As a sleep coach and mental performance consultant, I have spent several years of graduate training learning about human psychology and the science of behavior change. This article breaks down highly effective goal-setting strategies that are backed by science and can help you continue to make progress toward your goals and become the version of yourself you wish to be.
I use these goal-setting strategies successfully with clients working to increase their sleep time and get off sleeping pills, achieve new performance goals in sport or at work, and in my own life as a hiking enthusiast and when transitioning to full-time travel and RVing.
Without goal setting and these strategies, we wouldn’t be full-time digital nomads living our dream life. We wouldn’t be championing our own business, and we most likely wouldn’t be hiking over 800 miles a year, including five peaks over 14,000 feet. Goal setting is a powerful tool for getting you to where (and who) you want to be!
Goal Setting Keys to Keep in Mind
A general overview:
- Be specific. Clear goals with an identified end state are easier to work towards.
- Be flexible. It is okay if things change or evolve as time passes
- Be honest. Be truthful about your progress and true to yourself. Set goals that are meaningful to you.
- Be gentle. Imagine helping your best friend. You deserve kindness and support
- Be patient. Change takes time and progress is rarely ever linear
- Be bold. Growth happens outside of your comfort zone! Dream big
Questions to Consider When Setting a Goal
- What is it that you want to achieve? This is best as something you want to do for yourself, not that someone else wants or expects you to do
- Who is it that you want to be?
- What benefits do you think you would get from achieving this goal? How would it change your life?
- How do you expect to feel when you accomplish this goal?
Highly Effective Goal-Setting Strategies
Here we take a deeper dive into the what, how, and why of effective goal-setting strategies so that you can apply them to your own life and goals!
Define your Goal
Before you can reach the ultimate destination of your goal, you have to know how where it is you intend to go. When setting goals, make sure they are clearly defined by making them as specific as possible.
When navigating anywhere it is helpful if the destination is not ambiguous. For example, it is easier to reach the goal of “hiking your first 14,000 foot peak,” than “be a better hiker” which is not as specific and therefore might be harder to intentionally work towards and measure.
Set Goals that are Realistic, Attainable, and Within your Control
Dream big. Growth happens outside of your comfort zone and it is good to push yourself to new heights as you focus on doing your best and becoming the best possible version of yourself.
At the same time, it is important to set goals that you feel are within the realm of possibility and attainable so as to not set yourself up for failure. Too much frustration can be a deterrent that leaves you unwilling to work towards your goal.
Look for that happy balance of challenge and don’t be afraid to dream big. The scarier the goal, the more rewarding it will be when you accomplish it. That’s how we felt when we went from not hiking much to summiting 14ers in Colorado or living comfortably in our apartment to selling everything and moving into our RV and traveling full time.
All that fear, doubt, and worry are worth it when you are creating a life that you love and are proud of.
Choose goals that are relevant and meaningful for you and that focus on areas within your control where you can work to make changes. Bringing acceptance to areas outside of your control will save you from wasting your limited resources.
Identify a Timeline
Having a deadline in mind for your goals can help you hold yourself accountable to work towards your desired end state. Pick a time frame that is realistic, but also challenging enough to keep you motivated to work towards it consistently.
Evaluate & Refine
One of the most important goal-setting strategies is evaluating and refining as you go. Goal setting is fluid and it is always a good idea to revisit your goals when checking in on your progress.
Be honest with yourself, how are things going? Do you need to refine the goal or evolve your priorities in any way? It is good to challenge yourself, but it shouldn’t lead to feelings of burnout.
Check in with yourself and see if the goal is still realistic for you right now. Goals are meant to move and change with you.
Set “SMARTER” Goals
If you are familiar with the “SMART” goals framework, the points above might have felt a bit familiar. Take it one step further and you can make those goals even smarter:
- S: Specific
- M: Measurable & Meaningful
- A: Attainable
- R: Realistic & Relevant
- T: Time-bound
- E: Evaluate
- R: Refine
These are great foundational goal-setting strategies that will help you lay the basics of solid goals to work towards in any area of your life.
Below, you will find additional goal-setting strategies to move beyond setting the goal and support you in staying motivated and navigating obstacles on the path to achieving your goals:
Goal Setting Strategies for Action & Motivation
Tie your Goal to your Values
When it comes to working towards goals, motivation can be tough. It is normal to not always feel motivated and sometimes your commitment to the process and yourself will matter more than if you feel motivated or not.
This being said, some of the highest quality and longest-lasting sources of motivation come in the form of your values. For example, how does the goal you are working towards tie into your personal values? Or why is the outcome associated with achieving the goal important to you?
You might have a goal to exercise 3 times a week because you value your health and being able to be active with your family, or you make an effort to get outside each day because it makes you feel good.
Or you might make an effort to hike at least once per week because you see yourself as a hiker and view that as part of your identity. These are all motivators that are more internal to you and therefore more motivating long-term.
Extrinsic sources of motivation on the other hand, such as going on a hike to please your social media followers or doing tasks to avoid punishment can certainly be motivating factors, but often aren’t going to help you stay motivated long term.
Start by writing out a long list of values (here is a great example list of values from habit expert James Clear), or things that are important to you, and then work to narrow it down.
Questions like what gets you out of bed each day, what upsets you, and who and what is important to you and why can help you identify your core values.
Identify Obstacles and Problem-Solve Proactively
Working on goals is a process that comes with many ups and downs along the way. Creating new habits or re-training the brain is hard work!
Want to improve your sleep, but know you have a hard time getting up in the morning? Or want to spend more time outdoors, but now it will be tougher to do that in winter? Reflecting on anticipated challenges can help you proactively create solutions and set yourself up for success as best you can.
For example, you might set your alarm across the room so you have to get out of bed to turn it off, or you might invest in some warmer clothes so you can get outside more comfortably, or think about creative ways to connect with nature even if you can’t spend much time outside.
Being mindful to set your environment up for success is one of the most effective goal-setting strategies that is often overlooked. Make it easier to carry out the actions needed to work towards your goals and more challenging to do the actions that take you further away from them.
Use your Support System & Create Accountability
The best way to continue working towards your goals and dreams consistently?
Keep your goals top of mind! Life can be busy and with so many things pulling you in different directions, it is easy for new goals or habit changes to get put on the back burner.
One of the easiest goal-setting strategies is to keep your goal visible! You can write it down and put it somewhere you’ll see it often (think bathroom mirror, fridge, or phone screensaver).
Another great option is to reach out to your support network! Who can you tell about your goal to help you hold yourself accountable? Sharing what you are working towards with others helps make your goals that much more real and is a great way to have your friends and family checking in with you about how your progress is coming along.
You don’t have to get there alone! You might even find someone who wants to work on a similar goal or is interested in a buddy system for accountability.
Break it Down into Small Stepping Stones
Looking at the peak of a mountain while standing at the base can be daunting.
There have been countless times when I have embarked on hikes longer and more challenging than what I had accomplished before, and I found myself questioning how I could accomplish the hike ahead. Thoughts like “is this even possible?” or “I can’t do this” came up often.
Good news! Any goal or new milestone can be broken down into steps that feel a lot more manageable. Sure, knowing you have 5 miles and 5,000 feet of elevation left to the summit is daunting, but what about 1 mile and 1,000 feet of elevation? With that smaller step, you can remind yourself that you’ve done that before and make it feel doable.
Break down your larger goals into smaller steps to help you work your way to your ultimate destination, one step at a time. Want to complete a 10-mile “hard” hike in a year? You might set smaller goals such as starting with a 1-mile hike, then a 2-mile, 5-mile, etc.
Goals are achieved one step at a time. Make it a journey that you explore with curiosity along the way.
From those Stepping Stones Create Action Steps
Once you have broken down your larger goal into smaller goals, you can create clear action steps that make it easier to follow through. Action steps help you turn your short-term, smaller goals into actionable steps that are easier for you to commit to carrying out.
For example, let’s say you are working towards making mindfulness or meditation a regular practice. In 6 months you want to have a routine of practicing at least 10 minutes a day, 6 days a week. In your first week of working towards this goal, your action step might be finding one meditation app you like, or to do 1, 10-minute meditation.
Action steps should be clear and easy to follow and can then be built on as you make progress!
Know How you will Check in on & Measure Progress
Something helpful for staying committed to working towards a new goal is being able to celebrate your success along the way! While in the moment, it can be tough to see if you are truly making progress. This can lead to frustration and hinder effort as the goal feels out of reach. These things don’t happen overnight!
Being clear on how you will measure progress can help you reflect on those wins and the progress you are making along the way, step by step. One part of this is bringing awareness to the progress you are making. This might be self-tracking the times you commit to the action identified that will move you closer to your goal, or setting up times with people in your support network to check in on progress.
Look in that rearview mirror periodically to see how far you have come while you continue to drive ahead toward the ultimate goal.
Once you measure that progress…
Celebrate your Wins!
Reflect on your progress by making an effort to celebrate your wins along the way. With this easy-to-follow goal-wins exercise, you’ll be able to reflect on progress while sustaining forward momentum:
- Each day or each week, write down 3 things that went well as you worked towards your goals. What is working for you? What are wins you are proud of?
- Is there anything worth improving? Anything you learned that can help you continue to do better and build on your progress as you look ahead?
Goal Setting Strategies Overall
Goal setting can feel like an overused buzzword that is difficult to really put into action in a way that works for you. Whether you have big or small goals, you owe it to yourself to give it everything you’ve got.
These goal-setting strategies are designed to help.
Don’t feel pressured to start before you are ready, but also try not to let the fear of failing hold you back. Your goals can evolve and be refined with you and moments of failure are often the best learning opportunities.
Set “SMARTER” goals, make them meaningful and tied to your values, and set up your environment to help you stay motivated and committed to working on them each day. This process doesn’t require perfection. With consistent action, you’ll find plenty of wins to celebrate along the way toward your final goal.
Small steps lead to big impacts over time. And you deserve to continue moving towards the happiest, most fulfilled version of yourself.
Have a goal you are working towards? Reach out and share! We would love to hear how it goes and cheer you on in the process!
Interested in supporting your wellness and the role spending time in nature can play in that? You might be interested in these other articles:
- Mindful Moments in Nature: Thriving Through Immersive Experiences
- 10 Nature is Healing Quotes (& How to experience the benefits)
- 7 Science-Backed Benefits of Spending Time in Nature
- 7 Fun Mindfulness Activities for the Outdoors: How to Support Wellness in Nature
- Mindful Walking Practice: Enhance your Next Hike with these Tips