How to set realistic goals and achieve them

With the new year comes new goals, but the vast majority will never happen. 

A big reason for that is because people set goals that aren’t realistic or have no real action plan for how to achieve them. 

Here’s a guide for how to set realistic goals and achieve them. 

1) Know why you want it

The first step in how to set realistic goals and achieve them is to know why you want it. 

For example, you may want to be a college basketball player because you love the game and it makes you feel alive. 

I won’t lie: that’s a pretty good reason!

Or it could be that you want to become a professional painter because you have always had an innate talent at painting and you are starting to make a really good living from it. 

Also a very decent and compelling reason! 

Maybe you want to be a fireman and have wanted to ever since your family home burned down when you were 10. 

That urge to help others and battle the blaze has consumed your soul ever since and never let up. 

You definitely have a convincing motivation behind your goal. 

Whatever your motivation, make sure it’s enough to keep you going when the going gets tough.

Because if there’s one thing we can be sure of in life it’s that the going will get tough sooner or later. 

2) Write down why you want it 

I’m a big proponent of writing things down, preferably by hand. 

Write it in a journal or on a whiteboard. Write it on your laptop or tablet. 

Just find a way to get it down in words and in your own words. 

In addition to the reasons I listed above, you can drill down a bit deeper on this. 

For example, you may write more about your psychological motivations and how your goal(s) will help you express and contribute in ways that are very important to you. 

As you write, you may have many insights about what’s driving you and find that you become even more motivated and clear in why you want to achieve your goal. 

One of the best ways to explore what’s driving you is to do the free core values exercise from Life Journal. 

This online program led by coach Jeanette Brown helps you find out the crucial values and ethics that are driving you in life. 

It puts you in charge of your dreams and helps you find effective ways to reach your goals and excel at what you put your mind to. 

Check it out here.

3) Know how to get there

So you know your goal, don’t discount the importance of that. 

Knowing what you want is incredibly important and foundational, so you can be proud of having established that. 

Next up is charting your path for how to get there:

This is your route (or routes) for how to achieve your goal. 

Let’s use the examples above as guidelines for looking at the “how.” 

Putting your all into high school basketball, and working with a personal trainer in order to get drafted to a decent college team could be step one of becoming a pro ball player. 

This may include many intermediate steps and strategies of diet and lifestyle as you set out to achieve your goal. 

For painting you may have various steps on the path to your goal, including some guiding inspirations of painters you love, perhaps Vincent Van Gogh and Auguste Renoire. 

From there you may attend art school, or work hard to make contacts and get some of your work into a show. Despite being an amateur, you work hard to gain some recognition and eventually find your way into more well known shows and galleries. 

You also have a steady pattern of self-development and self-improvement as you hone your craft and work out the kind of artist you want to be and what you want to say with your art work. 

The sky’s the limit! 

To become a fireman (or firewoman!) you work out a strict system of physical fitness and develop your ability to carry heavy loads and endure physically difficult situations. 

From there you begin volunteering at a fire station and progress from there, working your way up until being hired full time as a firefighter in a major city’s fire department. 

Fires watch out, because you’re headed their way and they won’t last long! 

4) Write down a plan for achieving your goal

Write down a plan for how to achieve your goal. 

You can do this as a bullet point list or as a flowchart or spreadsheet. 

Do it in the format that’s most helpful and informative to you.

Make sure to include fallback plans and options for one of your steps for your plan doesn’t go the way you plan. 

You’ll be surprised how anticipating all of this helps you out in numerous ways to be less blindsided and more prepared for whatever comes. 

Having a detailed plan can help you be much more confident and clear about what the next few months and years may look like and be prepared for unexpected twists and turns. 

5) Know who can help you get there

The third important aspect of your goals is to know who can help you achieve them

Networking is absolutely crucial, and anybody who tells you different is either lying to you or clueless. 

Making connections with those who share your goals or can help you achieve them is fundamental to actually crossing the finish line and getting toward your goals. 

For example, maybe you email and meet up with a top basketball trainer who helps you work on your game and become a deadly three point shooter. 

Maybe you begin spending more and more time at the home of an elderly painter you admire. 

She teaches you her craft and some of her painting techniques, greatly broadening your artistic vision and ability to create incredible work that changes people’s lives. 

In the third example, maybe you team up with a friend who also wants to be a firefighter. 

You and he work your hardest and go through volunteer fire fighting together, spotting each other in the gym and working your way up until you’re both battling blazes on the frontlines in Chicago. 

Never underestimate the power of teamwork and networking. Most incredible achievements in the world were built on it. 

6) Write down who can help you achieve your goal

Writing down a list of people who can help you achieve your goal is something I highly recommend. 

A good starting point for this is to go through the modern version of a rolodex, which is social media friends and follower lists, and email contacts. 

Write down the names and contact info of anybody on there who’s related to your goal. 

This may be even just tangentially and not in a direct way. For example, maybe you are friends with somebody who has a very good chance of knowing somebody else. 

Give it a try!

The worst you’re going to end up with here is an unanswered email or direct message. 

The best you’re going to end up with is being linked up to someone who can seriously help you get closer to your objective. 

As you make this list, try to think outside the box. Many of us have a bigger contact list and network of friends and colleagues than we realize at first. 

Use it!

7) Break it into smaller steps

If you have a goal that’s quite lofty and ambitious, break it into smaller steps. 

Let’s go with the prior examples to get an idea of what this could mean:  


  • Your daily schedule including meals and workout times
  • Your practice and game times as you work on bettering your game
  • Your academic requirements and goals in order to facilitate your basketball goal
  • Your career requirements and goals in terms of salary and expenses to make sure you have enough to focus on basketball the rest of the time. 


  • Your list of equipment, canvases and materials in order to facilitate your best work
  • A schedule of when you will paint, relax and attend to other duties
  • Your daily routine, including free time for drawing on inspiration from nature and other people 
  • Your career goals and where you plan to market, sell and show your work going forward, as well as shows or galleries you dream about. 


  • A daily workout schedule and list of achievements you want to get to in order to become a firefighter. 
  • A plan for signing up to volunteer firefighting and to become a better firefighter, including taking part in training exercises. 
  • Friends and partners you can work with in your quest to become a better firefighter. 

8) Pace yourself 

The quest to achieve your goals requires pacing in most cases. 

If you have your goal set, achieving it is what comes second. Never reverse that order. 

Because the truth is that you can work until hell freezes over, but if you don’t know what it’s for you’re guaranteed to fail.

But if you know what you want and why you want it, you can afford to meddle a little bit with how you get there and ensure success. 

The best way to do this is to pace yourself. 

I’m currently listening to ultra marathon runner and Navy SEAL veteran David Goggins’ book Never Finished in which he recounts his running in very difficult challenges such as the Leadville 100 run in high terrain.  

As Goggins says, you can’t afford to look at the distance ahead of yourself. 

You need to pace yourself and go slow but strong. You need to last the distance instead of just spiking up now and then. 

As he says, he’s not a particularly talented runner but his skill is paying attention to how his feet strike the ground each time and holding his head high and straight, almost as a kind of meditation. 

He’s not trying to outrun you, he’s trying to succeed (and will succeed) at outlasting you.

It’s the same with your goals in life. They take time. They take patience. And they take endurance. 

Be ready and go the distance. 

9) Reward yourself at benchmarks 

We all need little dopamine hits now and then. Don’t be afraid to give them out,  but don’t be too lax, either. 

You can expect some reward at benchmarks, just don’t make these benchmarks too easy. 

When you hit a mini-goal or one of your steps, give yourself a reward

But don’t make it too big or too final. This is just a step on the path to your goal. 

And as Goggins teaches in his book Never Finished which I mentioned, there is no final goal. 

You are never finished. The struggle is the goal. The journey is the destination. 

You get the picture. This is about recognizing your progress but not about relaxing and resting on your laurels. 

Once you relax and say game over, that’s when you’re set to truly lose the whole thing. 

The race is never truly over. 

10) Take rest days

As you work towards your goals you will expend a lot of energy and focus. 

It’s crucial to take breaks sometimes. I recommend at least one day per week as a rest day. 

Even God took a day off when he created the Earth!

You deserve to take some time for yourself, too, to recharge your batteries and get some well-needed rest. 

If you get the rest of the process going along as much as possible then taking rest days won’t make you feel guilty or delayed. 

You’ll be able to feel fully relaxed knowing that your progress toward your goal is proceeding in the way that’s best. 

The key to setting goals and achieving them 

The key to setting goals and achieving them is simple:

You need to line up intensity of desire, clarity of vision and real-world action. 

In other words: 

You need to want it really bad

You need to have a plan for how to get there, and fallback plans for failure…

And you need to be ready and already engaging in real-world actions to make your goal happen

No matter how big or how small, goals only come true when we know why we want them, have a plan to get there and actually put in real action to accomplish them. 

Put these three pieces together and you’re going to achieve your goals or learn a huge amount in trying to get them. 

12 personality traits that show you’re a positive influence on others

10 often overlooked traits of genuinely happy people