How to get started with setting personal goals

As a coach, I’ve use lots of creative ways to approach goal setting. What I've often found is

Different approaches work for different people at different times.

Which is great news as lots of people get stuck at the goal setting stage and become so overwhelmed that they put off getting started. How do you go about setting your goals?

Lots of coaches say there is no coaching without a goal. I get that, I really do. But does that mean you can’t take part in coaching if you’re not clear on what you want? Or if your goals must be flexible? How will you get started if you can’t talk through your thoughts with someone?

Well, you could just start before you're ready. Somewhere. In the middle. At the end. Anywhere really! Give it a go by starting with something like this. Just take what you need from it and leave what you don’t, play about with the rules and make it your own:

1. Create your "big picture" of what you want to do with your life (or over, say, the next few years), and identify the large-scale goals that you want to achieve, what do you want to be, do, have?

2. Break these down into the smaller and smaller targets that you must hit to reach your lifetime goals.

3. Once you have a rough plan, you start working on the detail to achieve these goals.

You can start the process of goal setting by looking at your lifetime goals. Then, break it down to the things that you can do in the next year, next month, next week, and today, to start moving towards them.

Setting Lifetime Goals

Consider what you want to achieve in your lifetime (or at least, by a significant and distant age in the future). Setting lifetime goals gives you the overall perspective that shapes all other aspects of your decision making.

To give a broad, balanced coverage of areas that are important in your life, you might want to think about things like:

Career – What level do you want to reach in your career, or what do you want to achieve?

Financial – How much do you want to earn, by what stage? Is this related to your career goals?

Personal Growth – Is there any knowledge you want to acquire in particular? What information and skills will you need to have to achieve other goals?

Family – Do you want to be a parent? If so, how are you going to be a good parent? How do you want to be seen by a partner or by members of your extended family?

Behaviours – (confidence/self-esteem) Is any part of your mindset holding you back? Do you have any specific behaviours that you want to improve on? (If so, set a goal to improve your behaviour or find a solution to the problem.)

Social life – How do you want to enjoy yourself? Holidays? Travel? Friends?

Health - Are you happy with your health? What about your mental health? What do you want this to look and feel like for you?

Take some time and be honest with yourself. Try to select one or more goals in each category that best reflect what you want to do. Then consider a small number of significant goals that you can focus on first. Your natural starting point.

As you do this, make sure that the goals that you have set are ones that you genuinely want to achieve, not ones that your parents, family, or employers might want. (If you have a partner, you might want to consider what they want – however, make sure that you also remain true to yourself!)

Setting Smaller Goals

Once you have set your lifetime goals, try to break these down even more until you have a set of smaller goals that you need to complete if you are to reach your lifetime plan.

Create a one-year plan, six-month plan, and a one-month plan of progressively smaller goals that you should reach to achieve your lifetime goals. Each of these should be based on the previous plan.

Then create a daily To-Do List of things that you should do today to work towards your lifetime goals.

At an early stage, your smaller goals might be research oriented, to gather information on the achievement of your higher-level goals. This will help you to improve the quality and realism of your goal setting.

Finally review your plans, and make sure that they fit the way in which you want to live your life.

Once you've decided on your first set of goals, keep the process going by reviewing and updating your To-Do List regularly. Periodically review the longer-term plans and modify them to reflect your changing priorities and experience.


A useful way of making goals more powerful is to use the SMART mnemonic. While there are plenty of variants (some of which I’ve included in parenthesis), SMART usually stands for:

S – Specific (or Significant).

M – Measurable (or Meaningful).

A – Attainable (or Action-Oriented).

R – Relevant (or Rewarding).

T – Time-bound (or Trackable).

For example, instead of having "to sail around the world" as a goal, it's more powerful to say, "To have started my first leg of my trip around the world by December 1st, 2022." Obviously, this will only be attainable if a lot of preparation has been completed beforehand!

Good luck!

If you need a helping hand, then please contact me here and we can get started on that plan!

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