Read on for tips and advice on setting sensible goals that will enhance your life and your career.

Before you begin making goals, think about what’s realistic. Resolutions often fail because we set unrealistic expectations and don’t create a plan for success. You definitely want to reach for the stars, but the way to get there is through a million small wins. It takes intentional and sensible growth to achieve goals.

It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Focusing on continuous growth and improvement is the best way to achieve your dreams. For example, weight loss is a common New Year’s resolution and the reason why people are often unsuccessful is that results don’t happen right away or too many behaviors are changed at the same time. People get frustrated and quit. However, if a series of short-term goals are established to support a larger goal – like weight loss – it can make all the difference. When a sensible plan is put into place and small changes are made each month (rather than all at once), by the end of the year, 12 effective and sensible changes have been implemented and the results are tangible!

Step 1 – Think about your main goal and what you want to accomplish.

Start with where you want to be five years from now and ask yourself:

If thinking ahead five years feels too daunting, just think about where you want to be at this time next year, and ask yourself opposing questions:

Write everything down and think about who needs to be involved and who will be affected by your answers. For example, if you have a spouse and you want to move across the country but s/he doesn’t, you have a conflict in your goals. Rethink them.

Step 2 – Think through your goals and break them down into smaller chunks.

Heres an example of a statement of goals from Maria, a young professional:

Statement of Goals

In five years, I want to be in a management position making $50,000 a year. Right now, I’m a staff member making $30,000. I’ve never been in management, but enjoy mentoring new staff. I have an associate degree in communication and have always wanted a bachelor’s degree in communication or management. I could graduate in about two years. I have a full-time job and need to work for the pay and benefits, but I’m afraid of the challenge between balancing school and working full-time. I’m not sure if there is room in my current position to grow. I suspect I will be married as I’m in a serious relationship. I don’t want to be in the same position making the same money in five years or at the same time next year. I realize that I might not get a promotion prior to completing my bachelor’s degree, but perhaps I can have a team leader or mentor role by the end of the year. I haven’t talked to my manager about this, but my review is coming up and I’m thinking of mentioning it at that time.

Maria’s next step is to process the information in her statement of goals and break it down into a list of tactics. Let’s take a look at Maria’s list of tactics (and notice how specific they are in the first year and more general in the following years):

Year 1:

  1. Talk to my significant other about my plans. Make sure we’re on the same page.
  2. Talk to my manager about my goals. Check on opportunities within the company and the qualifications necessary for my growth plan. Is it possible to get a 10-15% raise each year to achieve my salary goal?
  3. Call a college and talk to an admissions rep about completing my degree.
  4. Start school. Focus on management classes first.
  5. Be in a mentor or lead position by the end of the year.

Year 2:

  1. Continue with school.
  2. Gain experience as a mentor and lead.
  3. Communicate and obtain a 10-15% salary increase.

Year 3:

  1. Graduate!
  2. Continue gaining experience.
  3. Transition into a higher-level role.
  4. Communicate and obtain a 10-15% salary increase.

Year 4:

  1. Continue gaining experience.
  2. Transition into a management role.
  3. Communicate and obtain a 10-15% salary increase.

Year 5:

  1. Be a great manager!
  2. Enjoy achieving my goal of $50,000 by the end of the year.
  3. Set new goals!

Step 3 – Focus on Year 1 and create a timeline for your action steps.

Identify monthly and weekly goals and write them in an actionable way. Let’s look at Maria’s timeline:

Year 1 Action Steps

  1. By the end of the week, I will talk to my significant other about my plans to make sure we’re on the same page.
  2. Write down specific questions about opportunities within the company and the qualifications necessary for my growth plan and whether it’s possible to get a 10-15% raise each year to achieve my salary goal within one week of my review date.
  3. Talk to my manager about my goals at my review in February.
  4. Write down the feedback and follow up with her as necessary.
  5. Pick my top three colleges to finish my degree by the end of February.
  6. Call the colleges by the end of March and specifically ask about deadlines for starting at least one or two classes by the summer semester.
  7. Write down and follow through on these obligations by the required timelines.
  8. Complete my school financial aid paperwork by the end of March.
  9. Decide on class schedule and ability to handle one or two classes by the end of April.
  10. Start school at the summer semester and focus on management classes first. Sign up by the end of April.
  11. Complete one semester of college by August with a grade of a B average in every class.
  12. Follow up with my manager by October to inquire about a mentor or lead position.
  13. Create Year 2 goals by the end of November.

Step 4: Make sure that you build in flexibility to make adjustments throughout the year.

Keep a journal, spreadsheet, or document to keep track of your goals and progress. People who record their goals and progress have been shown to be far more effective in achieving them.