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How to Create Great Personal Goals

Carrie Steckl, Ph.D.: Tue, Jul 9th 2013

Have you ever sat down to create some personal goals and found yourself staring at a blank page? If so, you're not alone. Setting good goals is harder than it sounds. It's true that almost all of us can come up with some semblance of a goal, such as, "I will write a best-seller by the end of the year." But how realistic is that? And if it's not realistic, how motivated will we be to work towards it? Furthermore, how will we feel when we revisit that goal in the future and see how clearly we have failed?

word goal written on a dartboardGoals should move us forward, but they should also be achievable. This is a tricky balance to strike. Goals that are too easy might initially make us feel cool, but what will we have really accomplished? On the other hand, unrealistic goals will just make us frustrated and see ourselves as less than capable. In addition to making your goals realistic, here are two other tips for successful goal creation:

Set goals that are measurable. This won't be possible with every goal, but try to think about goals in terms of frequency, intensity, and duration. If it's a new behavior you want to increase, how often will you do it? At what level? And for how long?

Physical fitness goals can easily be quantified. For instance, you might say, "I will run for 30 minutes 3 times per week at an average of 75% of my maximum heart rate."

What's the frequency? Three times per week. The duration? Thirty minutes. And how about the intensity? That's there, too: an average of 75% of your maximum heart rate.

Measurable goals are more motivating than vague goals with no parameters against which to determine your success.

State goals using positive language. It's always more pleasant to hear a declaration like "I will…" compared to "I won't…" We like it when other people talk to us that way, too. Consider these two statements: "Don't eat that greasy muffin!" or "Try this awesome fruit salad I just made!" Which would you rather hear from someone trying to help you improve your diet?

When we use positive language, not only does it feel better - it also provides us with a new positive behavior to try instead of just admonishing us to stop a bad behavior.

Here's an example of a negatively-stated goal: "I will not snap at my kids when I'm stressed about work." All this communicates is that you should stop doing something. But what should you do instead?

Here's an example of the same goal stated in a positive way: "When I get home from work each day, I will practice deep breathing for three minutes and think of one thing I love about each of my children before coming inside the house."

What do you think? Are you ready to set some goals? It doesn't have to be New Year's Eve to do it - every day is an opportunity to begin anew.


Young, M. E. (2013). Learning the art of helping: Building blocks and techniques (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.


Carrie Steckl, Ph.D.

Itís a true blessing to have you visit my blog on mental health and wellness. I also write blogs on faith and caregiving in addition to teaching part-time for Columbia College of Missouri. For more information about my background and writing, visit my webpage at

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