Setting Realistic Goals

A realistic goal is based on knowing what you feel as well as what you think. Oh, you say, I know myself, let’s get on the next step. Surprisingly, feelings are often at odds with thoughts, since feelings take longer to make themselves known. For example, did you ever realize you were angry about something months after the event occurred? Did you ask yourself what you feared would happen if you let yourself know the truth? If so, you discovered your conscious mind overrode subconscious awareness, reflected by the inability to act on the anger you felt.

Pessimism Versus Optimism

Anger is not the only feeling you may suppress; you could also reject joy, the sense of wellbeing that comes from having faith in yourself and life in general. If previous hopes led to disappointment, you believe it is futile to set goals.

To become more optimistic about goals, notice the choices you make, and your reaction. When do you feel good about yourself? When do you ignore your feelings because of fear? Just observe without judgment, since being critical sends the feelings into hiding.

Additionally, goals you can reach are based on measurement, motivation and personal responsibility. If you failed to reach a goal in the past it was too vague, not what was best for you, or there were variables you could not control. The goal you can achieve is precise, fueled by genuine enthusiasm, and you and you alone are responsible for the outcome.


Let’s say your goal is to better health. Start by asking why you are not already in good health. What choices are you making that are harmful to the body? Overwork? Overeating? No exercise? Not enough sleep?

Perhaps your goal is to make more money. As with a health goal, be specific. How much money do you want, when do you need it, and how will you get the money? Will you cut overhead and increase your productivity? Then write the goal as follows: “I cut my expenses in the areas of ­­­_____________by $_____a month. To increase my income by $______a month I provide the following services.” Then write about what you will do and for whom.

Writing goals in language the subconscious will accept as true is the key to reaching your objectives. For instance, you may be wasting time watching television, surfing the Internet, emailing, socializing, or being entangled with family dramas. To change these habits preface your health and money goals with: “I am efficient; I make good use of my time.” It will take a while to lock in this behavior but, as written, this goal satisfies the other two criteria for realistic goals: internal motivation and personal responsibility.

Internal Motivation

A goal has to be internally motivated or you won’t sustain the effort it takes to get there. Even if you reach the goal, you won’t be satisfied with the results because it was based on external motivation, such as pleasing others.

To ensure your goal is authentic, ask if you will enjoy the process of getting there, or is it the reward you are after? If so, you will feel empty once you have health and money; you may even lose both because you learned nothing from the process of acquiring them. Be open to discovering who you will become as you work toward your objective. Then you will reach your goal, and you will be pleased with the results.

You can’t fake interest, or the lack of it. You know when you are going through the motions, just as you know when you are engaged in what you are doing. The best incentive is to set goals that have meaning to you. These goals will also have meaning to the people who can help you achieve them.

Personal Responsibility

Now that your goals are measurable and internally motivated, the next criterion is that you are responsible for the achievement of the goal. When the result depends on circumstances beyond your control, the chances of success decrease.

Can you be responsible for a goal that says, “I want to have my own business next year”?  As stated, the goal is measurable and internally motivated, but reaching it depends on paying customers. Write the goal so that it makes sense to your subconscious: “I identify the customers or clients who need and are willing to pay for what I have to offer.”

Your research may reveal you need more training, experience or credentials. Rather than give up, alter the way you write the goal so that you will eventually have more independence. You could say, “I go to work for an entrepreneur who provides a service (or product) I would buy. This teaches me what I need to know about being independent.”

Set Six-Month Goals

Set goals within the framework of the next six months, since this brings the goal down to size. Some goals you’ll reach right away, like an updated wardrobe. Others will take longer, such as matching what you do with what you say.

Measure your goals, make sure they are authentic, and take responsibility for the outcome. If your subconscious accepts these goals as logical, and you are willing to persevere through obstacles, you will like the person you are when you reach your destination.

Nancy Anderson is a career and life consultant based in the Sacramento/San Francisco Bay Area and the author of the best selling career guide, Work with Passion, How to Do What You Love For a Living, and Work with Passion in Midlife and Beyond, Reach Your Full Potential and Make the Money You Need. Her website is


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