How to Set Realistic Goals

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"A goal properly set is halfway reached," according to the famous words of Abraham Lincoln. Well thought-out, realistic goals allow you to move forward along a set plan and feel the thrill of accomplishment when you achieve success. Goals can also help you by providing focus and direction. Whether your goal is financial, career-oriented or lifestyle-focused, take the time to really pinpoint what it is you want to achieve and set a realistic plan to make it happen.

Look at the big picture and assess your current situation. Compare where you are now to where you ultimately want to be, and then break that down into smaller, more realistic goals that you can achieve now.

Consider the resources you will need to achieve your goal. If you have bad credit or very little money saved, buying a house is not the most attainable goal to set as you cannot achieve it in a timely way given your current situation. Instead, set up a goal to save enough money to put down on a home and another to repair your credit.

Make your goals specific. Instead of setting a goal to earn more money, focus on the amount you want to increase your revenues or salary by and in what time frame.

Research external factors out of your control that can get in the way of achieving your goal. If you want to set up your own real estate brokerage, for example, and the current housing market is unstable, you may want to set your sights somewhere else until those barriers resolve themselves.

Consult a professional to find out what is really involved in achieving your goal. If your plan is to have a fully funded retirement plan at age 40, talk to a financial manager who specializes in retirement. He is in the position to tell you what you will need to plan for to achieve your goal.

Review your goals to ensure they meet the SMART test. Ray Silverstein, author of “Best Secrets of Great Small Businesses,” calls the SMART system of goal setting simple and one that gets the job done. A SMART goal is one that is specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely.


  • If your goals are financial in nature, do not let upticks and downturns in the economy make you lose sight of them. The ability to stay focused and committed to your goals gives you a much better chance to achieve them.


  • Review your goals frequently and tweak them when necessary. In an interview with "The Boston Globe," organizational psychologist Francis Flynn cautions that you should reevaluate your goals often to ensure that they are still rational. If you set a very aggressive financial goal and your current situation no longer supports it, recognizing it and resetting the goal could save you from financial problems down the line.


About the Author

After attending Fairfield University, Hannah Wickford spent more than 15 years in market research and marketing in the consumer packaged goods industry. In 2003 she decided to shift careers and now maintains three successful food-related blogs and writes online articles, website copy and newsletters for multiple clients.

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