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Goal setting

8-minute read

Key facts

  • Goals are things — deeds, undertakings, actions — that you want to achieve.
  • Setting goals can help you work towards and through things, including mental health issues.
  • It's important to set SMART goals — goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-limited.

What are goals?

A goal is something specific that you want to achieve. This might be to get better at soccer, reduce your cholesterol, or go on a cruise. Setting goals help you develop a sense of accomplishment or satisfaction with your life.

Why do people set goals?

People may set goals for different reasons, such as to change or improve their lives. Goals help with your wellbeing and satisfaction. Goals can:

  • motivate you to try new things
  • help you work towards something
  • help you track your progress

Goal setting and mental health

Setting goals can be an important step in the recovery from substance abuse and mental illness, such as:

  • depression — these may be behavioural goals such as getting out of bed earlier, or showering more regularly
  • anxiety — this may be reducing avoidance or safety behaviours

Goal setting is one cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) technique that helps:

  • keep your therapy on track, monitoring change or progress
  • you communicate your concerns and aims
  • you feel in control
  • you track your progress
  • you achieve everyday tasks that be challenging

Types of goals

There are as many different goals as there are human activities.

Goals can be:

  • short term
  • long term
  • for you as an individual, or as part of a group

If you're part of a sporting team, your personal goal may be to become a striker. A team goal may be to make the finals.

You may set goals for your health, like:

Or you may want to set life goals. These may be things that you want to work towards in your career, business, education or finances. They might include:

  • improving work performance or confidence in your work
  • gaining a promotion
  • changing careers
  • completing a course or degree
  • learning a new language
  • achieving certain results at school
  • reducing debt and saving money

You may set goals for your personal life, like:

  • spending more time with children or partner
  • arguing less with loved ones
  • making more friends
  • learning a new skill — such as a musical instrument, craft or recipe
  • starting a photo album or blog
  • writing a novel
  • doing volunteer work — like coaching a sporting team or volunteering with a charity
  • engaging more in spiritual activities

Goals are more achievable when they are based on the things we value most.

For example, family relationships might be an important value for you. You can set related goals, like:

  • spending an evening out with your partner once a week
  • reading with your children each night

How do I set goals?

Whether your goals are big or small, the first step to achieving them is to decide what they are. Start by thinking about what is important to you.

There are some things you can do to set goals you can reach.

Focus on your strengths

You should set goals that match with what you are good at. Think about how you can use your strengths and experiences to achieve your goals.

Seek support and feedback

Having support from others can improve your chance of achieving your goals. You might:

  • tell your friends and family
  • speak to your teacher or employer about your goals
  • speak to a therapist about your goals
  • share your goals online with likeminded communities

Support can encourage you and make you feel more committed to your goal. People who know about your goals can also give you feedback on your progress.

Receiving regular feedback can help you to understand your progress. Feedback can help you change your approach if you are finding it hard to achieve a goal.

Set positive goals

When you are setting your goals, the words you use are important. Try to use positive terms instead of negative ones. For example:

  • say "I will be more focused", instead of "I will be less distracted"
  • say "I will feel more healthy" rather than "I will be thinner"

Break down your goals

It can be useful to split large, challenging goals into smaller steps. Smaller steps help keep you on track, meaning you are less likely to give up. Taking one realistic step at a time:

  • helps you feel like you have achieved something and keeps you focused
  • prevents you from becoming overwhelmed

For example, your long-term goal may be to find a new job. Some smaller, more achievable steps may be to:

  • update your resumé or CV
  • check job advertisements on the internet
  • do extra training in your area of interest

What are SMART goals?

You can set goals using the SMART approach.

SMART goals have 5 criteria to help you set goals that should give you the best chance of success. These are:

  1. specific
  2. measurable
  3. achievable
  4. relevant
  5. time bound


Be specific about what you are aiming to achieve when setting goals. Include details such as:

  • Who is involved?
  • Where is my goal located?
  • When do I want to act on this goal?
  • Why is my goal important?
  • What do I want to accomplish?

For example, your goal could be to 'walk for 30 minutes five days a week', instead of 'do more exercise'.


When setting goals, make sure that you can measure your progress. Seeing how far you've come will help you stay motivated.

You can measure progress by measuring 'how many' or 'how much' of something in your goal.

For example:

  • keeping track of how many minutes exercise you do, for example 30 minutes exercise, 5 out of 7 days
  • recording how much water you are drinking each day, for example I will drink 4 cups of water every day


It's good to set challenging goals, but you should make sure that you are able to achieve them. Be sure to ask yourself:

  • Do I have the physical ability or experience to meet my goals?
  • Do I have the equipment needed to achieve my goals?
  • Do I have enough money to meet my goals?
  • Do I have the time to achieve my goals?

If you don't have the ability to meet your goals, you can first work on getting what you need.

Goals that are too difficult can be discouraging and can lead to you giving up. Set practical goals for you and your circumstances. For example, walking an hour after dinner might be difficult if you don't get home until 8pm.


Your goals should be relevant to you. When picking a goal, start with the things you enjoy. Make sure you focus on what you need and want to do.

These things can help you feel connected to your goal and make you more likely to achieve it.


When setting your goals, set a timeframe and an endpoint — an example of this may be 'I will save $5000 by December 2025 to go on a cruise with my best friend'. Deadlines can help motivate you to achieve your goal. But, be sure to set deadlines that you can achieve.

Resources and support

For advice and to get connected to local mental health services, call Head to Health on 1800 595 212. Check the operating times.

You can also call the healthdirect helpline on 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria). A registered nurse is available to speak with 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: February 2024

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