5 Steps to Setting Goals for Real Change

setting goals for change

We are all a work in progress.  Whether we like it or not, the passage of time and the forces of life require constant adjustments in order to thrive.  But sometimes we make a deliberate choice to change something about ourselves.  Maybe you’re motivated to improve your health or emotional well-being.  Maybe you’re ready to take on a new challenge and set personal goals.  Maybe you’re dealing with a setback and want to use the experience as an opportunity for self-improvement.

Whatever the reason someone seeks personal change, there are specific strategies to setting a goal and keeping it.

  1. Set a meaningful goal. The first step toward personal change is to identify what you really hope to accomplish. Take some time to reflect upon where you are in your life and the values that guide you.  Choose a goal that will move you forward in a way that matches your values.
  • Examples of goals with meaning:
  • I want to be more optimistic so that I feel happier and people enjoy being around me.
  • I want to improve my health so I feel better and live longer for my family.
  • I want to feel more relaxed in social settings so I can make better friends.
  1. Identify specific steps toward your goal. Goals that have great meaning will require several steps toward attaining them.  Be thoughtful about where you’re starting from and where you want to go as if it is a journey.  Then map out some of the roads long the way toward your destination.  Some journeys are longer than others.  It may be helpful to get input from others in figuring out the steps that will work for you.
  • Examples of identifying the beginning steps toward the goal of being more optimistic:
  • I will track the thoughts I have about myself and my world.
  • I will identify thoughts that are positive and those that are negative.
  • I will work on replacing negative thoughts with more positive thoughts.
  • I will try talking to myself as if I’m my own best friend.
  1. Start small and be realistic.  The process of change can feel daunting.  It’s important to build your confidence early by setting small, achievable goals.  You should feel at least 80% confident you can accomplish each step you set along the way.  If you’re not, it’s important to scale back and make your steps more realistic.
  • Example of setting a realistic step toward improving health.
  • Initial step: I will stop eating refined sugar for a week. Confidence estimate = 50%
  • Adjust the step: I will stop eating refined sugar 5 days each week. Confidence estimate = 70%
  • Adjust the step again: I will stop eating refined sugar 3 days each week. Confidence estimate = 80%
  • It is better to set more, smaller steps toward a goal than setting steps that are unrealistic and unattainable.
  1. Track your progress.  No matter what goal you set for yourself, make certain the steps you identify to get you there are measurable in some way.  You need to be able to track your progress.  You might even seek feedback from others about your progress, depending on the goal.
  • Examples of how to track progress with feeling more relaxed in social settings.
  • If your first step was to initiate a conversation with a stranger, track how often you accomplished this goal in a week.
  • Note how anxious you felt each time.
  • See if you are able to make progress in the frequency, intensity or duration of having more relaxed interactions.
  • Note progress in any one of these areas each week is meaningful!
  1. Adjust your plan.  Any journey toward a meaningful goal will require taking detours now and then and adjusting your path when barriers emerge.  Keep in mind the meaningful goal you set in the beginning to resist the natural urge to give up when challenges arise or progress plateaus.  Allow yourself the flexibility to respond to the information you receive during this process so you can adjust your course and set new goals.  Be kind and patient with yourself.  Change is tough and we all need to be our own cheerleaders.


Written by Suzanne Smith, Ph.D. for the Linden Blog. If you are interested in receiving Linden Blog updates with original articles about parenting, families, mental health, and wellness, subscribe using the field below. If you are interested in scheduling an appointment at Linden BP call 440/250-9880