What Type of Goals Should You Set When You Have No Idea What You Want?
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Chances are you have heard of the power of goal setting. How people who set goals are 275% more likely to achieve significant results than those who simply, “work hard”. You might know the different types of goals already. But you are still unsure of where to start...
Before you can start setting effective goals, you need to understand the types of goals out there. There are time based goals and the seven different categories of goals.
If you are confused about the different types of goal and which styles might be “right” for you: you are in the right place. This post should clear up any confusion you have about finding the right goals tailored for YOUR life.
(Side note: If your goals are related to your career or business, then join over 1 million others and start your day with the latest news from Wall St. to Silicon Valley. This newsletter is a 5-minute read that's informative, witty and FREE!)
What are Goals?
First things first, let’s take a look at the term “goals”. Many people think that a goal should be something earth-shattering and important. That goals should be include significant change in finances, achieving some massive success or changing society in some important way.
This is not true.
Major goals, like the one above, could be your goal, but goals are often much more personal. For example, one of my lifelong goals is simply to run a marathon in every state in the US. This goal combines my love of fitness and travel into one major goal. (20 out of 50 so far).
The point is that all goals do not need to be massive. If you think the only goals worthwhile are earth-shattering one, you migh want to change your thinking. Later on in this article I will go into greater detail about the different types of goals.
The reason most people never reach their goals is that they don’t define them, or ever seriously consider them as believable or achievable.
The Psychology of Winning
Setting too many goals
The goal setting “experts” disagree on how many goals is too many. I have heard 3 goals, 5 goals, 4 to 6 goals and 5 to7 goals. All of these numbers are thrown about as the “proper” number of goals.
I think a lot depends on how aggressive your goals are. Having the goal of creating your own tech startup, for example, is going to take the bulk of your time for years to come. This goal is frighteningly complex and might keep you from working on much else for a long period of time.
However, goals like my running/states goal are fairly simple. I run 3-5 days a week: every week. Once or twice a year, I set a series of stepping stone goals (more on this soon) where I train for a marathon. Then I go do it, and check off another state from my list.
If your goals are a easier you can afford to have a few more. If your goals are more complex you need to aim toward having fewer goals.
4 Types of Goals Based on Time
When you set goals, the time you set to achieve the goals makes a big difference in the type of goal. There are four different types of goals: stepping stone goals, short term goals, long term goals and lifetime goals.
When people talk about “too many goals” they are really only talking about the last two. Long term goals and lifetime goals. Those are the only types of goals where you need to worry about not overloading yourself.
If you take on too many short term goals for instance, you may bite off more than you can chew and fail a few. However, there is always time to try them again with a better understanding of your personal limits.
Lifetime goals are the goals that will take anywhere from 10 years to your lifetime to achieve.
The best way to figure out your lifetime goals is to picture a future version of yourself, you would like to become. What has this future version of yourself accomplished? Are they happy with the things they have? Are you single or in a family? What does that version of you have? What have they achieved? Are they wealthy, or just "comfortable"? What would be talked about at their/your funeral by friends and family?
When you think about a future version of yourself in this light, you are checking out your goals. These are the goals that are central to being you. Then make goals that will help you transform into that person.
My life goals at 20 were different than they are at 40, so it may be natural for them to change over time. This change doesn’t happen quickly; so every 5 years you might want to tweak your lifetime goals.
These goals encompass the really long term versions of goals. You will want a mix of lifetime goals and more actionable (and immediate long term goals) to meet whatever goal limit you set for yourself.
These are your workhorse goals. They NEED to have the specific time limits put on them: typically 5 or 10 year goals.
Remember that most people overestimate what they can do with short term goals, but underestimate what is possible with long term goals.
Example: Setting aside $100,000 in savings for retirement by Sept. 2026
Short Term Goals
Short term goals are not always that short. They may be a month, six months or a year. These are goals built of the bricks of stepping stone goals with the express purpose of reaching long term or lifetime goals.
Example: Let’s continue our example of saving $100,000 for retirement within 10 years. (A goal that is achievable for most people even if you have modest means.)
If saving is your goal the first two short term goals should be:
- Stop using credit cards (right away)
- Pay off credit cards within 1 year
Interest on credit cards is typically between 10% and 27% depending on your credit. This is a lot more than any savings account. By paying off your cards for the following 9 years you will have more free money for saving and investing.
Stop using credit cards is a short term goal you then likely want to renew each and every year. Paying off your credit cards within a year is something that may take a lot of sacrifice, but unless your debt is crazy, should hopefully be achievable using a series of stepping stone goals. (For more on this, check out the 17 money-saving apps we have profiled on this page.)
Stepping Stone Goals
These are transactional goals. Think of these as action steps that allow you to reach bigger goals. For instance. They are the bricks that build the short term goals the build you long-term and lifetime goals.
Example: Let’ s look at a couple of examples using the finance example of paying off credit card debt within a single year.
- Take a class on managing money and creating a budget.
- Set a budget
- Cut expenses
- Sell stuff
- Get a side job/promotion
- Make hard decisions: Get rid of cable. Limit mobile device plans. Eat out rarely.
- Pay off as much debt as you can every month.
This is not an article on finance, so I will not go into details on these options. Suffice to say that stepping stone goals above will help most people to reduce their debt drastically, if they are willing to put in the sacrifice and hard work.
Setting Too Few Goals
Yes, there is a danger in setting too few goals. Let’s look at Jack.
Jack wants to get ahead at work. He sets a lot of short term goals for his long term goal of advancing to management at job.
His short term goals include:
- Completing a self paced learning course for his job.
- Increasing his sales by 20% over the next year.
- Reading 3 self help/leadership books a month for the next year. (Hopefully he remembers my books.)
- Finishing his Master’s by the end of the year.
- Getting his next promotion.
All of these are great goals, and will probably get him that promotion. But as you know, all work and no play make Jack a dull boy.
Jack has no relationship goals.
There are no goals for physical fitness
Where are his health goals?
Where are his spiritual goals?
You get the picture.....
Jack needs to be a little bit more well rounded in his goals. Which brings is to the 7 important types of goal setting
7 Types of Goal Setting
There are 7 types of goals. Many goals can be set from a single section, or a single goal from each one. It all depends on the priorities of the individual.
To be “well rounded” you will want to mix it up a bit, and not JUST focus on a single target. But ultimately any decision on where to put your effort is yours and yours alone. Don’t let anybody tell you any different.
These are not cookie cutter decisions that require one from each category. They are choices based on your life.
The idea of their being 7 Goals (and their names) come from Jack Canfield and his book Success Principles.
This is the most commonly what people think about then they think, “Goal setting activities”. And are often the things that pop into people’s head when they think about the different types of goals they could be setting.
Reminder: Again, if your goals are related to your career or business, then be sure to check out this FREE newsletter is a 5-minute that's chock-full of great business information
Career goals include:
- Get a promotion
- Change job focus
- Career change
- Improve communication
- Get a specific award/accolade
- Start your own business
This is another big goal choice. It is common to want to make more money and plan how to do that. To reach financial goals you need to budget, adjust spending habits, save as much money as possible, and hopefully make more money.
Some common financial goals are:
- Buying a home
- Pay off loans
- Any sort of extremely large purchase
- Create an emergency fund
- Large savings/stock/bonds/gold goals
- Get completely out of debt
- Save enough money to change jobs and do work you love (that pays less)
- Increase charity
Personal Development Goals
Personal development goals are the ones that are about making you a better person. This is not a judgment. For example, I am not saying that if you only speak a single language there is something wrong with you. But if you feel you need to learn another language then it becomes an important goal that will make you a bit better.
Personal development goal examples:
What can you do for your spirit? These can be religious goals for any religion. They can be goals that help you contribute to society. These include any goals that are about more than yourself and your immediate family.
Examples of spiritual goals:
- Volunteer regularly
- Go to church regularly
- Become a church leader
- Be more mindful
- Mentor a junior
- Meditate daily
- Donate more money to those less fortunate
- Start/join a prayer group
- Give hands on help in a foreign country: build homes/schools etc.
Educational goals are a bit of hybrid. In college this will be of paramount importance as you struggle to learn and set yourself up for a career. Later on in life this does not become as important, but you are fooling yourself if you think that as a 50 year old manager, you still do not need to educate yourself.
Education goals have some crossover. They often crossover with personal development and Career. But mostly your educational goals after college will deal with specific things you need for your education/career/job/future job.
Since this “educational” training varies greatly from career path to career path I will not list all the items on the list.
A few relationship goals are:
- Leave stress at work
- Dedicate alone time with your child/spouse
- Get more free time
- Increase family time
- Find a significant other
- Have children
- Get married
- Save for children's goals
Physical and Health Goals
Common physical and health goals are:
- Keep your immune system operating at peak condition
- Have the energy to get more done
- Live forever. Or at least live to your 90s and beyond being healthy the whole way.
Types of Goals Conclusion
By now you should know MORE than you need to know about the different types of goals. The 4 time bound goals, and the seven different types of goals. Hopefully, some of the links on this page also have you thinking about a few goals that might make a positive impact on your life.
Finally, if you'd like to learn how to build any skills related to your goals, then I recommend this resource that has over 25,000 self-educational courses on their platform.
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