Fill your 32-ounce reusable water bottle every morning and finish it by dinner time for the next six months.
16. Eat More Vegetables
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that only one in 10 adults gets enough vegetables in their diets. That means that 90% of American adults can add eating more vegetables to their list of personal goals. Vegetables are nutrient-dense foods that provide essential vitamins and minerals that play a role in many body functions.
- Make a smoothie every workday morning that includes one cup of leafy greens.
- Fill half of your dinner plate with vegetables, such as roasted root veggies or leafy greens, during every meal eaten at home.
17. Get Enough Sleep
One in three adults doesn’t get enough sleep, which can lead to brain fog, fatigue, anxiety, inflammation, weight gain, and more. Set a goal to sleep at least seven hours every night.
- Get into bed at 9:00 p.m. every work night for one year.
- Turn off all screened devices, including cell phones and television, by 9:00 p.m. every night for one year.
18. Establish a Morning and Evening Routine
Establishing and sticking to a morning and evening routine is an important way to prepare for the day, boost energy, increase productivity, maintain healthy habits, and improve sleep quality.
Morning routine goal:
- Drink a full glass of water after waking up at 6:00 a.m., review your daily schedule for five minutes, stretch for 10 minutes, and sit down quietly with a cup of coffee or tea until 7:00 a.m.
Evening routine goal:
- Wash up at 8:30 p.m., stretch for 10 minutes, and get into bed at 9:00 p.m. for 30 minutes of reading.
19. Show Gratitude
Showing gratitude is strongly associated with feelings of greater happiness, positive emotions, improved relationships, and an increased ability to deal with adversity. Expressing gratitude to the people around you, including family members, peers, and coworkers, is a personal goal that can have a positive impact on your well-being and theirs.
Gratitude goal: Tell one person every week that you’re grateful for his/her work, love, or commitment.
20. Get Involved in the Community
Getting involved in the community, through a charitable organization, school, or any other program that brings people together, will boost happiness and give you a greater sense of connection. It also gives you a chance to do good in the world, which will impact your own mental and physical health. Contact a local church, school district, or medical center to ask about surrounding community programs that can use a helping hand.
Community goal: Join one community program this year and attend meetings or events at least once a month.
21. Improve Emotional Intelligence
Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and manage your emotions. People with higher levels of emotional intelligence are better communicators and empathizers, and they can more easily overcome adversity.
Emotional intelligence goal: Address feelings as they occur, think about why they are occurring, and work through them (instead of ignoring them). Use a journal to track emotions and pinpoint patterns.
22. Reduce Social Media Use
The average social media user is on it for more than two hours a day, according to research from Global Web Index. But reports show that social media is harmful, leading to poor sleep, negative body image, reduced self-esteem, and increased depression.
Social media goal: Use 30 minutes or less of social media platforms daily for one year.
23. Take Time Off
Only about a quarter of employees use all of their paid time off, according to a report by Qualtrics. But taking time off is vital for your overall satisfaction with life, and greatly improves your work-life balance.
Time off goal: Use all of your PTO days this year and schedule refueling activities and quiet time on those days.
Traveling helps you disconnect from the world and recharge, leaving you feeling more rested and motivated. Research shows that people are happier when they spend money on experiences versus material goods. Plus, awaiting an experience, like a vacation, drives positive emotions. Traveling can be done on any budget—it can be a car trip to a neighboring city or a plane ride to another country. Make it work for you, but set a goal to do it.
Travel goal: Take one vacation that lasts three or more days every six months.
25. Embrace Doing Nothing
Doing nothing may seem like a waste of time, but experiencing quiet time allows your brain and body to recharge, lets you sit with your emotions, reduces anxiety, and can even give you a greater sense of purpose.
Doing nothing goal: Schedule time to do nothing for at least one hour per week for the next six months.
Use Your Life Vision as a Guideline
While achieving goals alone isn’t what defines success, using goals to move from one point to the next and gauge progress can be beneficial. The key is to hit each marker without compromising your values or losing sight of the big picture.
Keeping the story of Bannister and the 4-minute mile in mind, goal-setting is about perspective, not limits. It opens the doors to possibilities that you wouldn’t be focused on otherwise and aligns your objectives with your overall mission.
However, before you pinpoint your personal goals, you need to determine a clear mental picture of what you’d like to achieve. Without this basis, you’ll struggle to stay motivated and keep pushing toward your goals. To set effective goals that you stick with, learn more about establishing a life vision that aligns with your purpose.
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