Personal Growth

5 Simple Steps for Setting Long-Term Goals

I love long-term goals! They’re big dreams that seem almost too big, but because they’re long-term they don’t seem quite so intimidating. Long-term goals are a sort of picture of how you want your life to go and what you want to accomplish. The problem is that, sometimes, it’s difficult to know how to go about setting long-term goals.

Setting Long-Term Goals

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In this post, I’ll walk you through the steps I use when setting long-term goals; a process that helped me accomplish some big goals, like reading 26 books last year, becoming a mentor, and saving $10,000.

Step 1: Brain Dump

When setting long-term goals, start by listing every possible long-term goal you could have. This list may contain “bucket list” goals, personal growth goals, or goals that are going to make your life better in some way.

Some of the goals on my brain dump list are travel, paying off all my student loan debt, and reading 100 classic novels.

During this step, try to come up with at least 30 goals. Nothing is too big or too crazy and nothing is too small. Just write down every possible goal you can think of.

Alright. Do you have your 30 goals? Moving on!

Step 2: Make Your Goals SMART

By now, you’ve probably heard of SMART goals. Basically, they’re goals that follow these rules:


Be specific. Whatever your goal is, think about what questions your mom might ask you about it and then make the answers part of the goal. If your goal is to travel, where do you want to travel? For how long? Who’s going with you? Maybe your goal should be to travel through Europe for three months with your best friend.


“Be a better person” is not a measurable goal. Measurable goals have specific criteria that help you know when they’re accomplished. For example, instead of “Save an emergency fund”, your goal could be to “Save an emergency fund of $1,000”. Then you know that when you’ve saved $1,000, you’ve accomplished your goal. Make sure that all of your goals have a clear ending or completion point.


Do you have the skills/time/resources that you need to accomplish your goal? If not, can you gain them? I firmly believe that you can accomplish (almost) anything you set your mind to. But if you don’t know how to ice skate now, it’s likely that you’ll never be a figure skater in the Olympics (unless you’re currently 12-years-old, then go for it!).


When thinking about the relevancy of personal goals, I like to think about my person values. What are my priorities and does this goal align with those priorities? If your highest priority is spending time with your family, then a goal that requires a lot of time away from your family is probably not relevant.


Every goal should have a specific timeframe. When will the goal be completed? Can you complete it this year or five years from now? Having a set timeline will help keep you on track with your goals. The next few sections will show how you can use timeframes to help organize and prioritize goals.

Now that you know what SMART goals are, take a few minutes to go back through your brain dump goals and make them SMART.

If you can’t find a way to make a goal SMART, you may want to go ahead and take that one off the list. For example, if one of your goals is to own a $10 billion mansion, you may need to acknowledge that it isn’t realistic and either tweak the goal to be realistic (maybe a $1 million mansion is more realistic) or just remove it from the list.

Step 3: Determine a Timeframe

As I mentioned above, when setting long-term goals, it’s important for your goals to be time-bound because it helps you keep on track as you complete them. If you don’t set a timeframe for your goals, you feel like you have the rest of your life to complete them. But if you decide that a goal should be completed in 3 years, then you know that you’ll need to consistently work towards that goal over the next 3 years in order to complete it on time.

I also use my goals’ timeframes to organize them. By separating my goals into 4 different timeframes – 1 year, 3 years, 5 years, and 10 years – I’m able to pick an equal number of goals from each timeframe to work on. This means that at any given time I’m working on both shorter term and longer term goals.

Go ahead and take some time to label each of your goals with one of these timeframes. I just put a simple “1” or “3”, etc., next to each goal on the list.

  • 1 year
  • 3 years
  • 5 years
  • 10 years

Note: If you believe a goal will take you more than ten years, you may be under-estimating your abilities. I believe that (almost) every achievable goal is achievable in less than ten years – and most are achievable in a much shorter timeframe.

Step 4: Categorize

All of your goals should fall into one of the following 10 categories:

  1. Family & Friends
  2. Personal Growth
  3. Faith
  4. Finances
  5. Career
  6. Relationship/Marriage
  7. Fun & Recreation
  8. Giving
  9. Physical Environment
  10. Health & Fitness

Labeling your goals with their respective category helps ensure that, at any given time, you’re working on goals in all different areas of your life. You’ll see how this works in the next step.

Take a minute to label each of your goals with one (or more) of the above categories.

You may want to go back through your list and add more goals to any categories that don’t have as many goals.

Step 5: Pick Your Top Goals

Once each of your goals has been assigned a category and timeframe, pick the top three goals in each timeframe. These are the goals that you’ll be working towards first.

Working on all 30 goals at once can quickly become overwhelming, so it’s important to narrow down your goals to those that you deem the most important, and then focus on those.

As you pick your top goals, try to diversify which categories you pull from within each timeframe. If all 3 of the goals you pick in the 3 year timeframe are career goals, you may want to go back and consider a goal or two from different categories. If you don’t, focusing solely on your career may drive you to neglect fun and recreation or family and friends.

I know that it may be difficult to pick just 3 goals for each timeframe, but know that once a goal is accomplished you’ll be able to replace it with another one.

Note: Don’t erase the goals you don’t choose. You’ll eventually want to come back to this list as you accomplish your goals and, chances are, you’ll want to pull from these remaining goals when choosing what to focus on next.

The 3 goals you’ve chosen for each of the 4 timeframes are your long-term goals. Woo! You did it!

But What Do You Do With These Goals?

That is a great question. Please know, the process does not end here. Creating your long-term goals is just the first step.

Setting long-term goals won’t help you much unless you break them down into more actionable short-term goals.

If you’re ready to learn more about putting long-term goals into action, read the next post in this series about goal setting.

Before you go, though, there’s one last step that will ensure you continue to work towards your long-term goals as you begin to check your first goals off the list.

Related: How to Turn Long-Term Goals into Short-Term Goals

Bonus Step: Review Your Goals

Once you’ve created your goals and you’ve started to work towards them, you’ll want to make sure that you’re reviewing them fairly regularly.

Goals often change over time, and that’s okay. Your priorities today are probably not the same as they were a year ago.

I suggest reviewing your goals every 6 months.

Look over the list and see what goals you’ve accomplished (yay!) and what goals you may want to change.

If there are goals that just aren’t relevant or appealing to you anymore, take them off the list completely. If there are goals that you may want to circle back around to, place them back with the remaining list of brain dump goals that may become focus goals somewhere down the road. Just make sure you’re not changing these back and forth too often. Changing your goals too frequently doesn’t allow you time to really focus on and achieve them.

If you do decide to stop pursuing a goal or two, replace them. Think about what matters to you now and what you want to focus on and put those new goals with the other goals you’re currently working on.

One Last Note

I often tell myself that “if someone else can do it, I can do it, too.” I tell myself this all the time, but it’s especially true when setting long-term goals.

There are very few things that I believe I can’t do – and I believe that about you, too. As you set your goals, I want to encourage you to set the bar high. I believe you can do it. You should believe that you can do it, too.

What are some of your long-term goals? Send me a quick email and share what you’re hoping to accomplish in the next 1, 3, 5, or 10 years. Then check out how to turn your long-term goals into short-term goals.

Step-By-Step Guide for Setting Long-Term Goals

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