7 Types of Goals: The Ultimate Guide to Goal Categories
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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 four type of 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 “best” for your situation, then you are in the right place. In this post, we'll talk about the difference between time-based goals and then we will talk about the seven major goals that to help with your personal development journey.
Let's get to it…
What You Will Learn
- What are Goals?
- Setting Too Many Goals
- 4 Types of Goals Based on Time
- The Dangers of Not Setting Enough Goals
- 7 Types of Goal Setting
- Final Thoughts on These Seven Type of Goals
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 might 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.Denis Waitley, The Psychology of Winning
Setting Too Many Goals
The goal-setting “experts” disagree on how many goals is too many. I have heard three goals, five goals, or four to seven 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 three to five days a week: every week. And 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 easier you can afford to have a few more. If your goals are more complex you need to aim toward having fewer goals.
Now, let's move on and talk about time-based 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.
(Sidebar: You can learn the difference between process goals and outcome goals in this post.)
#1. Lifetime Goals
Lifetime goals are the goals that will take anywhere from a year to an entire lifetime to achieve.
The best way to figure out your life goals is to picture a future version of yourself, you would like to become.
You can identify lifetime goals by asking questions like:
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.
Furthermore, lifetime goals happen when they are perfectly aligned with what you value in life. To learn more about this concept, I recommend checking out these three articles:
- What is Your Why: A Step-by-Step Process for Finding Your Purpose in Life
- Core Values: 70 Examples of Values to Live By
- Bucket List Inspiration: 553 Ideas to Try Before You Die
Simply put: If your lifetime goals directly related to what you value, then you'll increase the likelihood that you'll achieve them.
Finally, you should be mindful of how your life goals will change as you get older.
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.
(Sidebar: An “if-then” plan can help you stay on track while you're achieving your goals. Learn more about how to make one in this post.)
#2. Long-Term Goals
These are your workhorse goals. They need to have the specific time limits put on them: typically 5 or 10-year goals. (To see what these look like, I recommend checking out this post that has 25 examples of long-term goals.)
One thing to keep in mind is the famous quote by Bill Gates: “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.”
In other words, if you're serious about a goal, then you should make a long-term goal that's many years in the future, and then use a series of short-team goals to achieve it.
Example: Setting aside $100,000 in savings for retirement by Sept. 2026
Let's say that you have this long-term goal, then let's talk about how you would achieve it through a series of short-term goals…
#3. Short Term Goals
Short term goals are not always that short. They may be a month, six months or a year. These are the stepping stone goals with the express purpose of reaching long term or lifetime goals. These goals can further be broken down into daily goals and weekly goals.
(If you want to get an idea of these these look like, then here are 27 examples of short-term 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:
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.)
#4. 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.
This is not an article on finance, so I will not go into details on these options. (If you would like to learn more about this, then check out the article on 26 better money habits.) 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.
The Dangers of Not Setting Enough 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:
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.
The truth is Jack doesn't have:
You get the picture…..
Jack needs to be a little bit more well rounded in his goals. Which brings is to the seven categories or types of goal setting.
So let's talk about that next.
7 Types of Goal Setting
There are seven 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.
#1. Career Goals
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.
With career goals should focus on how to:
If you would like to create great career goals, then I recommend checking out these 36 work habits that will help you become a better employee.
#2. Financial Goals
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.
With financial goals you will focus on how to:
#3. 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:
#4. Spiritual Goals
What can you do for your spirit? What can bring you authentic happiness? 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:
If you want to leave a meaningful life, check out the spiritual goals examples in this post.
#5. Educational Goals
Educational goals are a bit of a 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.
If you're looking for examples of SMART goals students can set for themselves, check out this post.
#6. Relationship Goals
A few relationship goals are:
#7. Physical and Health Goals
Common physical and health goals are:
Final Thoughts on These Seven Type of Goals
So there you have it: A simple overview of how to set goals related to the different aspects of your life. The key here is to not just focus on one category, instead, you should strive to be a well-rounded person who has goals related to your career, relationship, finances, and personal life.
To get started, I recommend setting what are called S.M.A.R.T. goals, which can be broken down as follows:
|S||Specific making sure that the goal is clear as written.|
|M||Measurable Making sure that any metric requirement in the goal is clearly defined and has specific numbers attached to it.|
|A||Achievable. Meaning that the goal can be accomplished and is not some crazy “pie in the sky” dream-like tripping your salary in three months or losing 50 pounds in a month.|
|R||Relevant, and this just means that the goal really matters and is worth your time and effort.|
|T||Time-bound where the goal starts and stops (and any steps along the way) are all tied to specific dates.|
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