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You may have been able to meet some of your 2020 goals without putting forth as much effort as you had expected.
Eat out less frequently? Done.
Stop impulse buying when you're out? Done.
Go home and be productive instead of going to happy hour? Done.
But you would probably be willing to take it all back just to be able to tell our December 2019 selves what we know now about the coronavirus.
2020 has been tough for everyone, especially for those who just started “adulting”, and I think we are all ready to put it behind us with high hopes for 2021. But what are you going to do differently during this upcoming year to really improve yourself in every area of your life?
In this article, we will look at 21 goal ideas that you can set for a better 2021 to give you some ideas of objectives you can set for yourself to make sure that you’re heading in the direction that you ultimately want to go. But first, let’s talk about why you should set SMART goals for 2021 and review what SMART goals entail.
(Side note: One of the best ways to get what you want from life is to create and set SMART goals. To get started, check out this post, which provides a step-step blueprint on setting SMART goals.)
What You Will Learn
- Why You Should Set SMART Goals for 2021
- RELATED: 21 Examples of SMART Goals
- What Is a SMART Goal?
- How to Set Yearly SMART Goals
- 7 Areas of Your Life for Setting Important Goals
- 21 Examples of Goals to Set for 2021 to Improve Your Life
- 1. Take a 30 minute walk during your lunch break three times per week to add more physical activity to a potentially otherwise sedentary day.
- 2. Reach out to a distant family member once a month to maintain familial relationships that may otherwise become distant.
- 3. Purge one room in your house each month until you’ve finished the entire house to create a more organized environment to live and work in.
- 4. Practice active listening in your meetings at work to improve your relationships with co-workers.
- 5. Take 20 minutes once a week to reflect on your successes or achievements for that week to keep yourself motivated to continue progressing toward meeting your larger objectives.
- 6. Learn a new skill or hobby by the end of March.
- 7. Make vegetables half of your dinner every night to improve your long-term physical health and reduce your risk of developing a chronic disease.
- 8. Meditate for 10 minutes per day to improve your mental health and your ability to deal with adversity.
- 9. Leave your phone somewhere else when you’re with someone to show respect for the time you’re spending with that person and to get the most out of the interaction.
- 10. Build an emergency fund with 6 months’ worth of expenses to ensure you’re prepared for the unexpected.
- 11. Read one new book every month.
- 12. Write in a gratitude journal every night to give yourself a tangible reminder of the good things you have in your life.
- 13. Travel somewhere new this year to get out of your comfort zone and become more culturally aware of others in the world.
- 14. Start meal planning.
- 15. Ask for a raise at work by May 31st.
- 16. Take time for your spouse or partner every day.
- 17. Create a work/life balance.
- 18. Complete a 30-day challenge.
- 19. Join a club.
- 20. Sign up for a 5k (or 10k, half-marathon, or marathon).
- 21. Accept your flaws.
- Final Thoughts on Yearly 2021 Goals
Why You Should Set SMART Goals for 2021
I was taken by surprise recently when I mentioned SMART goals in a meeting at work and several people didn’t know what I was talking about.
I thought that SMART goals had become somewhat of a buzzword in the professional arena, and certainly something that everyone was at least kind of familiar with. After implementing SMART goals into my own life, it’s no wonder why people don’t follow through with their goals. Without a sense of direction or accountability, goals are easily abandoned without a second thought.
Therefore, it’s not surprising that research shows that 80% of new year’s resolutions are forgotten by February 15th. So if you’re planning on losing weight, saving money, or learning a new skill, you better have a plan. (Check out these life planning apps.)
Without being specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, or time-bound, you have a lot of gray area to play around in (i.e. “I’ll splurge tonight on this ice cream sundae and start fresh tomorrow” or “I’ll just buy this one new electronic”).
If you’re going to set goals in the new year, it is imperative to make them SMART goals in order to see the results that you’re looking for. Let’s review exactly what that means.
RELATED: 21 Examples of SMART Goals
Want to set goals you can actually achieve? Then watch this video that provides a quick overview of SMART goals with 21 examples.
What Is a SMART Goal?
Following the SMART goal methodology will help you create a plan to make your visions become a reality by laying out action steps that you need to take that are realistic to complete, which means reaching your final goal will be realistic as well.
First, these goals are specific. In fact, they’re so specific that you will know exactly when your SMART goal has been met. A clearly defined SMART goal statement will communicate exactly what you need to do to reach your goal. This means your statement answers the questions: who, what, when, where, and why.
SMART goals are also measurable and achievable. Not only will you know exactly how much progress you’ve made at any point along the way because you’re tracking something that is quantifiable, you’ll also always feel like the next milestone is within reach. You’ll never feel like you’re in over your head or you don’t know what to do next. And, whatever that next step is, you will want to take it because your goal is relevant to your larger objectives in life.
Not only will you be motivated to achieve your goal because it’s a stepping stone to achieving something bigger, you will also be motivated knowing that your goal is time-bound and you have a deadline approaching.
Rather than having a poorly constructed goal that can make you feel defeated when you don’t see results, the key to success is to make a plan and stick to it by creating SMART goals. And whatever your aspirations are, setting effective goals can help you get there.
How to Set Yearly SMART Goals
The first thing you need to do is to identify your goal, believe you can achieve it, and write it down. Writing down your goal will keep you accountable and increase your chances of achieving it by almost 150%.
When writing your goal down, use a SMART goal worksheet to help guide you through the process of ensuring that your goal will work by using language that is specific and achievable.
Start with an action verb to describe what you plan to do. Then specifically state what actions you will take.
For example, I will participate in two networking events per month.
I will participate in two networking events per month to make six new business contacts by April 1st, 2021.
This goal leaves no questions about what you’re going to do to achieve your goal, how often you’re going to do it, and when you will know if you have been successful. (Did you know that those who create an implementation intention for their goal are more than twice as likely to achieve it?)
Once you meet your goal date, whether you achieved your goal or not, you will want to assess the goal itself. Was it too far fetched? Too easy? Reevaluate the goal and tweak it in a way that will allow you to start fresh and be more successful with your newly gained insight and perspective. The more experience you gain setting SMART goals, the better you will become at doing it.
Now let’s look at seven areas of your life that it would be beneficial to set SMART goals.
7 Areas of Your Life for Setting Important Goals
Your career is one of the major components of your life that will determine whether or not you feel fulfilled at the end of the day. Because of this, it’s critical to make career goals that will allow you to feel successful and spend your days doing something that you’re passionate about.
Do you have a clear vision of what you want?
Start by determining your long-term career aspirations and the short-term tasks you need to do to achieve them. This will make up your career plan–but because your career will be a life-long journey, you will need to reevaluate your goals as necessary as time goes by.
You need to set financial goals in order to become financially secure. Without having these goals, you are putting yourself at risk of spending frivolously and wasting money, which can lead to hardships if you face unexpected expenses or are ready to retire.
Reevaluating your financial goals every year and updating them as needed will allow you to track your progress and stay financially secure, which can reduce the stress that comes along with life’s unavoidable expenses.
Having health goals will help you live a long, enjoyable life. Evaluate your current state of health in all areas, including your diet, fitness, life balance, family health history, etc. and identify the areas that could use some improvement or attention. What are your current health statistics? Do you have any bad habits right now that could be increasing your chances of developing a hereditary disease? Create goals to modify your lifestyle as needed to optimize your health.
It’s hard work to maintain healthy relationships. When you’re in a relationship, your goals should be mutually agreed upon with your partner. However, if you’re not currently in a relationship, the relationship that you should work on is the one with yourself. Until you’re happy with the person that you are, you may not be in a position to be the kind of partner that you want to be for someone else.
When you think of your leisure time, you may automatically jump to the idea of having a free pass to sit around while doing nothing. However, your leisure time is a great opportunity to work on your personal development.
Identify some things you would like to learn. Your leisure time can be spent productively when you use it to gain new skills that will challenge you in some way. Having hobbies is a great way to reduce stress, explore your talents, and even bring in some extra income. So making goals in this arena is an important way to make the best use of your time in life.
Personal Growth Goals
We all want to increase our quality of life, achieve more, and be the best version of ourselves that we can be. Setting personal development goals will help you be successful in these areas by pushing you to get a little better every day.
Your spirituality goals will help you live in line with your values, which means that these goals will be highly individualized in nature.
To start setting spiritual goals, explore your beliefs and consider the big questions that you want answered, such as what is your why? Do some self-reflection and meditation to try to set yourself in the right direction in making these goals. There are also some tools and podcasts out there to help you explore your spirituality.
Keep in mind that your SMART goals should be so specific that you can’t really read someone else’s example and apply it directly to your life. You have your own unique career, health and financial needs, relationships, etc.–so your SMART goals will not be identical to anyone else’s. However, we can look at some examples of goals to set in the new year that you can turn into SMART goals to tailor them to fit your unique situation in these seven areas of your life.
21 Examples of Goals to Set for 2021 to Improve Your Life
1. Take a 30 minute walk during your lunch break three times per week to add more physical activity to a potentially otherwise sedentary day.
If your goal is to improve your physical health and reduce stress, stepping away from your desk to get some fresh air and sunlight is a good place to start.
Walking during your lunch break can help you lose weight when coupled with other healthy habits, give your mind a refreshing break, and allow you to change your environment and return to work in the afternoon feeling better prepared to conquer the second half of your day.
2. Reach out to a distant family member once a month to maintain familial relationships that may otherwise become distant.
As families grow up and move away from each other, it is easy to lose touch and only talk on holidays and birthdays. Break this expectation by calling cousins, aunts, and uncles to catch up throughout the year. This will help you maintain those connections–and there’s no excuse not to with the modern technology that allows us to have face-to-face conversations with loved ones around the world.
When you contact a family member, ask about their lives and share details about yours. Allowing other people to feel connected to you will help you sustain relationships with those who are going to be connected with you in some way for the rest of your life.
3. Purge one room in your house each month until you’ve finished the entire house to create a more organized environment to live and work in.
And don’t necessarily stop there. Get rid of the things you don’t need or use anymore and organize the things that you do need. Once you’re able to declutter your living space, you will feel a weight lifted off of your shoulders. Also, you will spend less time looking for things among your accumulated belongings. Sell, donate, or throw away your unwanted items.
4. Practice active listening in your meetings at work to improve your relationships with co-workers.
Active listening is an interpersonal communication skill that, when used correctly, will allow people to feel closer to you because they will notice that you’re taking an interest in what they say. Helping people feel heard is one of the best ways to develop a trusting relationship and connection with them.
This will also help you prevent conflicts with co-workers because you’ll be able to develop empathy for them and learn how to take on others’ points of view.
5. Take 20 minutes once a week to reflect on your successes or achievements for that week to keep yourself motivated to continue progressing toward meeting your larger objectives.
Part of this is remembering to celebrate the small wins, but another part of it is to consciously recognize when you're doing things right. So often, we focus on the things we do wrong and dwell on our mistakes, but if you counter that with some time each week to reflect on everything you did well, it can help negate some of that negative self-talk.
6. Learn a new skill or hobby by the end of March.
Maybe you won’t be able to master the skill, but you can certainly make a lot of progress in three months. What is something that you’ve always been interested in but have never pursued? Set a date to get involved with this activity and stick to it. You can learn to master any skill that you put your mind to.
7. Make vegetables half of your dinner every night to improve your long-term physical health and reduce your risk of developing a chronic disease.
This is a very specific goal that can help overhaul your physical health. Start replacing some of the junk food that you tend to eat for dinner (mashed potatoes, fried chicken, macaroni and cheese) with whole foods that your body can use for clean energy. This is a goal that can easily be turned into a habit that will benefit you greatly for the rest of your life.
8. Meditate for 10 minutes per day to improve your mental health and your ability to deal with adversity.
Meditation has a lot of health benefits, from improving your immune system to increasing your ability to focus. Learn how to observe your thoughts without passing judgment on them. This will help reduce your anxiety and increase your resilience to stress.
Meditation can help you find your inner peace and discover your ultimate purpose in life as you shut out all of the external factors going on and concentrate only on your mind-body connection.
You can also do some meditative journaling to help you do self-reflection. Meditation can look like a lot of different things, but as long as you’re taking the time to pay attention to your body and your surroundings, you will benefit from the practice.
9. Leave your phone somewhere else when you’re with someone to show respect for the time you’re spending with that person and to get the most out of the interaction.
Whether you’re on a day trip with your immediate family or you’re out having coffee with a friend, put your phone away and give all of your attention to the people (and the moment) at hand.
Disconnecting yourself from technology when you’re in the presence of others will help you nourish the relationships that are truly meaningful in your life at the end of the day. If you haven’t already, you will eventually discover that you miss more when you ignore those around you than when you ignore your phone.
10. Build an emergency fund with 6 months’ worth of expenses to ensure you’re prepared for the unexpected.
If you’ve already done this, double it. You can really never have too much money in your emergency fund, as no one truly knows what the future holds.
Know what your expenses are and how much it would cost for you to maintain your current quality of life if you lost your income. Prepare for that as if it is imminent. It is much better to be ready if that situation presents itself than to be left panicking because you can’t pay your bills.
11. Read one new book every month.
Live the life of a continuous learner by reading a new book every month. Whether it is fiction or nonfiction, not only will reading help expand your level of knowledge, it will also keep your vocabulary sharp, improve your writing skills, and make you a better problem solver.
Find the topics that interest you the most and pick up books that relate to them. Chances are, you won’t want to put down a book that is talking about something you’re passionate about.
12. Write in a gratitude journal every night to give yourself a tangible reminder of the good things you have in your life.
Reflect on the things you’re thankful for in your life. Doing so will help you live a happier life and feel more content with your current circumstances. Your gratitude journal entries don’t have to be long–they can simply be bullet lists of the things that you’re especially thankful for in the moment. Even if this is one very small thing, maintaining a gratitude journal will improve your mental health and outlook for the future.
13. Travel somewhere new this year to get out of your comfort zone and become more culturally aware of others in the world.
Expand your horizons by travelling somewhere you’ve never been before, Bonus points if you travel alone so you can do exactly what you want to do, see what you want to see, and learn what you want to learn. This will help you gain independence and discover an appreciation for how other people live in this world. And bonus points if you keep a travel journal!
It is important to get out of your daily routine every now and then to gain some perspective and get a reminder that the world isn’t as small as you probably imagine on an everyday basis.
14. Start meal planning.
Meal planning can help you in the organizational arena of your life as well as the health domain. Plan your meals ahead of time each week to save yourself time after work and eliminate the dreaded question, “What’s for dinner?”
There are a lot of good resources to help teach you how to meal plan and there are some tools and apps that can help save you time and make it easy. While frontloading the work at the end of the weekend may seem cumbersome, you will be thanking yourself for the rest of the week for adopting this habit.
15. Ask for a raise at work by May 31st.
You will likely have some sort of performance review in the next six months. Prior to this, make a list of everything of value that you’re adding to the organization. Document your successes between now and your next performance review so you can go into it with a strong argument as to why you deserve the raise you’re asking for.
While your boss likely knows that you do a good job, they probably aren’t paying attention to the ins and outs of what you do every day, and they may not realize the extent to which you’re working to be successful. Take the time during your review to brag about yourself and be upfront about asking for more money.
16. Take time for your spouse or partner every day.
Maybe you meet for a quick lunch mid-day or you’re able to sit down and talk at the end of the night. Reconnecting with your partner is so important is maintaining your strong relationship, staying involved in each other’s lives, and sharing any problems that either of you is facing. Relationships take continuous work to be successful, so take the time to nourish yours every day in some sort of way.
17. Create a work/life balance.
You want to be able to fit your career into your life, not fit your life into your career. So many sources have cited that one of the top five wishes of people who are near death is that they wish they had not worked as hard during their life and had instead spent that time with their family. If you have a choice to not stay late at work so you can eat dinner with your family, take those opportunities to do so. You should work to live, not live to work.
18. Complete a 30-day challenge.
30-day challenges are great because there is always an end in sight and you get to try out a new habit for a month to see if it ends up working for you. If it does, you can continue the habit and make it a part of your everyday routine. Also, 30 day challenges can trick your mind into forming a new habit by making it seem almost like a game at first, but then realizing all of the benefits you’re gaining from it.
There are many types of 30-day challenges to try. Check out this post for 129 ideas for 30 day challenges.
19. Join a club.
Consider your interests or hobbies and find a local club or organization where like-minded people come together to engage in that activity. This will help you develop more relationships in your area with people who share your interests. Clubs are a great way to make new friends and have some more fun during your leisure time.
20. Sign up for a 5k (or 10k, half-marathon, or marathon).
Signing up is the first step to starting your training. You can’t avoid becoming physically fit when you’re trying to get ready for a big race such as one of these. Also, when you’re out running, you can take some time off to free your mind, have some fun, and enjoy the alone time. Choose a race depending upon your current level of fitness. If you have run a few of these before, make a goal of setting a personal record.
21. Accept your flaws.
You have to simultaneously remind yourself of your positive qualities and the fact that no one is perfect. Our culture loves to criticize ourselves and each other by focusing on the negative characteristics of ourselves and others. Rather than being a part of this mindset, shift your focus to accepting the things you can’t change about yourself and recognizing the flaws that you can work on and improve.
Doing this will boost your confidence and self-esteem and help you become your own #1 cheerleader.
Final Thoughts on Yearly 2021 Goals
You still have some time to come up with your SMART goals for 2021, but hopefully this list inspired you in some way to make a positive change in your life. Even if you don’t really know what you want for your future, making goals will help you feel like you’re making progress in some way.
Things can dramatically change over the course of one year, and the truth is, if you know what you want to go for, you don’t need to wait until January 1st. Start today on just one thing that you feel like you can really focus on.
Remember that your goals may change over time, and reevaluating and adjusting them is a big part of ultimately being successful. (Using a good goal setting planner can help you keep track of these adjustments.)
Personal growth doesn’t happen in one big surge of effort. It happens slowly over time by keeping up with your realistic goals and making small–but effective–changes to your life.
To help you get started, check out these SMART goal templates to help you succeed in your goal-setting.
Finally, if you want to take your goal-setting efforts to the next level, then be sure to check out this post that provides a step-by-step blueprint for setting SMART goals for all seven areas of your life.
Connie Mathers is a professional editor and freelance writer. She holds a Bachelor's Degree in Marketing and a Master’s Degree in Social Work. When she is not writing, Connie is either spending time with her daughter and two dogs, running, or working at her full-time job as a social worker in Richmond, VA.