goals word map with hand writing how to set goals

How to Set Goals in Life And Achieve Your Dreams

Setting good goals is essential to being successful in life. Maybe you know this already, but you’re not sure where to begin. Well, you’re at the right place – we’ve put together some great tips for you on how to set goals in life.

What are your goals in life? Often when someone says they have a goal, what they really mean is that they are attracted to a vague idea. You may say, “I just want to be happy.” But as Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Happiness is not a goal…it’s a by-product of a life well-lived.” A life well lived rarely happens by accident. It is the result of setting and pursuing goals.

If you want to get anywhere in life, it’s important to dream beyond where you are now. You need to set goals that will get you moving towards a bigger, better future.

How to Set Goals That Will Move You Forward

Any old goal won’t do. If you want to achieve success in life, you need to set the right goals. Good goals are goals that effectively move you towards the future you want. These are the goals that matter. If you want to succeed, then be clear about what you want and write it down in detail.

Why write it down? A study at Dominican University in California found that you are 42 percent more likely to achieve your goals just by writing them down. Other studies have shown that even if you never look at those goals again, you still have a significantly higher chance of achieving those goals as compared to someone who doesn’t write down their goals.

how to set goals in life - eleanor roosevelt quote

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So how do you go about putting your goals in writing? You may find a goal planner helpful, but do you even know what to put it in it?

All successful people have a goal. No one can get anywhere unless he knows where he wants to go and what he wants to be or do.” 

Norman Vincent Peale

We’ve put together some questions to help you figure out a life that will bring you meaning and a sense of accomplishment. We’ll help you figure out what to write down in that fancy planner.

3 Steps To Setting Good Goals

Good goals start with daydreams, imaginations, and hopes. The worries, struggles, and busyness of life can easily become barriers to dreaming.

Setting good goals starts with taking time to dream. Let go of what others say you or people like you “should” or “can’t” be or do. This is dreamland – there are no limits. Dream big!

Step 1 – Dream Big and In Detail

Set aside any objections – just for now. Describe your ideal life. Write down whatever comes to mind, even sketch it if that’s more helpful to you. You may find this post on How to Create the Life You Want from the Broken Blessings additionally helpful. After you’ve done this, answer the questions that follow to help you refine your vision.

If you want to be happy, set a goal that commands your thoughts, liberates your energy, and inspires your hopes.”

Andrew Carnegie

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Step 2 – Distill Your Goals Down to 3 Guiding Goals

We’ve put together three questions to help you identify your guidepost goals. Knowing the answers to these above can help you re-adjust the details of all the other goals in your life to keep you moving towards your dreams. Every other goal you make should move you towards these are your top three goals. Each of these deserves as least a paragraph-long answer if not more. Clarity is key.

  1. How do you want to feel?  
  2. What do you want to experience?
  3. If your life leaves the world one message, what do you want it to be?

​Make sure you are crystal clear on these because there will be factors in your life you can’t control. 

Figure Out Your Most Important Goal In Life

Question three helps you identify your most important goal in life. In the end, what endures is your life’s message.

It’s OK if you don’t have a very clear idea on that yet. Here are some ideas on how to start figuring that out.

Identify Your Heroes

Who do you admire? Write it down and write down why you admire them.

  1. What do you especially admire about their lives?
  2. In what ways have they impact have they made on you?
  3. What impact have they made on the world?

Identify Your Values

What’s most important to you in terms of being true to who you want to be? For help with this, answer the following questions.

  1. Is there anything you are willing to die for?
  2. What things would you not compromise on, no matter how much you were paid?
  3. How do you want to be seen? What reputation do you want to have?

Identify Your Pain Points

As the saying goes, “Turn your mess into your message.” Some of the most meaningful and powerful work done in the world has come as a result of those who have been through the trenches fighting to overcome.

  1. What do you want to never go through again?
  2. What have you gone through that you want to spare others from?
  3. Who made a big difference for you during a difficult time in your life?

Review your heroes, pain points, and values. Make up a story from these about a person, their life. Write the story to have a powerful and meaningful ending. What’s the message? It is likely your message.

Do be sure to fully work through your pain points before launching on a mission to help others. If you aren’t fully or mostly healed, you may find it to be more than you can handle.

How Guideposts Can Direct Your Goals

Let’s say you’ve determined that being a professional basketball player is your life’s goal. Then one day, you blow your knee out. Career over, dreams crushed. What now? In light of the questions above, consider why you wanted to be a pro basketball player.  Know your why.

  1. Is it for the pay?
  2. Is it because you like being part of a team?
  3. Do you like to spend most of your days doing something athletic?
  4. Did you hope for fame?
  5. Would it make you feel accomplished?

There are other ways to do all of the above. Even if you didn’t blow out your knee, knowing the answers to the guidepost questions can help you navigate your career.

After you have defined your top three goals, it may be easier to get into the nitty-gritty of defining or setting more detailed goals. All of the more detailed goals should move you towards your top three goals in some way.

Step 3 – Create A Life Plan Worksheet

​​We’ve put together a worksheet with the questions listed below to help you define your ideal life in greater detail. We recommend you respond to each question with as much detail that if you were to read it 5 or 10 years from now you’d understand exactly what you described.

  1. What are the different relationships you’d like to have in your life?
  2. Which places you would like to visit?
  3. What kinds of friends do you want to have?
  4. Where do you want to live?
  5. What things do you want to buy?
  6. If you could win awards, what awards would you want to win?
  7. What does your spiritual life look like?
  8. How do you want to be intellectually?
  9. What kind of home do you want to own?
  10. How do you want to be emotionally?
  11. What qualities do you want to develop in yourself?
  12. How do you want to be physically?
  13. What hobbies do you want to pursue?
  14. Who do you want to help?
  15. What kinds of projects do you want to do?
  16. How do you want to think and feel about yourself?
  17. What are your goals educationally?
  18. What do you want to be a part of?
  19. How will you know when you have “arrived”?
  20. What are 10 adjectives that others might use to describe you, when you have reached your goals?

​Once you’ve written up your ideal life, you may want to take a break & see if anything else pops into your mind. Sometimes, once you stop trying to think about it, additional, but important details will pop up. Get all these questions in a printable pdf!

How to Achieve Your Goals and Dreams

Successfully achieving your goals and dreams requires developing a strategy. Once you’ve clearly identified your dreams, break them down into actionable steps and benchmark achievements. These achievements become your goals. This plan is the key to propel you from dreamer to achiever.

Write Down Your Goals

Make sure you’ve clearly written down each of these goals and steps. Don’t just “do it in your head.” Yes, a teenager will probably balk at taking the time to write something down, but it’s worth it.

Just by writing your goals down, you’re leaps and bounds closer to achieving them. According to this article in ForbesHarvard Business Study found that the 3% of graduates from their MBA who had their goals written down, ended up earning ten times as much as the other 97% put together, just ten years after graduation.”

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Make Your Goals SMART

SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-based. The benefit of SMART goals is that they provide sufficient details and direction to measure success. Review your goals and re-write any that need it as SMART goals. 

Break Your Goals Down

The next important step is to define the path to break down your big goals into smaller steps. Take one big goal at a time and write down the steps or supporting action you need to take to get to that goal and write down every supporting action you can think of to take you closer to your big goal.

For instance, if you want to own a home, you’ll probably need to get a loan.
So “get a home loan” goes on your list of goals.

To get a loan, you’ll need a good credit history.
So “build a good credit history” goes on your list.

To build a good credit history you’ll need to get a credit card.
Add “get a credit card.”

For that credit history to be good, you’ll need to pay your credit card bill on time.
Add “pay the credit card bill on time”

To pay your credit card on time, you’ll need to make sure you “stay on top of the payment schedule”… and so on.

Goal Setting Worksheet

Figuring out the path for each piece of your dream life will result in a long master list of goals. We’ve put together this setting goals worksheet to help guide you through building your master list of goals.

Great Life Goals For Teenagers

All the things mentioned above apply to setting goals for your teens. Dream big, don’t judge. And don’t worry if they pick weird or outlandish goals. The exercise of setting goals will help them do a better job creating goals and moving towards success as their goals change.

Goals For High School

If your teenager isn’t sure where to start, start with High School goals. Don’t limit it to just grades, although that is a good place to start. Grades are SMART goals – measurable, specific, time-based, actionable, and relevant to success.

Depending on your teen, they could also set goals for pursuing different clubs, behavior benchmarks, or sports. Maybe your teenager’s High School goals include figuring out their social circles and who they want to be.

Money Goals

The teen years are the best years to start setting financial goals. Good money habits started early significantly increase their odds of success.

Consider helping your young adult open a Roth IRA. Did you know that anyone can open a Roth IRA as soon as they’ve worked a job? A Roth will help them start thinking about the big picture – saving, investing, tax implications, and more.

Personal And Professional Goals

Defining professional goals will help your child pick the right strategy for High School. Do they want to work on computers? Do they want to become a musician? Each of these will lay out a different path in the short term.

High school is also a great time to start figuring out personal goals in life. What kinds of relationships do they want? What do they want out of a relationship? These are questions they are likely already navigating subconsciously. Bringing them to the surface will help them move towards who they want to be faster.

Final Thoughts on How to Set Goals

Yes, this work of writing up goals takes time and effort, but it’s worth it. You can charge ahead in life with what you feel is the right direction, but speed and effort without direction can only guarantee you exhaustion.

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

Next Steps​

Get your free pack of printable goal setting worksheets. All the questions above are in downloadable packs & worksheets to help you figure it all out!

One purpose of this blog is to help parents of teens navigate the challenges of preparing their children to be successful independent adults.

Finally Family Homes’ mission is to provide the same kind of support for those teens who don’t have a family or home to help them transition into adulthood. Learn more about how we’re helping aging out foster youth succeed.

For More Success Tips You may also enjoy:

10 Keys to Success in Life

How To Prepare For The Unexpected

How to Get Organized

We’d love hear more about you! If the world only gets one message from your life, what do you want it to be? How do you want to make your mark in the world?

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  1. These are such great questions to help teens explore their goals. Instead of asking surface questions, I love how this digs deeper. So much more useful!!

    1. Thanks Heather! Yes- we are trying to get to the bottom of it. What’s behind the goals? What do you want out of life? 🙂

  2. Christina, that’s the most thorough list of questions to help our young people set goals that I’ve ever seen. I cannot see how, using the ideas you’ve set forth here, our young people won’t reach their goals. Great job!

    1. Thanks Wendy. We sure hope to help these young adults succeed – and setting and pursuing the right goals is so key!

  3. Love these. This is such a practical way to approach goal setting. I especially like setting one way to help achieve a long-term goal that you talked about at the end as well as the “why” behind dream jobs in case things do not pan out the way you hoped.

    1. Thanks Brittany. The more we’ve explored it the more we’ve come to realize just how important understanding your why in pursuing your goals. It’s really about the big picture of what you’re trying to achieve in life!

  4. This is something I’ve been working on quite a bit with my pre-teen daughters and something I wish someone had told me earlier on. Creating specific and measurable goals has allowed me to do things I’d never have considered possible, just because I stuck with it and put my action steps in place.

    1. Yes, making our goals SMART is a great thing to learn at an early age. Not every goal needs to be, but without specifics we are less likely to achieve them.

  5. Thanks AnnMarie! We put the time in- figuring out how to set the right goals in life is so important!

  6. Great article. Loved some of the quotes – especially the fact that Happiness is a product of a life well-lived. Goals don’t bring happiness in and of themselves but they are important.

    1. Thanks Fleda! I love that quote too. Eleanor Roosevelt seemed like a pretty cool lady – someone I would like to read up more on! She’s certainly someone I’d take advice from on how to set goals in life 🙂

  7. Such wonderful practical advice! Just this year I came to the realization that I was failing at goals because mine were not specific enough (nor were they realistic lol).

    1. Thanks Heather. 🙂 Yes, I struggle with realistic goals sometimes too. I think also I sometimes forget to put them in front of me often enough so I remember where I am trying to go!

    1. Thanks Angie. I think young people are perhaps more directionless than ever.. especially those who’ve faced trauma and bounced around in foster care. Hopefully this guide is useful to them, their mentors, and anyone looking to set goals in life so that they end up somewhere intentional! 🙂

  8. Very helpful post, Christine! This gives us a good guide to follow in order to make sure we are setting the goals we REALLY want for our lives in order to live our life well!

    1. Thanks Anne! It’s one of those things that when someone is dealing with trauma or in a constant state of fight or flight (like foster youth often are), there’s little time to think about the big picture or dreaming of the kind of future they want. The goals become “survive today.” Even once they are safe, they can get stuck in this mindset. Step by step guidance, taking the time to dream again and aim for more than survival requires extra encouragement.

  9. What a great list and worksheet. I love talking about dreams and goals so I really like this, “Great goals start with daydreams, imaginations, and hopes. The worries, struggles, and busyness of life can easily become barriers to dreaming. Setting good goals starts with taking time to dream.”

    I love to dream big, especially with God, He’s the biggest dreamer of all!

    1. Thanks Karen! It really is important to start by dreaming big and that requires getting in a frame of mind where you can dream – where you can think outside of your current circumstances. When trauma happens – like kids going through foster care, a lot of times dreaming stops. They don’t plan for the future because they’re just trying to survive the present.

      Truly God can help expand and encourage these youth more than we can, but we do want to help be His hands and feet. God wants good things in life for them – He sees a hope and future, even if they don’t yet!

  10. Take some quite time to think about what you want to do with your life. To start setting your goals, brainstorm by getting a piece of paper and writing without thinking (stream of consciousness). Once your goals present themselves, you can research a plan of action for achieving them. One of the biggest challenges is either failing or being told by people “you’re not good enough” or that your goals are “unrealistic” or “unachievable”. These factors can make anyone back off from achieving their dreams. However, focus on not giving up so that you may reach your goal in spite of some people’s insistence that it is impossible for you. There will always be detractors and there will always be obstacles — how you handle them makes all the difference in the world.

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