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How to Change Goals

“A goal should scare you a little and excite you a lot.” – Joe Vitale

Society has come a long way since British industrial psychologist Cecil Alec Mace first conducted experimental studies on goal-setting and laid out basic principles that are still in use. Indeed, today the concept of setting goals is commonly accepted as a foundation for achieving what you want in life, including success, happiness, sense of purpose and fulfillment. Still, many people struggle when it comes time to make a shift. Here’s some advice on how to change goals that may be helpful.

Look at the big picture.

It may be difficult to step back and take an unbiased look at the big picture when it comes to changing goals, yet that’s critically important when you realize current goals either aren’t working, cannot be achieved, or you’ve lost enthusiasm or motivation for them. Instead of first going for the short-term goals — the so-called “low-hanging fruit” — focus on what you want to achieve a decade from now. That’s the broad view that allows you to expand your range of choices to pinpoint goals that you really want to work toward. There’ll be time later on to work on 5-year, 1-year, 6-month, 1-month, 1-week and daily goals.

Write goals down.

Instead of trying to juggle goals in your head, thinking that the most important ones or incremental ones will always be top of mind, keep a written list that you can have handy at all times. The purpose of lists — any kind of lists, but particularly goal lists — is to serve as a ready reminder and a guide map to refer to in tracking progress, roadblocks, successes or missteps. Indeed, as a 2015 study by Dominican University psychology professor Dr. Gail Matthews found, successful goal achievement in the workplace is tied to writing goals down, as well as committing to actions to achieve goals, and being accountable for those actions.

Be sure goals are specific.

Goals that are likely to be successful are those that are specific and measurable. This is particularly important when it comes to long-term goals and those that require multiple stages to achieve, are time-consuming or progress over a period of years, and those that are multi-layered, complex and challenging. Setting specific goals also helps with time and resource management, two crucial aspects of effective goal planning.

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Go for the excitement of the journey.

The most successful goals are often the ones that thoroughly immerse you in the experience, thrilling you with each small achievement, helping you to see how you’re making progress toward completion. Yet, the key here is not the outcome but the journey. Keep your mindset on how this goal excites and motivates you, what it is about the goal that you can’t wait to work on it. Keep in mind that the goals you set should make you happy. When you’re happy, you’re more motivated to do what it takes to achieve those long-term goals. Research found that taking pleasure in some immediate rewards is beneficial, as immediate rewards are predictors of persistence in pursuing long-term goals.

Be willing to change direction.

What you learn while working toward a goal may be instrumental in creating what research identifies as a crisis of confidence. For example, following a string of mistakes or disappointments, you might decide that the goal you set isn’t at all workable, at least not in present form. You may also discover information or connections that expose you to entirely different goals. While there may be some inter-relatedness between the goal you’re disenchanted with, it is also likely that you’ll perceive an opportunity you want to pursue, one that may replace or supplant your current goal. Whether the goal that’s precipitated a crisis of action is a long-term or short-term goal should be taken into consideration. If it’s short-term, there’s less risk in changing direction, unless the goal is tied to your long-term or big-picture goals. If the latter, weigh change of direction carefully. Depending on your analysis — and your gut feeling — it may be time to change direction.

Recognize where a skills or knowledge deficit needs attention.

When thinking about how to change goals, also take into account those areas where you’ve experienced a skills or knowledge deficit that might need attention. Note past or current goals and action plans where you’ve bumped up against your inexperience or lack of knowledge. It’s quite likely that you either lost enthusiasm, felt frustration, a sense of failure, or gave up the goal altogether. Remedy such shortcomings by taking action: enroll in a class, find an expert who can provide hands-on training, do research.

Consider adding to the level of difficulty.

When goals are too easily achieved, it may be that you’ve set the wrong level of difficulty for the goal — or selected a goal that’s just a quick accomplishment, something to cross off your list as completed so you can feel a sense of achievement. The problem with this is that your sense of pride in getting to the finish line with too-easy goals is rather shallow. There’s more meaning and self-confidence when you are effective in achieving tougher goals. So, if your goals are too easy, maybe it’s time to think about adding complexity and challenge to your current and new goals.

If goals are too hard, set easier ones.

On the other hand, if you have a history of setting goals that are highly challenging and unlikely to succeed, you’ve set the target too high. For the time being, make it a point to set some easier and more likely to be successful goals. A good mix is best, so you still have some challenging goals in your repertoire, particularly ones pertaining to big-picture goals.

Remain open to change — and opportunity.

While it’s human nature to resist change, the truth is that life is all about change. Nothing stays static. Instead of fighting change, embrace it. This will allow you to keep attentive to what needs work now and set the stage for you to recognize and identify opportunity when it appears. This means training yourself to be flexible in changing goals as well as adaptable in revising goals as you make your way through your list. By keeping an open mind, you’re more likely to be willing to consider a directional shift or taking advantage of an opportunity that not only appears feasible, it also intrigues and stimulates you.

How to Change Goals

Suzanne Kane

Suzanne Kane is a Los Angeles-based writer, blogger and editor. Passionate about helping others live a vibrant and purposeful life, she writes daily for her website, She is a regular contributor to Psych Central. You can reach her at [email protected].

APA Reference
Kane, S. (2018). How to Change Goals. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 4, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018 (Originally: 7 Aug 2018)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.