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6 Tips for Achieving Long-Term Goals

Good intentions are not enough.

Key points

  • No matter how strong a person's intentions, there is no guarantee that their goal will be achieved.
  • It is easier to postpone vague or open-ended tasks with future deadlines than focused and short-term projects.
  • Personally selected goals are more motivating because they are driven by a need to grow and gain fulfillment.
Steve Buissinne/Pixabay
Source: Steve Buissinne/Pixabay

Long-term goals are defined as those requiring more time to achieve along with diligent planning. They can be goals for our health, education, career, relationships, and more. However, sticking to a long-term plan is hard work. We humans are notoriously poor at following through with our plans. Life has a natural way of derailing even the most carefully laid-out plans. The challenge is finding ways to close the gap between good intentions and human nature.

The followings are a few tips for reaching your long-term goals.

1. Recognize the power of taking small steps.

The key to reaching difficult, long-term goals and developing the necessary motivation is to start with small acts. There’s nothing wrong with aiming big—but we can help ourselves by starting small. For example, a depressed individual can find the challenges and chores of everyday life overwhelming, but those difficulties can seem less tedious after getting up from the chair and doing something (taking a short walk or a shower). Once a person gets going in the desired direction, it’s easier to keep going.

2. Divide and conquer.

As the old saying goes, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Shift your focus from the ultimate goal to a series of doable intermediate tasks. The more specific the goal (walking at least 30 minutes every day), the better able people are to reach it.

A highly abstract goal (e.g., to get better or healthy) may not be actionable. It is easier to postpone vague or open-ended tasks with distant deadlines than focused and short-term projects. Specific goals allow for better monitoring of progress toward the goal.

3. Focus on fewer goals.

As Plato counseled: “Do one thing and do it well.” Having fewer goals increases the odds of achieving your goals than when we have more conflicting goals. With too many goals, we often are afraid of making the wrong choice, so we end up doing nothing.

4. Have a growth mindset.

Some people have a fixed theory, believing that their qualities, such as their intelligence, are simply fixed traits. Others have a malleable theory, believing that their most basic qualities can be developed through their efforts and education. Evidence shows that people with a malleable theory are more open to learning, willing to confront challenges, able to stick to difficult tasks, and capable of bouncing back from failures.

5. Find motivation.

People who pursue goals for autonomous (personally chosen) reasons have greater intrinsic motivation for attainment and are not pressured by outside forces. For example, people who diet for more personal reasons tend to be more successful at losing weight than people who diet for more external reasons. Personally chosen choices are driven by a need to grow and gain fulfillment.

6. Understand the importance of selecting the right goals.

Beware of false hope in goal selection. As Oscar Wilde (Lady Windermere’s Fan) once wrote, “In this world, there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.” How goals are selected in the first place is quite important. For example, in the context of dieting, it is way too easy to believe that a thinner body will get you what you want. Although losing weight is likely to improve health, it may not substantially affect one’s personality. Thus, decisions made based on falsely predicted happiness are likely to fail to maximize eventual happiness.

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