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How to set life goals that lead to happiness (with examples)

We all have dreams and desires for our lives—things we want to accomplish, the type of lifestyle we want to maintain, or experiences we want to soak in. 

However, it can be too easy to just go through life and let those ambitions remain as mere ideas. We let those objectives hang over our heads without taking any action toward the things we want. That’s where life goals come in. 

What are goals in life? Your life goals are the dreams and hopes you have for your life that you make a real commitment to completing. Having life goals to work toward can help you build the life you’ve dreamed of and figure out where you’re going next. A life goals list can fill you with purpose and can help you ensure you live your life with no regrets.

Here’s what the data shows about setting goals in life:

  • 92% of people who set New Year's goals never actually achieve them. [1]
  • 83% of the population does not have goals. [2]
  • 14% have a plan in mind, but the goals aren’t written down. [2]
  • 3% have goals written down. [2]
  • The 14% who have goals are 10 times more successful than those without goals. The 3% with written goals are three times more successful than the 14% with unwritten goals. [2]
  • Over 90% of the time, goals that were specific and challenging, but not overly challenging, led to higher performance when compared to easy goals or goals that were too generic such as a goal to do your best. [3]
  • Goal setting has been shown to help improve the outcome in treatment among adults with depression. [3]
  • In a study, 76% of participants who wrote down their goals and actions and provided weekly progress to a friend successfully achieved their goals compared to the 44% success rate of those who did not write down their goals. [4]
  • Setting goals is linked to having more self-confidence, motivation, and autonomy. [5]

But...I’m not sure what my life goals are

First things first, it’s okay to start out without a clearly-defined purpose or target. Don’t belittle yourself into thinking, “I have no goals or ambitions in life.” Everyone has something they are passionate about or interested in—sometimes it just takes a little thought or reflection to identify it. 

A life goal doesn’t necessarily have to be a huge accomplishment with recognition or accolades. It just has to be something you want to work on to achieve the type of lifestyle you dream of for yourself. 

How to set life goals: 5 steps to follow

Life goals help you feel enthusiastic and serve as a constant reminder that you’re working toward something bigger than your day-to-day to-do list. Ready to get started? Here are five steps to help you answer this question: What are your goals in life? 

1. Think about your dreams or desires

What are you interested in? What do you wish you could do more of? Write down as many hopes and dreams as you want on a piece of paper. They can range from small (like perfecting the perfect pie crust) to big (like owning a lakeside home). 

2. Decide what’s achievable

Take a look at the goals you wrote down and ask yourself if they’re realistic. If your goal is to become a professional soccer player and you haven’t practiced the sport in years, consider tweaking the goal to help you get what you want out of it, while still being achievable. 

For example, you could rewrite “become a professional soccer player” to “become a starter on a local team” or “become a coach for a local high school or community college.” Both of these adjustments allow you to focus on your love for the sport and keep you involved in the game, but they’re also realistic pursuits.

3. Categorize your list

As you wrote down your goals and dreams, you’ve probably noticed that your wishes tend to fall into one of three categories: personal, lifestyle, or career. Here’s the difference: 

  • Personal: These are your self-focused ambitions relating to things like your passions, hobbies, and even finances.

  • Lifestyle: These are more health and mindset goals focused on improving your overall well being.

  • Career: These are your professional goals related to advancing in your chosen industry and position. 

Separate your goals into the different categories so you can evaluate which aspect of your life you want to focus on and spend more energy on. 

4. Turn your dreams into SMART goals

Now that you have somewhat realistic dreams or passions that inspire you in different areas of your life, break them down into SMART goals. A SMART goal is:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

Rewrite all of your goals listed on the piece of paper so they satisfy the SMART requirements. For example, if one of your goals was to eat vegan, you could rewrite it as, “Wean myself off of an animal-derived product category every month (eg. meat, cheese, eggs) to achieve and maintain an entirely vegan diet by next year.” 

Once you’ve listed out each goal to be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound, you officially have a life goals list!

5. Create a plan of action

Goals are nothing without action. Underneath each new SMART goal, create a timeline of actions that will help you work toward achieving your goal. 

For more long-term goals, such as mastering a musical instrument or traveling to all 50 U.S. states, you may need to do planning over the course of multiple years, depending on how aggressive you want your timeline to be. Break down each goal into small steps you can take to make your entire goal feel more manageable. 

Inspiration for starting your own life goals list

If you’re feeling overwhelmed or stuck on the types of hobbies you want to pursue or accomplishments you’d like to achieve, here are some considerations to help you build your own life goal list. 

What is the best goal in life?

The best goal in life is usually overlooked, but finding happiness and contentment is probably the most fulfilling target to set your sights on. 

Your ultimate goal might not necessarily be “to be happy,” but might be to find peace in some aspect of your life or completing a task that you know will fulfill you. Regardless, it’s important that your goals in life bring you happiness and fulfillment—whatever that looks like for you. 

What should be the top item on a list of your life goals?

The top item on your list of life goals will depend on what you want to get out of life. What do you feel most passionate about or where do you want to make the biggest impact? Or, what will make you the most happy? Finding the answers to those questions can help you determine what your top life goal should be—as it will be unique to you. Some popular top life goals might be:

  • Raise a family
  • Be content with yourself
  • Travel to all Seven Wonders of the World
  • Secure your dream job
  • Retire before age 65
  • Reconnect with someone you lost touch with
  • Give back to your community

What are 3 examples of lifestyle goals?

Need even more inspiration to get you started? Here are examples of goals that fall into the “lifestyle” category. 

  1. Meditate every day. Meditation has been shown to decrease anxiety and contribute to a better outlook on life. Why not try it?
  2. Maintain a regular exercise routine. It doesn’t have to be intense, but a regular exercise routine will keep your body and mind in better shape. Set aside 20-30 minutes every day for moderate exercise to get your heart pumping. Your health will thank you!
  3. Avoid looking at your phone an hour before going to bed. If you have a habit of doom scrolling before going to sleep, consider making this one of your life goals. Not only will you get to bed sooner, you also may get better sleep by avoiding the blue light from your phone before bed.

What are 3 examples of personal goals?

If you want to focus more on personal goals, here are three example goals in that bucket. 

  1. Try a new hobby. Maybe you’ve always wanted to learn how to ice skate or knit a scarf. Take this as a sign to write it down and do it.
  2. Pay off all of your debt. If you have a lot of student loans or are behind on credit card payments, make it a priority to take control of your debt.
  3. Surround yourself with good friends. Too many times, we find ourselves spending time with people who make us unhappy or don’t really have our best interests at heart. Feel empowered to curate a support system of people who have your back and make life more enjoyable.

What are 3 examples of career goals?

And finally, if your profession is your primary focus, use these three example career goals to get some inspiration for the job-related ambitions you can set your sights on. 

  1. Achieve a leadership position in your company. If you know you’d like to lead the business you work for, make it a goal to achieve a leadership position so you can direct the company toward success.
  2. Start your own business. Have you ever dreamed about being your own boss and starting a business? Make that a goal. To mitigate risk, you can start your business as a side project or part-time endeavor and see how it goes before expanding and breaking out on your own.
  3. Publish a study or article about your field of work. Become a thought leader in your industry by conducting research and sharing your findings with your peers. Or, if your field isn’t as research-based, you could write an article about best practices you and your team have been implementing in your work and how others can do the same. 

Feeling unmotivated?

Find out how to unlock your motivation.

How many life goals do I need?

You can have as many or as few goals as you want on your list. Again, it’s important to have goals that stretch you and challenge you, but you’ll also want to make sure you’re being realistic. If you have 100 life goals and they’re all dreams that will take years and a lot of effort to accomplish, it may be time to cut down your list so you don’t become discouraged by not achieving all of your goals. 

However, if you want to have a lot of simple goals, such as “try out for community theater once” or “watch a foreign film,” along with a few more challenging, longer-term goals, then a long list is perfectly fine. Be honest with yourself about what’s possible and what’s truly important to you as you craft your goals, and you’ll be able to have a list with the perfect amount of goals for you.

How to achieve your life goals

Writing down your goals and determining what your goals in life are takes some work, but it’s also the easiest part of the process. Now, it’s time to put in the hard work and achieve those life goals.  

1. Check in on your action plans

When you created your life goals list, you noted the steps you need to take to complete your goals. It’s time to implement those action plans and check in your progress. As you’re completing the steps in your plan, evaluate if you were realistic in your timeline or anticipated progress. You can make adjustments as needed that require you to stretch a bit toward your goal, but aren’t completely unreasonable or defeating.

2. Recruit an accountability buddy

One of the best ways to ensure that you achieve your goals in life is to find someone who will work with you toward that goal. Depending on the goal, your buddy could be your spouse, a coworker, friend, or even a family member. You both can be each other’s support system and motivator when things become challenging. 

3. Keep your goals in a visible place

We know writing down your goals is a huge indicator of success, but you also need to be able to see your goals regularly. Post your life goals list somewhere visible in your home, like your bathroom mirror or your closet door, so you’ll be able to see it every day. This will remind you of your goals and what you’re working toward. 

Remember that goals can (and often do) change

As you continue to create your life goals list and work on crossing things off of it, you may come across goals that you once had that don’t apply anymore. Maybe your circumstances or even your interests have changed. That’s okay and to be expected. No one knows exactly how their life will turn out and you’re not a failure if you don’t complete everything on your life goals list. 

You may even discover new interests and passions that inspire fresh goals, so don’t be afraid to check in with yourself regularly and ask yourself this: What are your goals in life? Doing this will ensure you only pursue things that make you happy, live life without any regrets, and feel as fulfilled as possible. 

Want to get better at achieving your goals? Learn how you can follow through better with fast personal coaching. Get started for free now.

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