If Your Personal Goal Has These 4 Parts, You're Good to Go

Learn how to set your sights on an attainable outcome.
Published March 13, 2019

Where do you want to be with your weight or wellness in six months, or a year? Your long-term goal might be to lose 20 or 50 pounds, run a 5K, or cook dinner more often than ordering takeout. As your Weekly explains, these are outcome goals–results or milestones we want to achieve down the road. Outcome goals give us direction and point us to the actions we should take to move in that direction.

How to put it into action

To reach a long-term goal, you need a path. The steps along the way are actionable or behavioral goals, which let us chart our progress along the way. Think of them as the “how” partner to the “what” of your outcome goal. So you might set a behavioral goal to swap your nightly ice cream for fresh fruit, or to jog two or three mornings a week, or to grocery shop every Sunday, as a smaller “how” target on the way to a weight, activity, or wellness “what” goal.

Set right-for-you goals

For starters, stick with one or two goals at a time. The more your attention is divided, the less chance you have to reach any of your targets. Give yourself time to accomplish and maintain your first couple of behavioral goals until they are a part of your routine—and then set new goals.

Make each goal….


  1. Specific. Be detailed about the what, when, where, and even who (if that applies). “On Sunday, after breakfast, I’ll make a grocery list, and then go to the store at 10 am with my daughter.” vs. “I’ll go grocery shopping on Sunday.” Drilling down this way seems to make it more likely you’ll follow through than if you leave it vague and general.
  2. Active. We all have behaviors we want to get out of our lives—and we all know how hard it can be without a better alternative. Try it from another angle: Replace it, don’t remove it, with a new behavior. For example, take a walk after dinner and you’ll be less inclined to switch on the TV.
  3. Reasonable. Your goal has to fit your life and meet you where you are now. So if you haven’t run more than a minute or two since you were a kid, make your first goal about walking. A goal that’s too much of a stretch tends to remain just that, a goal out of reach. And consistently not meeting a goal can do a number on your confidence, for a real double whammy. Reasonable, doable goals will get you off on the right foot.
  4. Short term. That way you can check your progress each week and adjust quickly if you hit a roadblock. You also get quicker gratification—which can help inspire you to keep going.

Yay, you!

Pat yourself on the back for every goal you meet, no matter how small! It’s not just a feel-good thing, it’s science: Recognizing and celebrating both small and large accomplishments can not only boost our confidence that we can make changes, but make it more likely that we’ll keep them up.