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How to set goals and actually achieve them

How to set goals and actually achieve them

I don’t really believe in New Years resolutions.

Most of us are fully aware that those promises of losing 10 pounds or saving half your income will be broken before the first month is over. We make a list of resolutions with the best intentions, but if we don’t take them seriously then they’re never going to happen.

I mentioned in why you shouldn’t make a bucket list that I set myself goals or make to-do lists instead of wish lists, as I believe having this mindset will result in getting things done. However, this is only one of the steps in actually achieving your goals.

I’m going to detail how I’ve gone about making my own to-do list for 2015. This method may not work for everyone, but it’s been very successful in helping me get to where I am today. Here are my 5 steps for setting goals and actually achieving them.

step 1: list your achievements from the previous year

Before we even begin to think about the future year, it’s really important to look back at our past year to see what we’ve achieved. By doing this, we’re proving to ourselves that we can actually achieve something when we put our mind to it.

Here are some of the things I’ve achieved in 2014:

  • Completed my first backpacking trip of 3 months in Europe
  • Quit my full-time job to pursue my own careers in design and travel
  • Started a travel blog which is steadily gaining popularity (yay!)
  • Planned an unbelievably cheap wedding
  • Put plans in place to move abroad in 2015

You might notice I listed putting plans in place as an achievement. Every goal takes preparation, so completing the steps to make goals happen is something you should definitely be proud of.


step 2: list your long-term goals

This is the fun bit. Don’t hold back – brainstorm all of the things you would like to achieve over the next 5 years, 10 years, or lifetime.

My long-term travel goals include:

  • Visit all 7 continents
  • Move abroad for a few years
  • Visit more national parks
  • See the northern lights
  • Be more adventurous
  • Grow my blog following so that I can make a living working entirely for myself

I have a few ongoing inspiration lists for my long-term goals that I constantly update throughout the year. I’ve saved Google Maps with pins on the places that I might like to visit one day, I have a to-do list app that I add random ideas to, and I have Pinterest boards where I collect all my visual inspiration.

step 3: Make your list of goals for the next 12 months

You probably won’t be able to achieve all your long-term goals at once, so select a few that you’d like to focus on this year. Be realistic – you don’t want to bite off more than you can chew. Choose a few to make a priority.

Here’s what I plan to do this year:

  • Visit South America, my 5th continent
  • Do some adventurous activities such as Death Road in Bolivia and hike the Inca Trail
  • Move abroad to USA in July
  • Hit up some national parks in USA

step 4: Make a plan

How are you going to achieve your goals? There’s no point writing them down, only to forget about them a week later. It’s essential to put a plan in place to ensure they actually happen.

Here are the best ways to go about making your plan:

  • Make a budget for your goals – How much money will you need? How much work will it take to save it?
  • Set a timeframe for when you’d like to have your goals achieved
  • Divide your goal it into smaller tasks to make it seem less intimidating, and set timeframes for each task
  • Set reminders in your calendar or to-do list for the tasks you’ll need to complete

Next Trip Map

step 5: Create visuals of your goals

I can’t stress enough how important this step is! Make visuals so that you’ll be constantly reminded of your goals throughout the year. Above is a map I created for my 2015 travel plans.

Your visual doesn’t have to be a map, you can use photos, inspirational quotes, or countdown apps on your phone – anything that you can look at as a reminder of what you’re working towards.

By placing these visuals in easy to see places (on the fridge door, the wall above your desk, desktop screen saver, etc) you’ll be inspired and excited to continue working towards achieving your goals.

More tips:

Make it fun! Is there a cool way you can encourage yourself to try a little harder? There’s no point sacrificing something if it’s going to make you miserable in the meantime, so allow yourself the occasional treat and be sure to make the process enjoyable!

Say it out loud. I’ve put all my goals here on the blog in the hopes it will make me even more motivated to achieve them. It will be plain for everyone to see if I don’t make it, so saying my goals out loud (or showing the world in a blog post!) encourages me commit to completing them.

What are your goals for the new year, and how will you go about achieving them? Share your plans with us in the comments!

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29 Responses to “How to set goals and actually achieve them”

  1. Susanne

    Nice tips! I’d especially shout out to the ‘share it’ part because I’ve just schleduled a blog post with my commitment I made for January, it’ll be up in about 4 hours and I hope the idea of being in the public eye won’t let me give up on it. (I make it sound huge, but it’s actually just a yoga challenge.)

    I’m the kind of person who needs to have a to-do list and a deadline for everything, or I’m too lazy to get anything done.

    Aaaa, seeing the northern lights is one of my life goals too!

    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Thanks Susanne! I think sharing it is definitely a key step in making it concrete, I’ll check out your post when it goes up. I’m totally on board with you on having a to-do list with deadlines for everything. No matter how arbitrary they are, it really is an encouragement to actually go ahead and complete the things you set out to do!

  2. Monique

    Great tips, especially about getting down to the nitty gritty and figuring out how much all these dreams are actually going to cost you…(both in time and money). That puts a perspective on things and definitely makes them more achievable.

    Although I did call mine ‘travel resolutions’ I never make any new years resolutions normally so by naming them I made them more concrete for myself. What’s in a name really, I think we’re both talking about the same thing: taking action 🙂

    Love the visual of your travel plans by the way!

    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Absolutely – if we don’t work out these details at the start, then we’re much more likely to just give up later when we realise how much time/money/effort it’s going to be. I really like your travel resolutions idea, you’re absolutely right about the fact that the main point is taking action!

      I’m really glad you like my map, displaying them is what really gets me pumped for my future plans. That and a whole bunch of photos of the destinations 😉 Thanks for your tips Monique!

  3. Samantha Angell

    This is a great outlook & a terrific post. As far as your long-term goals- I currently live in Sweden, and have been able to visit Oktoberfest in Munich the past two years in a row! For any tips about it, definitely let me know- it is a once in a lifetime experience!

    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Oh I’m super jealous! I’ll definitely hit you up for tips on Oktoberfest when I finally get there, I’m hoping it will be in 2016. Thanks Samantha!

  4. Tessa / Bramble & Thorn

    These are such great tips! It’s so easy to lay out goals at the start of the year, but actually putting together a plan to achieve them is probably the most important part. Looking forward to another year of travel!

    Tessa / Bramble & Thorn

  5. Chelsea

    A timeframe for your goals is so so SO important so you can determine what’s done and not done. Fantastic post, and happy new year to you!

    • Ashlea Wheeler

      It really is – without the timeframe we would have no motivation to actually go about getting things done, and you’re absolutely right about it making our goals measurable. Thanks Chelsea!

  6. Polly

    This is awesome – the perfect remedy to nebulous resolutions you’ll never follow through on! Thanks!

    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Thanks Polly! I think we’re all guilty of making these sorts of resolutions at some stage or another, hopefully this year we can make a stand and get more done than ever before!

  7. Franca

    I don’t like New Year’s resolutions too, on the other hand I’m quite bad at planning even when I have goals to achieve… what a disaster I am! 🙂

    • Ashlea Wheeler

      We all work at different paces, I think the trick is to find what works for you and use that to make things happen 😀

  8. Leah of The Mochilera Diaries

    I realized recently that I rely heavily on visual reminders to do things! Writing my goals down in a place where I can see them every single day is a great way to keep me focused and taking steps to achieve them. Great advice here!

    • Ashlea Wheeler

      I think this point works well for visual people especially, and travellers often are! I also rely heavily on these reminders to keep me motivated to work towards the things I’m aiming for. Thanks Leah!

  9. Allison

    Great tips! I agree with using visuals to emphasize goals. I have a whiteboard beside my desk that states my general long term goals, an agenda to address immediate to-do list goals, and I recently got a map of the world for Christmas to inspire me to travel to new places this year! Goals are tough to stick to, but when they’re always beaming in front of your face, it makes it easier to achieve (or so I tell myself).

    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Sounds like you’re all organised Allison! A world map is the PERFECT inspiration to travel to new places, I have one above my desk at all times!

        • Ashlea Wheeler

          It’s interesting how posts come about sometimes! Yours is a really heartfelt one, I enjoyed reading it. I also felt that way about working for bosses that I hated and colleagues that were manipulating me into feeling bad about myself, and am totally on board with you about the freeing feeling of leaving that job and (eventually) working for myself! Thanks for sharing your story Chalsie x

  10. Holly

    This is how I like to do it too: review, long term goals, yearly goals (to support long term goals) and then broken down goals to achieve yearly goals. I also like to make my goals measurable in some way. Then I like to ‘list’ – these are fun things I would like to do, but which aren’t goals.

    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Making your goals measurable is a great tip, we definitely need to do this to ensure we can see progress happening and stay inspired to keep going! I also have a list of fun things I might like to do that aren’t goals. It’s nice to look back on these later in the year to see what we actually managed to achieve 🙂 Thanks Holly!

  11. Bec

    Hi Ashlea,

    Really love this post! Really great tips and steps in making plans, setting goals and achieving them! In my first year out of teaching (2013) I made a plan: To save up enough money to travel around the world for a few months; I saved the whole year and in 2014 went on a big world trip for 4.5 months to the USA, UK and Europe for the very first time, and planned it all myself 🙂 Just shows if you make a plan and do some goal setting, you can achieve them!

    I am one of those really organised people who loves lists and loves setting goals, I have set some big ones for 2015 so going to try my best to achieve them! Planning to do a mix of short trips and one big one at the end of the year during my big school holiday break! I’m also looking into South America for the end of the year (which will also be my 5th continent as well!)

    Looking forward to your updates on achieving your 2015 goals! Exciting stuff!

    • Ashlea Wheeler

      That’s really awesome Bec, I’m so glad you were able to set such an ambitious goal and manage to achieve it! It takes a lot of hard work and sometimes a few sacrifices, but in the end it’s totally worth it. Your trip sounds like it was the ultimate reward for your efforts!

      I have no doubt that you will kick ass at the goals you set for yourself this year. You’ll have to let me know how you go with your travels!

  12. Andrew

    hey are you planning on doing that trip this year? Or was it last year’s trip?


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