• Motto

5 Ways to Set Achievable Goals

4 minute read

Feeling overwhelmed or confused on your current path or in your current career? You’re not alone. But we have the choice to live our lives in courage or in fear. To me, living courageously means to set lofty, crazy dreams—and break those dreams down into an action plan, a set of goals. As Walt Disney once said, “All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.”

For the past few years I’ve worked as a reporter and writer at E! News in Los Angeles, but I didn’t begin there. I’m just a girl from Cypress, Texas, who took a chance on her dreams. I moved to L.A. without knowing anyone to attend USC. I trusted my gut, as shaky as it felt, and dove forward. I studied Theatre and Business, and it was there that I learned I loved storytelling, specifically journalism.

Moving to LA was the cornerstone in learning the importance of dreaming big. But I realized in dreaming big, I needed to break down those dreams into goals. These five steps have significantly helped throughout the years in not only setting goals, but achieving them:

1. Give yourself time to think
I learned this from my dad. He takes time every year to be silent, pray and set goals for himself as well as for the company he’s led for over 25 years. Take time to get away from the noise, turn off your phone and get away from distractions. Pray or meditate about the season you’re in, as well as what you want your future to look like. I’ve found what works for me is pretty simple: Just a pen and a paper at the kitchen table, away from the view of the clock. Give yourself time and grace to dream big.

2. Write it down—and be accountable
This simple act is essential. Write your goals down and be specific! It’s scientifically proven that you will be more likely to achieve your goals when you write them down. And not just a little bit more likely. In a recent study on achievement in the workplace, 70 percent of participants who wrote and sent weekly updates on their goals to their friends reported getting them done, compared to the success of only 35 percent of people who had not written their goals down.

I prefer to keep my goals right on the refrigerator, and although it’s vulnerable (because guests will ask about certain ones on the list), it keeps me accountable.

3. Categorize
Goals can feel overwhelming sometimes, or just all over the map. Categorize various areas in your life, to simplify the process. I use a format from a book I love called Circle Maker. I’ve really benefited from the way they divided up life goals into the categories “Financial, Family, Influential, Health, and Experiential.” This division of goals helped me move away from just setting career-oriented goals, and balance goals for all aspects of my life.

If you’re working on yearly goals, think of a phrase or a word to sum up the year. Last year, I used a hash tag, “#WhyNot,” which summed up a year of career stretching goals and milestones.

4. Set Deadlines
It’s easy to have goals turn into wishes, especially when you don’t set benchmarks for them. Set a deadline to meet your goals—perhaps you want to pay down your student loans in 6 months, or maybe you want to find have a new job within the next year. Give yourself a deadline, and stay disciplined as you work towards it. You may find that having a hard deadline will help motivate you to stay focused and disciplined.

5. Work Backwards
Take your goals and work backwards. Want to run a half marathon? What goals will that require you to commit to daily, weekly, monthly? NFL player, JJ Watt, whose own mantra is “dream big, work hard,” once told me in an interview, “I came from a small town in Wisconsin, just like a lot of people, so there’s nothing crazy or special, it’s just hard work that gets you to where you want to be.” Watt has achieved his dream of being in the NFL and breaking records, but that stems from being disciplined—he’s known to hit the gym at 3 a.m. to fit in his practice!

Lindsey Caldwell is the creator of If You Can Dream It Do It, and is a freelance writer, reporter and host living in Nashville.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com