Goal setting. We all do it. We all succeed sometimes. And we fail sometimes don’t we? Mainly we’re somewhere in the middle (successes mixed with setbacks), most of the time. It’s a conundrum many of struggle with. As much as the modern world, especially popular culture and social media, tells us to “dream big” and to “hang onto your dreams” and “anyone can do anything”, our life experiences tend to show us something rather less rosy, don’t they? Life can be hard and not all dreams come true, certainly not for all of us and certainly not all the time.

As year-end approaches (although we know you may read this at some other time) we’d like to focus on one aspect of goal setting: the time-frame.  Firstly, let’s remember that a goal without any kind of time frame (when?) is little more than a dream or a wish. It’s action plans with details that make dreams into goals into realities. So let’s assume you know that and you do include timelines in your goal setting. OK, great. But how long? Well, the biggest mistake is setting unrealistically short goal timelines: losing 10 kg in a month, running a marathon with 6 weeks’ training, paying off a large loan in 6 months, completing a study-at-home degree in the same time full-time students would, etc. As a general rule, setting longer and therefore more realistic timelines is the way to go if you want to avoid demoralising and self-defeating early failures. As the year draws to an end it is natural (and a good idea) to look at goals for the coming year. We have written other articles on how you might approach this but here we just want to consider the 12 months of a year: what sort of goal is realistic in a one-year timeframe? Here are some good and realistic goals that most of us can achieve in one year:

  • Lose 12kg (1kg per month)
  • Run 10km
  • Walk 4-5 hours a week every week
  • Complete a 3-5 day hike (various degrees of difficulty from full mountain-wilderness to easier slack-packing)
  • Become an ex-smoker (often takes more than one try)
  • Speak with and or see more of the truly important people in our lives (partners, family, good friends, mentors, etc.)
  • Develop a family habit of eating at least one meal together, all sitting together and no-phones-allowed, each day
  • Learn some new skill (physical, hobby, work, other…)
  • Complete an online learning course or module (work related or not)
  • Get out of all short-term debt (credit cards, store cards, overdrafts, personal loans)
  • Develop a lifetime (long term) financial plan and start working on it (usually means starting to save)

As you can appreciate, this list is just a set of ideas and they are of-necessity a bit vague and general – because each of us is unique and what is realistic for one person may be out of reach for another. But in general, for most reasonably healthy adults, these sorts of goals are realisable in 12 months. Please see your doctor if you have any doubts about your health, age, physical ability, etc. On this list you will see several goals that you’ve seen attempted in shorter time-frames (e.g. you may have friends who trained for just a few weeks before running a marathon) and in some cases that might even have worked. But for most people most of the time, these goals are well suited to the 12-month timeline. Remember, the big idea here is to set targets that, while they may be challenging, are realistic enough to be achievable: we are trying to avoid setting up for failure.

A year is a great amount of time for setting, and realising, important life goals. Today may be a great day to set yourself some realistic targets.

Author: Dr Colin Burns, retired medical practitioner and wellness coach