Here's How To Set Goals You Can Actually Achieve, Both Big & Small, According To Experts

It's so much fun to dream about the future. Since you were a kid, people probably asked you, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" on a pretty regular basis. Maybe your answers back then were a bit fantastical, but now that you've reached adulthood, you probably have new plans. Perhaps they're small, like finally learning to cook your grandmother's famous pot roast, or maybe it's something that might take awhile, like becoming a boss in your field. When it comes to the nitty gritty stuff, figuring out how to set goals you can actually achieve isn't quite as easy as simply creating a vision board. In my personal experience at least, the planning stage is a lot more intuitive than the day-to-day work of actually making your dreams come true. And according to the results of a new study, the mindset you have about your goals while you're out tackling them can be pretty powerful.

Published in the European Journal of Personality, the study looked at data from 973 people between 18 and 92 years old over a four-year period, and set out to examine how certain life goals affect a person's well-being. Per a press release from the University of Bazel in Switzerland, each participant was asked what they thought about their ability to reach goals in 10 areas: health, community, personal growth, social relationships, fame, image, wealth, family, responsibility/care for younger generations, and work. According to the study's findings, believing your personal goals are attainable is "positively linked to later well‐being."

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Generally speaking, when it comes to committing to a goal, it’s important to identify your “why,” says Dr. Michael Genovese, clinical psychiatrist and chief medical officer of Acadia Healthcare. "If you’re having a hard time identifying what is motivating your goal, try journaling," he suggests. If you can't quite put your finger on what's making you want to run a marathon, for example, try reaching out to people in your life who might be able to offer some perspective. "Call a friend and talk candidly about the goals you want to set for yourself and why," Dr. Genovese tells Elite Daily. "Then, ask that same friend to hold you accountable. A support system may be the missing piece in achieving your goals."

Regardless of what your goals look like, the road to achieving them can certainly be difficult. But above all, committing to do something that matters to you, not just something you feel pressured to do, is crucial, says certified personal trainer Emma Green, PhD (c), MSc, BSc. "You can choose any goal that you want, but make sure it is something that is important to you," she tells Elite Daily. "This shouldn't be based on what other people are doing or what you think you 'should' do, but what you really want deep down."

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Once you have that resolution to read more or to learn a new language, try coming up with little steps that will help you make progress toward that goal on a weekly basis. "Use the word 'average' in your goal-setting statement," suggests Tonya Dalton, a productivity expert, owner of inkWELL Press, and host of the podcast Productivity Paradox. For example, if incorporating more physical activity into your lifestyle is something that's important to you, try setting a goal to work out, on average, say, three times a week. That way, if you get sick one week and feel extra pumped the next, who cares? It all balances out, and your goals remain realistic for your day-to-day lifestyle, Dalton explains. "That allows more grace, so we don’t feel like we’ve failed," she adds.

Of course, writing down your goals on good old-fashioned paper can help to keep you on track as well, but according to Dr. Monisha Vasa, a psychiatrist and well-being expert based in California, it's best to take different approaches when it comes to short-term goals versus long-term goals. "Long-term goals often are bigger and loftier. They might be more connected to our bigger-picture vision for ourselves," she tells Elite Daily.

Dr. Vasa recommends finding a relaxed, creative space, free from distraction or pressure, and journaling about a bigger goal, such as your plan to pay off your student loans, or your dream of traveling to Europe.

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If you're working toward something on a smaller scale, such as being able to run an eight-minute mile or baking every cupcake in the cookbook you just bought, mapping everything out might be a better approach, says Dr. Vasa. "Short-term goals often are the small steps along the way, and may need to be thought through and written down in a planner or calendar," she says, "so that we can start to get specific and focused about the actual execution."

As you take steps to become the superstar of your dreams, remember to show yourself love along the way, especially when you hit a roadblock. "Take regular breaks. Working toward goals is hard work," says Green. "It takes a lot of time and energy. It is so important to take time away from directly pursuing our goals to keep ourselves healthy, mentally and physically."