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Tips for Setting Long-Term Goals

Get to know more about long-term goals and how to set them.

Goals, broadly speaking, are defined as the desired states that we seek to obtain, maintain, or avoid (Nair, 2003). Long-term goals can be defined as the set of goals that need a longer period of time to achieve. For example, they could be goals related to our education, career, relationships, fitness, etc. Long-term goals require planning and sustained effort, so they can be a bit trickier to achieve than shorter-term goals. Here are some tips to get you started.

How to Reach Long-Term Goals

1. Set specific and challenging goals. It turns out that we achieve more by setting specific goals that are a little bit bigger or challenging, but not too challenging. If we set easy goals, we often don't achieve as much as we could because we don't push ourselves quite as hard.

2. Set meaningful goals. Reaching goals that you care about is easier than reaching goals you don't care about. So it's helpful to get clear on what you do care about right from the start.

3. Set realistic goals. It can be tricky to know just how much you can achieve. In fact, if you don't believe in yourself, you might set your goals too low and miss out on doing some great things. If you believe in your ability to manifest something, you are more likely to persist until you do. So take some time to dream big and then put on your reality cap to reflect on what is possible.

4. Commit to your goal. We silly humans don't like to disappoint ourselves or others. So when we commit to something, we're actually more likely to do it, especially if we share the commitment with other people in our lives.

5. Create a feedback cycle. Feedback can be helpful so that you know how well you are doing (Latham, & Locke, 2007). Even if you don't have someone to provide feedback for you, you can still put systems in place to give yourself feedback. In other words, you could track your progress on how you're moving towards your goal. That way, you'll know how you're doing.

Align Long-Term Goals With Core Needs

Researchers suggest that we are more motivated to fulfill core needs like autonomy, relatedness, and competence (Sheldon & Elliot, 1999). So when setting long-term goals, try to identify how each goal relates to a core need. For example, 'starting your own business' might relate to autonomy because you are free to work on what you want. 'Finding love' might relate to relatedness. And 'getting a promotion' might relate to competence. By identifying how your goals relate to your needs, you'll have a better sense that what you're striving for will actually make you feel good once you get there.

Phases of Long-Term Goal Pursuit

The long-term goal achievement process includes:

  • Initiation. Getting started on the goal.

  • Maintenance. Continuing to work on the goal and execute actions that lead to achieving the goal.

  • Persistence. Overcoming challenges, setbacks, and emotional issues like exhaustion, boredom, or dissatisfaction.

  • Revision. Periodic review of the goal to track progress, revise plans, and reevaluate the goal as a whole (Sniehotta, Schwarzer, Scholz, & Schüz, 2005).

Sticking to Your Goals

The thing about long-term goals is that they are ... well ... long. That means they require dedication, determination, and persistence. They require overcoming both tangible obstacles and emotional obstacles. So, some have suggested that in addition to creating an action plan (a plan for what you will do), it can be helpful to have a coping plan (Sniehotta, Schwarzer, Scholz, & Schüz, 2005). Here are some tips:

Clarify possible challenges. Anticipating the situations that will slow or stall your progress towards the goal can help you develop a plan for how to respond effectively. Then, creating "if-then" statements for each potential obstacle can help you more easily overcome it. For example, if I'm exhausted and just need a nap during the time I have set aside for my goal, it's OK because then I have a backup time set up that I only use when I need it.

Think about how to overcome distraction. Perhaps the most common obstacle is distraction. Maybe some parts of our long-term goal are boring or hard. Or, there are just a lot of distractions in our lives. That's why putting a plan in place to minimize distractions can be helpful. For example, we can download an app to pause our emails, log ourselves out of social media, or put a time limit on our internet time. Or, maybe we benefit from headphones to drown out noise. Or maybe we just need a few snacks nearby so we don't have to keep running out to get something. Think about what distracts you and how you might overcome these things.

​Know your challenges. Take some time to think about what's stopped you from reaching past goals. Write these down and then brainstorm what you'll do. Try to be specific (say more than "I'll figure it out!"). For example, if low self-confidence often keeps you from reaching your goals, maybe you use some self-love exercises when you find you're getting down on yourself. By having specific plans in place to cope with your unique difficulties, you can increase your chances of success.


  • Nair, K. S. (2003). Life goals: the concept and its relevance to rehabilitation. Clinical Rehabilitation, 17(2), 192-202.​

  • Latham, G. P., & Locke, E. A. (2007). New developments in and directions for goal-setting research. European Psychologist, 12(4), 290-300.

  • Sheldon, K. M., & Elliot, A. J. (1999). Goal striving, need satisfaction, and longitudinal well-being: the self-concordance model. Journal of personality and social psychology, 76(3), 482.

  • Sniehotta, F. F., Schwarzer, R., Scholz, U., & Schüz, B. (2005). Action planning and coping planning for long‐term lifestyle change: theory and assessment. European Journal of Social Psychology, 35(4), 565-576.

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