How to Set Goals for the Life You Really Want

At some point in our lives, many of us have felt stuck on autopilot. Going through the motions without energy or excitement, we feel lost and unfulfilled. We’re left asking, “What’s my passion? What’s my purpose?”

As we grow up, many of us forfeit our joy, letting go of our youthful dreams to pursue careers that will bring us status and success. We buy into the belief that we need to abandon our passions to follow more realistic goals. And the sad truth is that we spend years going after what we think will bring us joy, and then when we accomplish those goals, it doesn’t bring us the happiness we expected. No matter what we do or how hard we work, we’re left feeling like something is missing.

The main problem is that we are setting the wrong goals - and by setting the wrong goals, we are essentially setting ourselves up to fail. Here are five steps to set goals for a happy, fulfilling life:

  1. Align yourself with your core values

Are you chasing money instead of chasing your passion? Many people go for the high-paying salary at a company they dislike rather than pursuing what makes them feel fulfilled.

To help you find your passion and guide you in the right direction, here are five questions you can ask yourself:

  1. What would you do if you money wasn’t part of the equation?
  2. Using your answer to number one, do you lose track of time when you’re doing (____)?
  3. Do you still find time for (____) even when you’re busy?
  4. Do you feel fulfilled while you are doing (____)?
  5. What do you love about yourself?

These questions will provide valuable insight into your strengths, what drives you on a deep level and what will give you a sense of purpose.

  1. Take action now

The real reason change is so hard is because when we think about a goal we want to accomplish we tend to jump far ahead into the future. Thinking about all the steps it will take to get there is overwhelming, causing us to shut down and give up.

Our brains are designed to magnify risk and protect us anything uncertain or dangerous. The problem is that it doesn’t separate a perceived threat from actual danger. The second you hesitate a stress signal is sent to your brain. So, don’t wait! You only have a small window to go from idea to action before your brain steps in and sabotages any change in behavior.

Many of us buy into the notion that we have to feel motivated in order to change. We believe one day we will be brave enough. One day we will be ready. But that’s not the way motivation works. You will never actually feel motivated.

According to research, “action precedes motivation.” Psychologist Clifford Lazaus, Ph.D. explains, “once action has been initiated motivation tends to gather momentum and it becomes increasingly easy to continue what has been started.”

So, contrary to popular belief, action comes first. The sooner you take action, the sooner you will become motivated. The same is true for goal setting. Stop waiting and start doing. Write down your goals today.

  1. Start small

Once you take action, you will start building momentum. This is when your brain will start working for you, rather than against you. Studies show unfinished tasks are more likely to stay in your memory compared to finished ones. This is known as the Zeigarnik effect.

Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik conducted a study that involved asking participants to finish several tasks. During some of the tasks, the participants were interrupted before they could complete them. When they were asked follow up questions, they remembered the tasks when they were interrupted at a much higher rate.

“The brain has a powerful need to finish what it starts,” Psychology Today reports. “When it can't complete something, it gets stuck on it. Intrusive thoughts about what we could not finish may pop into our heads as a way to remind the cognitive system that something still needs to be completed.”

  1. Set realistic goals

If you want to achieve a big goal, you need to build momentum. And the only way you’ll build momentum is when you feel like you’re making progress. By setting small goals and achieving them, it will give you the confidence boost you need to keep going.

Lewis Howes, world-renowned career coach and entrepreneur, once said, “your life will never improve unless you start making daily improvements.”

And before you know it, you’ll reach your big goal. You will start to reap the rewards of your commitment and consistent behavior.

  1. Focus on your progress, not the end result

There will come a time when you will feel like giving up. You will face an obstacle that seems insurmountable and you will have two choices: give up or overcome it to move to the next level.

These are the defining moments when it’s important to hold on to your vision. Don’t lose sight of the hard work you’ve put in. Rather than being derailed by disappointment, use it as a learning tool and keep moving forward.

Most importantly, enjoy the journey! Don’t wait until you’ve achieved your goal to celebrate your success. Celebrate your progress and each step you take along the way.

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