As summer turns to fall, many of us are reminded of our youth, when September meant going back to classes and setting goals for the new school year. Even though our classroom days are mostly in the past, developing new ambitions every few months is a great idea.

It doesn’t necessarily have to be anything momentous either. You can plan to read a new set of books, learn to cook a few new recipes or even organize a trip for next summer. The key is to have an overall plan, break it into smaller steps, and figure out when you can accomplish them.

The results of this simple process, regardless of the goal, can be very powerful. It can help clarify your direction, give you a consistent sense of accomplishment, provide a feeling of control, add to your intellectual and emotional resources and keep you active and engaged in the world.

 
 

You Know Where You’re Headed

Having a clear goal, whether it’s losing 10 pounds, running a half-marathon or learning to bake the perfect piecrust, has multiple benefits. One of the most important is that it gives you your own sense of direction.

No matter what else is going on in your life, how many people are asking for your time or how few hours you have to yourself, having a goal means you know where you’re going and what it takes to get there. It helps provide a personally developed routine to your life.

Even small goals can sometimes seem onerous, but breaking them down into manageable steps or pieces can add a little structure to every day. Each time you reach one of those steps, you’ll feel as if you’ve done something significant.

A Periodic Sense of Accomplishment

When I was in graduate school more than 40 years ago, I felt overwhelmed by the idea of researching and writing my master’s thesis. Every day I would look at all the work that needed to be done and my head would spin.

Once I broke down the bigger goal of finishing my thesis into smaller pieces – research, interviews, resources, draft, editing and final version – it not only felt doable, but I could pat myself on the back each time one of those steps was accomplished.

I didn’t feel as if I had to work on it all day every day because it was now in a form I could handle with a regular schedule. I was suddenly in charge of it, rather than the other way around.

You Will Feel More in Control of Your Life

As life’s demands pull at you, it’s easy to feel as if you’re not doing anything you enjoy or anything just for yourself. You can counter this feeling if you always have at least one goal that is just yours.

No matter what else you have to do for other people, your job or just the responsibilities of your home, if you’ve broken your goal into daily or weekly steps, it will give you a consistent task.

It won’t completely eliminate the feeling that others need you, but knowing you have something important to do toward your own goals can help you feel grounded and confident in yourself. Accomplishing your daily and/or weekly goals will also enhance your feelings of self-worth.

Add to Your Resources

Every time we achieve something, we get the feeling of accomplishment, tenacity and success. Getting to appreciate our talents on a regular basis can add to our confidence in every area of our lives.

This way, if you feel that you are slacking in some area, you can always remember how well you did with a particular goal. It also gives you the chance to figure out what works best for you in terms of accomplishment.

Some people learn that they do best working on their goals a little bit each day, while others do better if they work on it all in one day.

This kind of self-knowledge is important to put to use in other areas of your life as well. No matter what works for you, having an achievable goal keeps you participating actively in life.

Remaining Active and Engaged

Goal setting is one of the most important steps to staying active and engaged in life. If you don’t have a personal goal, it’s easy to feel bored or overwhelmed by other people’s demands. Having two or three consecutive goals can also soften feelings of let-down when your first goal is completed.

Having a goal is like having a map. You know where you’re headed and you know which stops you want to make along the way.

As Pablo Picasso once said, “Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success.”

What have you always dreamed of doing? What are three goals that can lead to that dream that you’d like to achieve in the next year? How can you break down those goals into manageable steps? Please join the discussion below!

Ginny McReynolds is a longtime writer. She holds an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Goucher College, and writes about communication, retirement, reinvention, self-concept and creativity in The Washington Post, Curve magazine, and Together.guide. Please visit her blog called Finally Time for This: A Beginner’s Guide to the Second Act of Life.

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