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By Psychotherapist and Freelance Writer

Goal setting questions to ask yourself as you plan for the future you want

Is there a more boring topic than setting goals?

Research has shown that establishing specific goals is helpful in moving toward what we want for our futures, but honestly, don't you zone out a little bit even as you read those two words? Part of the challenge in goal setting is narrowing down areas of focus.

In my work with clients in psychotherapy, we create a set of goals to work toward that will bring the client closer to the life they want for themselves. Invariably, people say the same thing each time I sit down with them to establish goals, "where do I start?"

Where to start

One way to simplify goal setting is to ask yourself a set of questions as you consider your future.

Generally, we have many categories in our lives that we can look at in terms of what is missing. Balance is the key. Do you have balance in the areas of social support (friends, family), physical activity/healthy living, spiritual/intellectual growth, personal time, feeling purposeful (work, volunteer, etc.) and financial health?

How to balance areas of your life

If there are areas that are out of balance, those may be the areas in which goal setting could be most helpful. If there is an area that causes you to cringe a little, that is probably one that could use some goal setting.

In that particular area that is out of balance, what is it that you truly desire? It may take some work to release the preconceived ideas you carry about what others have told you or expected of you. Perhaps your idea of what is important is different than that. Honor your own values and then decide on a reasonably challenging (but not overwhelming) goal.

How to set goals

For example, if your work life is out of balance, a reasonable goal for that may be to limit weekly work hours to 40 hours per week, or to set up a schedule that allows for flexible time so that you can attend to your personal needs.

Often goals fizzle out when they are too vague. Establishing small steps toward the larger goal is important to help you see progress along the way. For example, if you want more financial stability, it will be necessary to create the smaller step of writing down your monthly income and bills, creating a budget that allows for bills, savings and fun money.

Make the smaller steps measurable (a specific task or tangible outcome) and small enough so that you will actually feel able to do it. Build each step toward the big picture. As simplistic as that sounds, it is an important part of keeping the goal setting process genuine and doable. I can say that my goal is to "lose weight" but until I have a plan about how to change my daily habits to get there, I will keep the pounds and feel defeated by the overwhelming goal.

I realize this sounds like a ridiculous question. As we sit and look down the barrel of a long-term goal, it seems obvious that, if we do manage to accomplish it, we will know we have done it, right? Well, maybe. But part of the joy of creating a goal is envisioning what life will be like when that goal has been self actualized.

When picturing what life will be like when this goal is met, do you feel a sense of accomplishment? Do you have a greater sense of self; of living your most genuine version of yourself and honoring your values?

Know when to change goals

Knowing when a goal is no longer relevant is also important. Maybe we were focused on becoming the highest producer in revenue six months ago at work, but this goal has declined as we have chosen to focus on something that lines up more closely with our value system. Goal setting should be a fluid process. We are ever-changing in our thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Our goals should reflect that evolution and remain a living document that stays relevant to our lives and true to our personal values.

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