Big Dreams, Smart Plans: 5 Ways to Set and Hit Your Personal Goals

By Sarah TreleavenAugust 5, 2022

A dream without a plan is just a wish. Here's how to get into the right headspace to help set achievable goals and make them happen.

Setting goals can feel overwhelming — particularly in times of so much uncertainty. Plus, once you have a goal in mind, whether it’s mastering a new language, switching careers or building a nest egg, how can you stay on track to reach it? A dream without a plan, after all, is just a wish. We asked Amy Deacon, a social worker in Toronto and CEO of Toronto Wellness Counselling, how to get into the right headspace to help set achievable goals and make them happen.

Build a reservoir of energy

Save and replenish your energy, because burnout continues to affect many of us. It can be hard to focus on goals when you already feel like you’re pushing several boulders up a hill. But Deacon says that our ability to focus hinges on something simple: a good rest.

“You can’t start to set goals when you’re still in the thick of burnout or if you’re feeling overwhelmed or overworked,” she says. “You have to have gas in your tank.” It may be tempting to hammer away as you set your sights on multiple tasks, but she recommends a reset before planning your agenda. Consider taking time to explore in nature, or committing to the kind of long walks that can clear your head. Being well-rested can lead to productivity — and that applies not only to the workplace, but also to reaching your personal goals.

Your goals should reflect who you are today

The world feels very different right now — but it’s likely not just the world that’s feeling different. We might not be the same people we were three years ago, due to shifting priorities and goals. “Our lives might have changed but, because we’re creatures of habit, we might try to chase down the same things,” says Deacon.

It can be challenging to accept that you may need to head in a different direction rather than remaining on autopilot. But taking a pause to recalibrate is important. “You have to ask, is this still serving me in the same way it was three months ago?” Deacon recommends reassessing goals every quarter — not just progress, but also priorities.

Think about the sacrifices you’re willing to make

Life is full of tradeoffs, even if we are sometimes tempted by the idea that we can have it all. Making the changes required to accomplish a big goal isn’t always comfortable or easy. Deacon suggests framing things as essential and extra. “We need food, shelter and connections, but there’s a lot of things we don’t need,” she says, noting that some people have cancelled their streaming subscriptions to slash daily expenses. Assess the things that might be standing in your way. What parts of your monthly budget are you willing to cut so you can take that vacation you’ve been dreaming of? Where are you willing to spend less time so you can make more memories with your children or friends? “We can get tripped up by the idea of having something taken away from us, but it’s really about seeing the bigger picture.”

See goals as an incremental process, not an end result

Accomplishing goals is rarely about simply snapping your fingers, which is why they require both a plan and regular reassessment. “Any goal is best done bite by bite, step by step,” says Deacon. She recommends focussing on what’s specific, measurable and attainable. If your goal is better physical fitness, what does that translate into on a daily or weekly basis? “You have to get nuanced about your goals.” Deacon says the physical act of writing things down — your plan, your progress — can force you to pay attention and connect with the process.

Push through the discomfort

After the last two years of anxiety, grief and confusion, you might not want to hear about the importance of letting discomfort sink in. But Deacon says that’s exactly what you need to do to push through the moments when you feel stuck and are tempted to give up. “Hardships, especially when connected to our goals, are not meant to break us, but to fortify us,” she says. It’s an opportunity to build your resilience, and to demonstrate your ability to get back up again. The pandemic has been full of stories of people who turned loss into opportunity or used a stressful moment to gain a new perspective — whether that meant finding a new career, refocusing on close relationships or getting back in touch with your inner voice.

“Goals aren’t linear, and there are always hiccups along the way. We’re going to make mistakes and it’s going to be okay,” Deacon says.

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