Did you know you don’t have to wait until a new year starts to set goals for yourself? Here’s the thing: If something really matters to you and you’re ready to make a change right now, you don’t have to wait until the calendar says January 1. Start today. Let’s go!
But you can’t be out here setting “goals” that are vague and willy-nilly. If you’re ready to get serious and set goals that actually work—whether it’s the end of the year or the middle of July—you need to think about seven specific types of goals. You also need to think about some key qualities your goals should have.
So, let’s break down how to set goals and create real life-change. Now that’s what I’m talking about!
What Are Goals?
If you look up goal in the dictionary, you’ll see something along the lines of “a result or achievement that calls for some effort on your part.”
Well, duh. But if we’re being honest, setting goals is easy. It’s the effort of making them happen that we get most hung up on. And sometimes we don’t even know what that effort will look like because the goal itself lacks clarity.
So, how do you get clear goals that work? They have to be:
- Specific. If you set a goal to get healthy, you won’t do it. If your goal is simply to read more, you won’t read more. You’ve got to be specific. You have to pick the specific areas of health you want to work on, like losing weight. Or you can decide to read a specific genre of books. Creating goals that are detailed and specific paints a more precise picture in our brains.
- Measurable. If you set a vague goal that can’t be measured (like eating out less), you won’t know if you’re on the right track. And that means you can fall right off the wagon without realizing it. By making goals measurable, you’ll know whether you’ve accomplished them. This is when you name how many pounds you’ll lose, say 25. Or when you decide you’ll read 10 pages a day. You can step on the scale to track weight or look at where your bookmark has moved in that book. These are measurable!
- Under a time limit. You’ll never have any motivation to work toward your goals without a hard time limit. You also probably don’t want to spend three years trying to drop 25 pounds or finally starting that podcast. Set a time limit and get the clock ticking. Deadlines motivate.
- Yours. If your only motivation for going on a diet is “my spouse wants me to,” you won’t stick to it. The same goes for every type of goal—it’s got to be yours, not someone else’s. That why needs to be rooted in your heart and soul.
- In writing. There’s something really powerful about getting out a pen or pencil and writing your goals down. Listen, the Bible says in Habakkuk 2:2 (NKJV), “Write the vision and make it plain.” So do that!
- Shared with others. I think a lot of times we hide our goals because we think, What if I fail? Well, what if you don’t? Accountability and visibility might be just what you need to succeed. Listen, I’m not saying you have to post it on social media, but I am saying life-change rarely happens alone on an island.
The Goal-Setting Process
Time-out! Before we talk about the types of goals you need to set, here are three things to think about during the goal-setting process itself.
Think Short Term and Long Term
Building wealth to become a millionaire is an awesome goal, but that’ll take decades for most folks. If long-term goals like that are your only focus, it’ll be hard to stay the course. You need some smaller goals that clearly lead up to the big kahuna along the way.
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Along the same lines, growing in your career and earning a raise within the next year is a great goal to set, but setting only short-term goals like that will keep you from dreaming big and planning for an awesome future five to 10 years down the road.
That’s why it’s important to think about short-term and long-term goals during the goal-setting process. You want to give yourself small milestones you can achieve and feel good about, but you also need to dream of the big picture. Think of it like decorating a house: Even though you renovate one room at a time, you need the overall vision to create a whole look.
Identify the Steps to Get There
In addition to the six qualities I talked about earlier, the goals you set need to be achievable. That means you might need to rethink your goals to walk on the moon and have dinner with Elon Musk. (Not trying to kill your dreams, but also, don’t play yourself.).
A good way to make sure your goals are achievable is to identify the steps it’ll take to get there. Sit down, grab a pen, and write out a plan that’ll take you from point A to point B. Ask yourself what it’s going to take to reach your goals.
Is your goal to lose weight? If so, you’ll need to figure out a diet and exercise plan on the front end to be successful. Do you want to become president of the United States? Hey, that’s a goal 46 people have reached. But you’ll need a plan: How will you get into public office, create a personal brand, and rise through the political ranks?
See what I mean? When you lay your goals out like that, it turns something big into multiple bite-size steps. And you need that because there’s only one way to eat an elephant: one bite at a time.
Write Down Your Goals
I know, we already talked about this one, but it’s that important.
Write. Down. Your. Goals.
If you’re looking for the best place to do that, our Ramsey Goal Planner is a great option. It’s portable, it includes pages to take notes on, it has monthly calendar views, and it gives you space to set, write and track your goals. Plus, you’ll get plenty of encouragement from my friends Rachel Cruze, Dr. John Delony and yours truly along the way.
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Areas in Life to Set Goals
All right, now that you know how to set goals, it’s time to think about the seven types of goals you need to set.
1. Spiritual Goals
Spiritual goals keep you focused on God and what’s really important, and they can seriously help with stress and anxiety. In my opinion (and I’m not wrong), this is the most important goal-setting category because it sets the tone for all the others.
When you think about setting a spiritual goal, you may want to:
- Make prayer a daily part of your life.
- Wake up 30 minutes earlier and use that time to read and study a chapter or two from the Bible.
- Make church your “holy habit.”
- Find a way to give your time, talent or treasure to your local church.
Just be sure the goal you choose meets the six criteria we talked about earlier!
2. Financial Goals
Listen . . . I love me a money goal. So much of what you can do in life is decided by your money situation.
And the fact is, it’s hard to do much of anything when you’re broke! How in the world are you supposed to save up an emergency fund, invest for retirement every month, or focus on generosity if you’re up to your ears in payments and never have any money left over at the end of the month?
I’ve been there, and by committing to a set of money goals, my husband and I were able to pay off our debt, pile up money for saving, and make consistent headway on our retirement investments.
Take it from me—setting just a few simple financial goals can change your entire situation. You could set a goal to:
- Get on a budget and start telling your money where to go instead of wondering where it went (the best way to do this is by downloading the EveryDollar app).
- Get out of debt (don’t forget to give yourself a time limit).
- Save up an emergency fund with 3–6 months’ worth of your expenses.
- Read The Total Money Makeover and commit to following the 7 Baby Steps.
- Begin investing 15% of your income for retirement (if you’re out of debt and have a full emergency fund).
3. Career Goals
Up next, work goals. If you’re stuck in a job you hate, this is your opportunity to actually do something about it. The same goes if you’re dealing with a hostile work environment and difficult or lazy coworkers. You have two choices—adapt and change or complain and stay the same.
Life is too short and your talents are too valuable for you to spend 40-plus hours a week wasting away in a soul-sucking, dead-end job.
It’s time to make a plan to roll out of there ASAP. Then you can find a job or create your own business that lets you use your God-given talents to do work you’re passionate about. You could set a goal to:
- Create a business plan for your business idea.
- Create a LinkedIn profile or update your resumé.
- Get clear on your talents, passions and mission by taking my friend Ken Coleman’s Get Clear Career Assessment.
- Read The Proximity Principle and commit to developing relationships with people and spending time at places that can help you do work you love.
Career goals aren’t limited to job changes though. You may have a career you love with healthy leadership and growth potential. If so, you’ve hit the jackpot and you should stick around! There are other goals you can set and achieve without handing in a resignation letter. You could set goals to:
- Connect with your leader and create a growth plan that lets you carry more responsibilities and make more money.
- Become a better resource for your teammates by asking them how you can make their lives easier.
- Get promoted.
4. Intellectual Goals
Here’s a crazy idea: You don’t have to stop learning just because you’re out of school. No matter your age, level of education, income or job status, you should commit to constant intellectual growth.
And hey, this isn’t coming only from me—it’s actually biblical. Proverbs 1:5 (NKJV) says, “A wise man will hear and increase learning, and a man of understanding will attain wise counsel.”
Coasting on what you already know will only get you so far until you inevitably hit a wall. Being intentional about growing in knowledge is the only solution.
So choose to prioritize your personal growth by setting some intellectual goals. I personally love setting a goal to read a new nonfiction book or listen to an informative podcast on the drive in to work, but your goals could be to:
- Build your knowledge by taking a class on something you’re interested in at a local community college (debt-free, of course).
- Set up a monthly meeting with a mentor.
- Keep the TV off at least two nights a week and use that time to develop your leadership skills by listening to The EntreLeadership Podcast.
5. Health/Wellness Goals
For some reason, when it comes to health and wellness goals, my mind immediately goes to diet and exercise. And there’s nothing wrong with that. One of my best accomplishments was permanently adopting a plant-based vegetarian diet. But just remember, there’s a host of other ways to be intentional about keeping your body healthy and in good shape.
I’m talking about things like getting enough sleep! I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t benefit from a few extra winks at night (and all the mamas and papas said, “Amen!”). Being a wife and mom, working full time, owning our own business, and serving in ministry has taught me the true value and necessity of getting enough sleep. The truth is, sleep plays a huge role in our physical health. A good night’s sleep is like hitting a giant reset button for your physical, mental and emotional health.
This is no joke. The health of your body has a direct impact on your mental health. So if you aren’t eating, exercising or sleeping the way you should, it will take a toll in more ways than one.
When you prioritize your physical health, you’re prioritizing your mental health at the same time. That means you should set goals to:
- Get seven to nine hours of sleep—every single night.
- Move your body for at least 30 uninterrupted minutes every day, whether that means hiking up a mountain or just walking around your neighborhood.
- Eat half as many foods from packages and more fresh, whole foods.
6. Family Goals
Man. Family is so important—it’s an entire goal category. I know it may feel weird to set goals that have to do with your family, but you have to put intentionality into those relationships for them to be healthy and positive—whether it’s your spouse, parents, siblings or children.
Truth be told, my family goals and priorities are at the top of my list just under spiritual goals. Because in my opinion, if my spiritual side is suffering and my relationships aren’t right with the people I love most, none of the other stuff hits right. There is a hierarchy here, and most people would agree family comes first.
Here are some family goals you could set:
- Keep your relationship with your parents going strong by calling them once a week to catch up.
- Attend a Financial Peace University class with your spouse so you can get on the same page about how you handle money.
- Stay involved in your siblings’ lives by setting a coffee date with them once a month—or if they live far away, getting on a phone call or video chat.
- Prioritize family dinners at the table a few nights a week. No phones, just conversation. Hey, you could even use Dr. John Delony’s Questions for Humans cards to keep the conversation going!
7. Social Goals
You must have people in your life. You must have connection. You must build quality relationships.
Our culture has convinced us that we can achieve connections through social media and Zoom. But the culture is wrong, and all the data support this. You feel it and I have felt it. Without real community and a real sense of belonging with friends and family, something is just . . . missing.
Loneliness is worse for your body than smoking 15 cigarettes a day.1 Seriously! And being lonely can impact every part of your life—your mental and physical health, your relationships, your career goals, your spiritual walk . . . you name it!
So, what’s the moral of the story? Set some social goals! Listen, this is a big goal on my list this year. My family moved states last year, and it’s easy to feel isolated. So I know firsthand how important it is to get out there and get connected!
Don’t just hop on social media and shoot off some friend requests either. Those aren’t real friends. You need to be intent on finding real, breathing human beings to connect with IRL (you know, in real life). Making new friends doesn’t happen overnight. But you’ve got to do it and make the effort. You’ve got to set the goals and follow through on them. This could look like deciding to:
- Read Own Your Past, Change Your Future to learn what it takes to create actual amazing relationships.
- Get involved in a good church community.
- Invite a coworker or friend over for dinner at least once a month to develop that connection.
- Commit to saying yes when you’re invited to spend time with people.
Take the Next Steps to Start Setting Your Goals
Setting goals in several areas of life may seem overwhelming, but you can do it! You have the power to make significant change in your life, and even though that change won’t happen overnight, you can start today.
- Grab a pen and some paper and start imagining what you’d like to accomplish.
- Tap into your community for extra support to help cheer you on while working toward your goals.
- Check out the Ramsey Goal Planner for guided prompts to help you achieve your goals.