How to Set Goals: 7 Unconventional Tips for Smart Women

If you’re feeling the urge to make plans, get organized, or develop new habits, check out the following goal-setting tips which I’ve picked up from working with smart and talented women. Some of these are contrary to popular beliefs, but they have all been road-tested by my clients and helped them successfully accomplish what they set out to do.

1. Pick one goal to focus on.

Though you may be able to manage two goals, one is really best. If you feel you must focus on more than one, stagger the goals so that you’re focusing on only one at a time. That is, when you’ve accomplished one goal, move on to the next. To learn how to weed out goals, see tip No. 2 below.

2. It’s best to start with a “want to” goal rather than a “have to” or a “should.”

Be honest with yourself; pick a goal that will give you satisfaction or pleasure. This may seem counterintuitive, but you’re more likely to succeed and will be in a better position to tackle more challenging goals.If you’re having a hard time figuring out what it is you want to do with your life, it’s even more critical to start with something that can give you joy. If you focus on a goal you think you “should” be working toward instead, you’re likely to get stuck or stay in the rut you want to escape. Doing something enjoyable that holds your interest helps you to learn what it is you want. Doing something reasonably easy lets you feel more confident about pursuing it. I explain why in greater depth, using real-life examples, in my e-book The Lighthouse Method.

3. Focus on yourself.

Don’t try to change the behavior of other people by setting goals for them. If, for example, you want your children to develop better homework habits, or you’d like your partner to do more of the chores you loathe, they aren’t likely to succeed unless they set those goals for themselves. The only thing you can do is ask them to set their own goals, just as only you can set yours.

4. Recognize the difference between projects and tasks, and choose each wisely.

Picking one goal, as suggested in tip No. 1 above, usually means choosing one project, which is a set or a series of smaller tasks. The best tasks to choose are small, observable, and discrete. Let’s say, for example, you recently rekindled your joy of reading for pleasure and want to continue to read more. Your project or goal is to develop a reading habit. This requires many smaller action steps, such as researching what to read, buying or borrowing books, scheduling time to read, setting an alert or a reminder of when it’s time to read, starting a list of recommended books, and so on. Often, some of your tasks will depend on other ones, so continue to ask yourself, What’s the next action I need to take to move myself forward in my project/goal? Then, focus on that specific task.

5. Set a check-in point.

Many of us have been taught to set a deadline or a target date for our goals. I suggest setting a check-in point instead. About a week or two after you’ve set your goal and done some tasks related to completing it, take a step back and evaluate what you’ve done. If your tasks are measurable, keep track of your work on a piece of paper or in an app such as HabitBull.

6. Celebrate your successes.

Celebrating small wins is not just fun, it’s actually helpful for keeping yourself motivated. Successes remind you that you can get things done. To read more about this, check out an article I wrote earlier this year.

7. Be flexible. Abandon goals that don’t serve you well.

If you find you’ve picked the wrong goal or are having a hard time achieving it, change it. Make the goal easier or move on to another one. Don’t blame yourself, be critical of your willpower, or feel guilty. I give you permission to abandon goal setting altogether if it doesn’t work for you. This may not be the right time for you to set goals or start a new project. When the time comes, you’ll know it.

If you find that you’re beating yourself up about it or feeling miserable, please don’t suffer alone; contact me. Life is already too short and challenging; don’t make it more so by making yourself feel bad.

If you try these out, please let me know how these worked for you.

This article was first published on and shared with permission via Ellevate.

Stacy S. Kim, Ph.D. is the author of The Lighthouse Method: How Busy, Overloaded Moms Can get Unstuck and Figure Out What To Do With Their Lives. She is a socical-science-researcher-turned-life-coach helping women and moms find time and energy for meaningful work and the people they love. You can find her at and follow her on twitter: @stacyskim







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