Everybody sets goals. Some of us are exceptionally formal with this process, documenting our goals and establishing dates for their intended completion. Others are much more relaxed, almost flippant, relegating their goals to purely mental considerations like "I should really take care of that someday," or "I wish I was _____."
No matter how you approach your goal setting process or how seriously you take your goals, it's reasonable to assume that if you met a greater percentage of your goals, you'd be happier. You might be further along in your career, healthier in your daily life, or more engaged in your relationships. The specifics don't matter--what matters is that you set goals because you want something, and all too often, you fall short of those goals.
So then, how can you make your goals more achievable? It is possible, and you can do this for almost any goal in as little as five steps.
Step One: Make Sure Your Expectations Are Reasonable
The first step is to make sure your goal actually is achievable--from a logical perspective, that is. It's easy to succumb to idealistic conjectures for goals, such as wanting to become a millionaire in a year or learn five new languages in the next three years. Resist this temptation. Start out with the main focal point of your goal. For example, is your goal to become a millionaire or to just be better off? This will help you narrow your goal in a more reasonable format, such as "becoming a millionaire in ten years" or "saving $50,000 in one year."
For this step, it's a good idea to do some research. Look up information about your goal and talk to people who have actually achieved it. How far have they gone? How long did it take them? What resources did they have? By the end of this step, you should have a goal that is technically feasible based on the resources and abilities you have right now.
Step Two: Break Your Goal Down Into Smaller Goals
Now that you have a "core" goal established, you can start breaking it down into smaller goals. Most people give up on goals that seem too distant, too complex, or simply too intimidating, so instead of facing one gargantuan goal, make yourself face several tiny goals, one at a time. For example, if your goal is to lose 20 pounds, you can establish separate goals of exercising daily, eliminating half the junk food from your diet, and eating more fruits and vegetables. If your goal is to land a certain career, you can establish separate goals of achieving a certification, developing experience through odd jobs and shadowing, and networking to build your industry contact list. As you might imagine, these "smaller" goals can be broken down even further.
Step Three: Establish a Timeline for Those Goals
Each of your small goals should have a timeline attached to it. You might find yourself working on multiple small goals concurrently or knocking them out, one after another, in a direct sequence. Either way is fine--the trick is to ensure you stay on track to achieve your "core" goal by keeping your smaller goals on a timeframe. For example, if your main goal is to learn a new language, you might give yourself a month to learn the basics, two additional months to practice independently, and then two more months to start practicing with a native speaker (online or in-person), followed by a trip to a country that speaks your chosen language.
Step Four: Hold Yourself Accountable
By now, you should have a formal plan for how you'll achieve your goal with time-specific, actionable steps to keep you on a manageable, direct path. But how are you going to ensure you complete those steps? You have to find a way to make yourself accountable for those goals. A simple way to do this is to tell all your friends and relatives about your goals; this will make them follow-up with you, and give you motivation if you ever feel like quitting. You can also construct a series of rewards and/or punishments to help guide you along. For example, you might allow yourself a small spending spree when you hit a certain milestone, or give yourself less free time if you haven't done something by a certain date.
Step Five: Stay Inspired
When you created your original goal, you were inspired. Three months into achieving it, it's easy to lose that initial gut feeling. Make it a point to keep yourself inspired however you see fit. It can be something simple like a "motivation playlist" of songs that inspire you, or something more involved like hiring a personal trainer or having regular sessions with a mentor to keep you going. Experiment to see which methods work best to inspire you, and stick with what works.
With these five steps, almost any goal can become achievable. Now, whether you achieve it or not is wholly up to you. With a reasonable expectation, a step-by-step game plan, a timeline, a source of inspiration, and some level of personal accountability, all that remains is putting the pieces into place. Be sure to reward yourself whenever you reach a new milestone, and don't lose sight of the reasons you got started in the first place.
P.S. I did a TEDx Talk (you can view it here) about overcoming self-imposed limitations and my learnings as a young business professional, if you found this article applicable, you might find the talk useful as well.