Why Is It Important to Set Realistic Goals: 7 Proven Reasons

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We’ve all been there, right? When we set New Year’s resolutions, dream big or get caught up in our desires. I’m talking about creating those unrealistic goals… the ones that seem slightly out of reach.

“I’m going to lose 40 pounds before summer starts.” 

“I’m going to take an art course, set up my graphic design biz, have lots of clients, and roll in the money.”

Realistically, is there any chance you’ll succeed at any of these goals (without waving a magic wand, of course)?  Probably not, if I’m being honest.

And that’s exactly why you need a guide on why is it important to set realistic goals. It’s for your own good – so you can succeed in life, feel motivated, and go after bigger (realistic! and achievable) goals. 

I’ve got all the details you need to empower yourself by setting realistic goals right here. 

What Are Realistic Goals? 

It should be obvious what realistic goals are, right? They are goals that are realistic. But what’s realistic for you isn’t realistic for me, so your realistic objectives need to be tailored to you.

These goals should be targets you can achieve with the skills you already have or are planning to learn within a defined timeframe

You also need to be in the right mindset to achieve your goals. There’s no use setting a target to lose X amount of weight in two months' time when you currently feel tired all the time, your anxiety is through the roof, and your boss keeps adding pressure at work. 

Sure, eating healthier and moving around more will do wonders for your anxiety and stress levels, and you’ll have a bit more energy too. But in this case, you need to start at step one

Realistic goals help you find the middle path between being future-oriented in what you can achieve and being mindful of current limitations.

Make sure you are getting enough rest. Cut the unhealthy snacks. Find a way to relieve stress at work by delegating projects or practicing mindfulness or meditation. 

Then get yourself in the right mindset and create a realistic goal. The goal shows you what it is you want and what you can achieve. There’s nothing wrong in being ambitious – after all, that’s how most of us get somewhere in life. But what you want needs to be within your (current) reach.

How Are Realistic Goals Different From Unrealistic Goals? 

You’d think that maybe the only difference between realistic goals and unrealistic goals is the “un” part

In fact, there are various differences between these two types of goals. 

  • With realistic goals, you already have the resources, skills, energy, and willpower required to achieve your targets. With unrealistic, pie-in-the-sky goals, you don’t (even though you might – unrealistically – think you do). 
  • When you set unrealistic goals, you are so focused on them that you can’t see the other things in your life that matter
  • Unrealistic goals set you up for failure – they are so unattainable, but you don’t see this. You just keep working at them to the detriment of everything else in your life. 
  • Realistic goals build confidence as you achieve the targets you set out for yourself, while continuously setting unrealistic goals makes you lose your confidence as you often don’t achieve them. 
  • Unrealistic goals set you up for disappointment – in your goal and in yourself. No matter how hard you try, you’re bound to be disappointed when the goal isn’t reachable (and wasn’t) in the first place. 
  • When the targets you set are unrealistic, it means they are not specific, there are too many of them, and they are too big. Realistic goals, on the other hand, are specific, there is one big goal with smaller milestone targets, and they are “small” in that they are attainable
  • Unrealistic goals match human nature’s propensity to be overconfident, particularly when those kinds of targets are linked to our self-esteem. Sometimes, even when we know we won’t be able to achieve the airy-fairy goal 100%, we still give it our best shot in the hopes we’ll end up somewhere
  • When we set realistic goals, we know we only have ourselves to blame if things don’t work out. When it comes to #missionimpossible, we sometimes suffer from false hope syndrome and we blame everything and everyone else for our failures. 

7 Reasons: Why Is It Important to Set Realistic Goals?

It’s essential to set goals you can attain. Here’s why it’s important to set realistic (#missionPOSSIBLE) goals

Reason #1. Helps You Set Realistic Expectations 

“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” ― Norman Vincent Peale

This quote may not make it sound ideal to set realistic goals. After all, you want the moon, right? Not the stars. 

But attainable goals are very focused on what the end result is. You can still dream big; it’s just that realistic goals lets you see the landing strip and where exactly you’ll be once you’ve hit the target. 

If you don’t have an exact success point, you’ll be lost and confused. When you know where you are headed, you have a predetermined end point, and getting there counts as your real success

Reason #2. Focus on the Middle Path 

Realistic goals help you find the middle path between being future-oriented in what you can achieve and being mindful of current limitations. An attainable goal comprises just the right amount of ambition. This is similar to Aristotle’s Golden Mean, which is the middle of two extremes – one is excess and the other is deficiency. 

You could say then that unrealistic goals lean toward excess where you want too much and are overly ambitious. Having grand goals sounds lofty, and since they aren’t attainable, it’s better to have feasible goals where what we put in to achieve the goal is worth the end result.

Reason #3. Can Be Met in a Reasonable Time 

When you have as-big-as-you-can-dream goals, it’ll take forever to achieve them. They aren’t within reach, so you’ll put in blood, sweat, and tears (and possibly a few curse words) and never feel like you are getting anywhere (unless you are deluding yourself). 

On the other hand, realistic goals need to be timeous. You need to know when you’ll meet the goal since you’ll have a timeline or time frame. The timeline will have smaller goals or milestones you need to meet on your journey to the “bigger” realistic goal, and these milestones are set intentionally, consciously, and according to priority. 

Your realistic goal looks much more promising. Better yet, you aren’t likely to get distracted, abandon ship, and run after a new, shinier goal.

Reason #4. Benefit from Setting Micro Goals 

When you create a realistic goal, you have a macro goal – the end result – and micro goals – the milestones you reach and pass on your journey to the big target. 

You can’t achieve your macro goal without having stepping stones

Milestones allow you to track your progress. They also boost your confidence as you achieve every one of them, making the macro goal much less intimidating. You also build momentum so you stay on track, and this helps you to be disciplined.

Reason #5. Builds Ongoing Motivation 

Having unrealistic goals or realistic ones without milestones is like walking around in the dark or trying to find a needle in a haystack. Moreover, bigger-than-life goals have high expectations, no deadline, and no measurable growth

You may think you’re working on your unrealistic goal, but in actual fact, you aren’t making progress. Soon, the goal will be “out of sight, out of mind” as you lose interest or become distracted. 

When you create a realistic goal, you have a macro goal – the end result – and micro goals – the milestones you reach and pass on your journey to the big target. 

Instead, with realistic goals that have milestones, you have reference points so you can track your progress. The more you achieve, the harder you’ll work and the more you’ll want your goal. 

This builds ongoing motivation so you don’t run out of steam. It helps you keep your eyes on the prize.

Reason #6. Improves Your Self-Esteem 

As you consistently meet your little targets, a feel-good hormone called dopamine is released to improve your focus and memory, boost your mood, and help you sleep better.

When you feel better in general and you celebrate wins, you boost your self-reliance and self-esteem. 

You trust yourself more, and you see obstacles as opportunities to grow and learn. You develop an abundance mindset where you see more good in your life – more resources, more choices, more everything that’s good. 

Reason #7. Benefit from Delayed Gratification 

The famous 1960s Marshmallow Experiment illustrated how delayed gratification can benefit you and set you up for success. 

Briefly, Stanford professor Walter Michel and his team tested hundreds of four and five-year-olds. They made a deal with each child: the kid could eat the marshmallow while the researcher was away, but then they wouldn't get a second marshmallow, or they could wait until the researcher returned and get a second marshmallow. 

Easy, right? Choose between a treat (reward) now, or get two later

The true results from the experiment came years later. The researchers kept tabs on the children for more than four decades. They found that those who waited to be rewarded with another marshmallow had higher SAT scores, better stress responses, better social skills, and generally scored better in various life measures than those kids who wanted instant gratification. 

So when we set realistic goals, we know exactly what the expected reward is, and so we can prioritize delayed gratification over an “instant treat.” Focus on your meaningful milestones and reap the rewards.

How to Set Realistic Goals: 9 Tips 

Here are a few tips to help you get started on setting realistic goals: 

  • Write your goals down so you can analyze your expectations
  • Inventory your time, the effort needed, your skills, resources, and threats – these will help you identify whether the goal is indeed realistic and the obstacles you need to overcome so you are prepared.
  • Use goal-setting strategies like SMART to ensure your goals are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic (again with that word) or relevant, and time-based. 
  • Create vision boards to help visualize your goal in detail
  • Make an action plan with milestones so you know exactly how you are going to achieve your realistic goal. 
  • Journal about your goal and your journey to attaining every milestone with notes on progress and threats. 
  • Track your progress, reassess your goal after every milestone, and adjust where needed. 
  • Use goal-setting apps like Goals on Track, Strides, and Repeat Habit Tracker to track your progress and keep your head in the game.
  • Find a goal-buddy – aka an accountability partner. 

Final Thoughts on Why It’s Important to Set Realistic Goals 

Setting realistic goals is essential for various reasons, from benefiting from delayed gratification and micro goals – to building ongoing motivation and improving your self-esteem. 

It sounds dreamy to have unrealistic goals, but leave those for your fantasies while you focus on your milestones and realistic goals to make your dreams come true.  

Ready to get on with it and set realistic goals so you can reap the rewards? Then check out our step-by-step guide on writing and setting SMART goals.

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