Long Term Goal Setting 101: How to make goals manageable and keep momentum all year long

Hi all my Courageous followers! 🙂 In an effort to create content that has meaning I’ve set my sights on organizational to-dos, goal setting tips, and all around motivation. Giving my life structure and focus after I graduated college (*gulp* 8 years ago) was one of the hardest things for me to overcome. It took years for me to figure out how to successfully goal set and stay motivated, especially as I have had countless side hustles along with a full-time job.

A pain point for me was all of the nonsense I found online. I’m not here to bash anyone, that’s not my style, but I couldn’t get over how much of the focus on organization was pretty planners with straight up ART in them. I aspired to be so organized that I would spend my Sundays with rolls of washi tape and stickers and creating beautiful, mystical maps of my life I could follow each week. To anyone that has that kind of skills, by all means, get creative, but for me and I imagine a huge chunk of folks, it’s just not what I was looking for.


I wanted to make my life easier, not harder. I wanted the time I took to organize myself to be valuable for organizing. I wanted to save artistic expression for other areas. But it was truly hard to find information and support for “simple” and “basic” life organization. If it wasn’t gorgeous planners, it was goal setting that required me to get less sleep. And I love my sleep! At peak insanity I was trying to write a TV Show, write poetry, post blogs everyday, create a social presence, retrain my dog, get abs, learn French, and cook Pinterest meals every night. I was LITERALLY losing my mind and constantly stressed. I don’t remember actually pausing to enjoy my life or to notice it had gone off the rails.

I’m here to say that goal setting and organization does not have to be nuts! You do not have to tackle all of life’s goals this year. You do not need to HAVE IT ALL. As long as you have a system that works for you (and I will reiterate this until I go blue in the face) it doesn’t matter what it looks like to someone else. It’s your private system built to make life easy for you, not harder.

I recently asked my Instagram followers to chime in with what they wanted to learn about organization and planners. I got a handful of answers but I thought the one pertaining to long term goals would be the best place to start.


How do I set a long term personal goal and stick to it?

Ah the beginning of January… there’s hope. We can start afresh, become new people, achieve all our greatest dreams.


In reality you’re still the same person. BUT you can put processes in place to become the version of yourself you’ve always imagined. (Notice how I didn’t say BETTER.) I am not here to sling cheap motivational quotes about hard work. We all know dreams take work, it’s that we don’t always know how to start or how to move forward from each step. Hopefully I can make this easier to understand and help you set a long term goal.

I live and swear by REVERSE ENGINEERING. There are a million and one articles about reverse engineering out there. I read multiple ones a few years ago because they can differ, but here is a pretty good general post on it. To Reverse Engineer you need to do the following steps:

  1. Determine your goal (Try using the SMART method)
  2. Be realistic about where you are starting from (No shame!)
  3. Work backwards from the goal, breaking down into smaller more manageable goals
  4. START with Basic Goal #1

Determine Your Goal

I don’t always use the SMART method when I goal set (and honestly I really should) but if you’re just starting out this is a great way to stay focused and come up with something tangible and achievable.

SMART stands for: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time Bound

To be Specific think of why you want this goal, what/who you will need to achieve it (certifications? a co-owner?). A Measurable goal is that one that has an “end’. Is your goal to open a bakery or is it to open a bakery that hits the black after year one? Notice how Measurable and Specific are intertwined? Achievable goals are ones you’re being realistic about. Could you really go to space this year? Or is a better goal going back to school for Physics? A Relevant goal is one that means something to YOU and no one else. I once thought that to be a writer I had to be a journalist but then I quickly learned I don’t want that and there are other ways to be a writer. Time Bound goals have due dates. To be an astronaut one day isn’t going to cut it, but be an astronaut by 2020, does.


Be Realistic About Your Starting Point

This takes less words to understand. If you’re goal is to run a marathon by next year, but you’ve never run before, don’t start a training plan for runners who have already completed a 10K. You’ll hurt yourself AND get discouraged.

Work Backwards

Once you set your SMART goal, work backwards from it and start to break it down into smaller goals and different milestone dates. If you want to save $30k for the down payment of a house by 2020, calculate how much you will need to save each month, and then from there, what you can cut down on each month to help get you there. Or if you want to lose 50 pounds. Start with doing push-ups at home, advance to running, advance to attending classes. Same with cooking, aim to cook one night a week at home, then two, then three. Don’t EVER start all out, you’ll drive yourself crazy!


This might be the hardest part. The small basic goals can seem minuscule and not worth celebrating. When I started my book last year, it felt hard to celebrate 5 pages. Really. But if you change your mindset to “that’s 5 more pages than yesterday” you’ll find yourself in a steady work state, getting a little more done each day.

Be Okay With Failure

Listen, you may reverse engineer incorrectly. You may think you can get to 12,000 words a month but maybe you overestimated the time you had free that month. Or maybe you thought running would be a breeze but you discover you have asthma or an injury. Setbacks WILL happen. It’s not an IF. Be okay with going back and adjusting your goals or your timeline. You aren’t losing if you’re paying attention and adjusting. It is when you give up, or refuse to give yourself a break that you’ll get stuck. I know this from experience. I spent YEARS doing this to myself. Don’t. Do. It. Keep moving, always!

Let me know what you think of this post. It’s much LONGER and more formal than my usual stuff so the feedback is most appreciated! Did you learn anything? Was it total garbage? Let me know so I can adjust my goals. 😉



Just Let It Go

I never saw Frozen so maybe that’s why I don’t know how to let anything go. Actually, that’s not true, I’m pretty good at letting go of almost everything if I have to–except for my writing. I am so obsessive and shy about my writing that I never feel like my pieces are finished. It takes me weeks to get them to a first reader and don’t even ask about when it comes to submitting them for publication.

In fact, I haven’t submitted anything since I was published last year. It sounds crazy but every time I write or edit this horrible little voice enters my mind and tells me that was it, my one moment, and I should probably just quit now instead of embarrassing myself.

I openly admit that it’s really tough and discouraging when you’re your biggest critic and I think if I am ever going to fully move past this year of change (and yes, growth) that I’m going to have to start supporting my dreams a little bit more. Of course I support myself financially and somewhat emotionally, but if I really think that one baby essay was the end of the road for me, I’m not doing myself any favors.

I think Anna from The OC probably said it best when she said, “Confidence, Cohen.” Believing is half the battle.

I know I can’t be alone in this. Sure, you may not be a writer but is there something you want that you are purposely stopping yourself from having? A good relationship? A better job? A healthier lifestyle? We hold ourselves back from what is most important to us because we are afraid of failing. It’s so much easier to put effort into less important stuff because the failure is just a scrape and succeeding is just some icing on the cake of life.

But… we should dare to put effort into what matters, shouldn’t we? And if our hearts get broken, our book fails, we get turned down for a promotion, whatever it may be, if it happens to us we have to make the promise that we won’t break and that we’ll try again a different way. Because we’re all here together just trying to do our best. We need to just let go of our fears and the ties we bind ourselves with and just see what happens.

So… how DOES one build confidence for those important things that really matter? Asking for a friend… but she also reads my comment section.


Gerascophobia – The Fear of Getting Older

It’s hard to tell if I am an official gerascophobe or just damn close, but whatever the case, I’m afraid of getting older and more so than the average person. I have been this way since I turned 16.

Up until that point I had always wanted to be older. I wanted freedom. I wanted to move to a big city. I wanted to be my own woman. But when I finally hit 16 I figured out that I was going to have responsibilities to go with those freedoms. And I panicked. From that point on, being old was something to resist and mock.

I met a girl this week, a 22-year-old to be exact, who said she was happy with getting older. That she actually LOOKED FORWARD to it. My initial reaction was what you might expect from a gerascophobe. I guffawed, I assumed she knew nothing about life, and then Google-chatted with my college friends later that night to laugh about how hard reality will hit her when she graduates. I felt superior and safe in my knowledge of how much it sucks to get older.

But yesterday, for almost no reason other than I was thinking about it again, I realized something. I guffawed at this young woman because she was so self-assured. She is excited to get older because she believes it will get better; she sees herself poised to do something great, to achieve her goals, and to basically crush adulthood. She thinks it’s going to get better. She knows and believes that it will and, honestly, I don’t doubt that it will for her. But what about me?

Did I set myself up for failure all those years ago dreading the graduations and the great unknown that lay beyond them? Have I sold myself short with the choices that have led me to who I am now, which is just about 28 and still afraid? What if, because I am still so crippled by my fear that it won’t get better, I’ve already peaked and this is it for me? I still fear getting older, and I haven’t embraced any of the age that I’ve achieved thus far despite it really being a gift to grow old.

How do I look out on the rest of my life as a series of achievements waiting to happen instead of a series of disappointments and failures?

I can’t help but think of the little New Englander who lives inside me. A spirit that is unbreakable and strong, yes, but steadfast in tradition, wary of change, believer of “if ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I once respected and loved that part of me, the unwavering, bullish part of my soul, but now I’m a little scared of it. Is my stubbornness ultimately going to hold me back? Is my natural predisposition to stick with something, even if it isn’t working, going to drive me insane?

There are parts of me, glittering special parts, that do drive me to do new things, but as I get older it gets harder and harder to fight against it, to keep my life fresh and new and exciting. It’s a challenge I’ve had to accept already by the nature of who I am and where I come from. If I can just believe that life gets better with age, then maybe I too can look at my next birthday as an opportunity for greatness, and not another marker on the slow march to the end.