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I will try to create more happiness and less unhappiness in the world around me


Action 16

Set your goals and make them happen

Goals big and small can be the stepping-stones to a happier life and the way we set them can make a difference to achieving them. Here's how.

Why do it?

Having goals for things we want to do and working towards them is an important part of being human. The path towards our goals may not always run smoothly or be easy, but having goals, whether big or small, is part of what makes life good. It gives us a sense of meaning and purpose, points us in the direction we want to go and gets us interested and engaged, all of which are good for our overall happiness.

Over 2000 years ago, Aristotle said "Well begun is half done." And with regards to goals, he's right (as he seems to have been on a lot of things). Paying attention to how we set our goals makes us more like to achieve them and achieving them makes us feel good about ourselves and our lives.

Where to start
  1. Decide. Think of something you want to do or work towards. It doesn't matter what, as long as it's something you want to do - ideally something you're interested in or feel excited by. It should be something you want to do for its own sake not for something or someone else. It can be a big thing or a small thing - sometimes it is easier to get going with something small. And it often helps if it's something that's just a little bit beyond what you currently can do - goals that stretch us can be motivating!
  2. Write it down. Carefully. Writing down our goals increases our chances of sticking with them. Write down how you will know you have reached your goals and when you'd like to have achieved it by. Ask yourself: what it will 'look' like and how will you feel when you've done it? How does it connect to who or what you value in your life? Describe your goal in specific terms and timescales e.g. 'I want to plant lettuces, carrots and peas in the empty patch in my garden by the end of May' rather than 'I want to do some gardening.' Write your goals in terms of what you want, not what you don't want. For example: 'I want to be able to wear my favourite jeans again', rather than 'I don't want to be over-weight anymore'.
  3. Tell someone. Telling someone we know about our goals also seems to increase the likelihood that we will stick at them.
  4. Break your goal down. This is especially important for big goals. Think about the smaller goals that are steps on the way to achieving your bigger aim. Sometimes our big goals are a bit vague, like 'I want to be healthier'. Breaking these down helps us be more specific. So a smaller goal might be 'go running regularly' or even 'to be able to run around the park in 20 minutes without stopping'. Write down your smaller goals and try to set some dates to do these by too. Having several smaller goals makes each of them a bit easier and gives us a feeling of success along the way, which also makes it more likely that we'll stay on track towards our bigger goal.
  5. Plan your first step. An ancient Chinese proverb says that the journey of 1000 miles starts with one step. Even if your goal isn't to walk 1000 miles, thinking about the first step on the way will really help to get you started. Even if you don't know where to start there's no excuse - your first step could be to research 'how to…' on the internet or think of people you could ask or to get a book on the subject from the library. Then think of your next step…and the next…
  6. Keep going. Working towards our goals can sometimes be difficult and frustrating - so we need to persevere. If a step you're doing isn't working, think of something else you could try that still moves you forward, even a tiny bit. If you're struggling, ask people you know for their ideas on what you could do. They may help you see a different way. Thinking about different ways of reaching our goals makes it more likely we'll be successful. If you're really struck - take a break and then re-read the goal you wrote down when you started. If you need to adjust your goal - that's ok too. Then have another think about a small next step…
  7. Celebrate. When you reach your goal take time to enjoy it and thank those that helped you. Think about what you enjoyed and learned along the way. Now, what is your next goal or project going to be?

[1] Locke, E.A. (2002) Setting goals for life and happiness. In S.J. Lopez & C.R. Snyder (Eds.)Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology. NY: Oxford University Press.

[2] Lyubomirsky, S. (2007).The How of Happiness. London: Penguin Books

[3] Miller, .A. & Frisch, M.B. (2009). Creating Your Best Life Yet: The Ultimate List Guide. NY:Sterling

[4] Rasmussen, H,N.,Wrosch, C., & Scheier, M.F., & Carver, C.S. (2006). Self-regulation processes and health: The importance of optimism and goal adjustment. Journal of Personality, 74, 1721-1747


Inspiring words

Winston Churchill

"We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give."

- Winston Churchill