So you'd like to set some goals, but you're not sure where to start

Updated Feb 26 2018
Guest post by Bree Lark
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When I was little, I thought I knew what my life was going to look like, right down to the details. I had this idealized fantasy world of me writing best-selling fantasy novels, while living in a big old Victorian house by a river. Yes, I know it's possible to be a best-selling author and own an old Victorian house, I'm sure… but the odds of that actually happening? Slim to none.

But now… I'm at a point in my life where nothing feels certain. Which sucks, because I'm the type of person who needs security and assurance.

It is pretty rare to come across someone who knows exactly what they want to do for the rest of their life (realistically speaking,) and how they are going to make it out on their own. While I am not sure right now about career paths and long term relationship dreams, I've found figuring out what you want to get out of life can help you decide to plan out bigger future goals. Little goals are like baby steps or building blocks. They help you work upwards.

For example, I have three main goals. These goals are things I am aiming for in my future, something I want to work for, a decision I have made, or something that helps me think positively of the future.

  1. I would like to live in a small house.
  2. I would like to help foster dogs for a shelter.
  3. I have no desire to have any children.

These goals may seem small and unimportant at a glance. Who cares if I want to foster dogs? Shouldn't I care more about something "serious?" Well, for me, fostering dogs as a goal is about something I can look forward to in the future, something I would like to do while living independently. Which gets me excited for my future, even if I'm not a hundred percent sure what the future may hold.

Like to make your own goals, but not sure where to start?

My biggest advice is to start small. Big goals can be daunting and you may never feel you will live up to the expectations of something so huge. So, keeping that in mind, try not to list one of your goals as "becoming a millionaire." Instead, make a goal be where you would like to travel, for example: where you would like to take a summer road trip. Or maybe, make your goal something more specific: to move out of your family nest in the next couple of years.

I may not know exactly where I'm going yet, but I am working on it — on my own way and at my own pace.

How do you create goals when you don't really know where you're headed?

  1. Fostering dogs is definitely a great goal! One of the goals my boyfriend and I share is to have one dog and one cat. What needs to happen for that? We can't live in our current place, that doesn't allow any cats and is very strict about dogs. How do we get somewhere that will let us have pets? Save money bit by bit, do lots of research when it's time to move, scour the shelters, etc.

    Most goals take lots of small, unsexy steps to achieve. Unfortunately there's no montage of me transferring money every month into my savings account so that I could save up for a big vacation, and the spreadsheets where I researched hotel options and wrote down directions wouldn't make an exciting movie either. But the vacation gave me some of the best times I had all year, and it was so worth all the effort. Same with the races I've run–there's no swell of motivational music playing every time I decide to put on my sneakers and do a training run, but doing that over and over was the only way to get there.

    Anyway, great food for thought, and good luck with your small house and foster dogs!

  2. I don't think any goal is too small or too big as long as you're also crafting a plan on how to get to them. One of the best ways to create goals is to start by setting aside your ideas of what's possible and just create goals that you WANT. After that, you can choose whether or not you really want it, and if you do, how you're going to get it. You also have to accept that sometimes, goals aren't possible, and that's okay. It's also okay to mourn the loss of a goal. Plans are allowed to change as you change, so don't feel like the goals are set in stone.

  3. I teach students about goal-setting in my Human Development course, and one of the things that I talk with them about is SMART goals. SMART stands for: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time Bound. It can be helpful in breaking down those BIG goals into the smaller more manageable chunks. Instead of "I want to lose weight," it can be, "I want to lose five pounds in the next 6 weeks by going to the gym 2 days a week, not eating ice cream after dinner, and bringing a salad for lunch everyday." The time bound piece is really helpful so that you can see yourself accomplishing things and ticking them off the list (even if the original date has to be put off!).

    So if your goal is to own a small home, it could look like: By 2018 I will own a small 2 bedroom home in XYZ neighborhood. To do that I will first save X by doing Y in 2016. I will contact mortgage specialists 6 months before I want to buy. Etc. It can be helpful to see the timeline and all the little steps along the way!

    • In line with the SMART method is the SWOT analysis matrix. It stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Once you have picked a goal, it's good to put it through this analysis to make sure it's realistic, and help you foresee its consequences and any pitfalls.

  4. I am struggling with career goals so this is very timely for me. My SO and I have done a lot to get us where we are today and I shouldn't forget that as I tend to do quite often but I feel down about the career stuff. I went through a LOT of schooling to get my degree but… I don't know what I want to do with my life! I don't love my career like I thought I would and I don't know what to do now. I'm really unsure which direction to move and I feel very stuck. I don't even know what goals to choose!

  5. I think setting small goals also helps reaching larger ones: as you get used to act in a way that is conducive to goal-reaching, you acquire a methodology and a mindset which will help attain larger goals. I always have a couple of big-picture goals and a dozen of smaller ones, and so far I have attained a lot of them.

  6. I am struggling with this a lot right now. I have a job and some financial security that I've never had before. Life was always so much about finding a decent job that now that I have a job, I don't know what I want any more. Finding goals or a new 'five -year-plan' has been impossible. I am focusing on small things like: pay off credit cards, visit a National Park every year, or play a gig with my band. But I still feel uncomfortable not having any idea where I'm headed in the next two to five years.

  7. I've been in a similar boat lately in terms of goal-setting for the short term, but with the long-term in mind. For example, my boyfriend and I recently started talking about marriage becoming a thing during the next few years, so my goal for the duration of this year is to get my budget in check and start putting dollars into savings. Yeah, my monthly budget spreadsheet is super unsexy, but it's suuuuuper necessary if I'm going to achieve any of my money-saving goals. And since it keeps me on top of my spending, it just might let me knock off some of those student loans *before* I keel over. I consider my budgeting goal to be a step in the process of achieving a big-picture goal.

  8. I quit my very lucrative job primarily so that I could stop traveling (for work) and get a dog! I started fostering instead, and it's an incredibly rewarding experience. I hope you get started soon!

  9. Okay, your childhood goals sound seriously similar to mine. I have long been a lover of both old houses and fantasy lit.

    I'm also quickly learning a similar lesson. I entered college a clear-eyed ambitious theatre major set on designing the costumes for the next Wicked. I'm in my second year now and, while that goal isn't too big or anything, I'm finding out that it's not what I really want.

    I've been pretty lost not knowing what I'm working towards in school and even in life I make long term goals begrudgingly. (In fifteen years i want to be working in theatre with my own house with my poly partners, some cats and a couple kids……… I guess) but I'm also lost without something to work toward.

    Smaller 4-5 year goals work a lot better for me which is why, a couple weeks ago when I started talking to grad schools, things clicked into place. My goals have gone from SUPER SUCCESS, to idk what i want to do about my love life, to 'I would like to get a Master's degree' and that feels a lot more manageable to me.

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