It’s easier to succeed with realistic goals

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Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Goal setting helps you get to where you want to be. So it’s important to know that it’s easier to succeed with realistic goals. 

Everyone has limitations

There are some goals most people will never reach. And that’s true no matter how hard they try. Not everyone can be a quantum physicist, or a top basketballer or high-flying entrepreneur.

Many activities need certain physical or intellectual qualities. No one is so clever or skilled that they can do everything. If you focus on one area, you can’t train in another.

That’s just the way life is. You can’t do everything.

Be realistic

Being realistic helps you choose the right goals. It stops you taking on too much at once, or expecting the impossible. And good planning can solve a lot of problems before they become too difficult. 

So what are some factors you need to take note of?

1 Time available

You may be raring to spend hours every week on your goals. However, be realistic and work out how much time you’ll really have. Look at how many other demands you’ll have to juggle.

Don’t get carried away and try to do too much at once, or make too many changes at once.

Limit your commitments. For instance, if you haven’t studied for a long time, start slowly. Don’t take on too many different subjects at the start. It’ll take a while to adjust to the new demands of the work.

2 Difficulty of the goal

For any goal, it’s better to start small and work up. Build each goal out of a series of small steps. As you achieve each step, you’ll feel you’re moving forward.

However you won’t be overly stressed. If you expect too much of yourself too soon, you may burn out. Be aware it’s easier to succeed with realistic goals if you plan for the longer-term. 

3 Major stresses ahead

It’s also sensible to take note of any major stresses coming up. For example, the deteriorating health of elderly parents. Or children facing major exams, or your partner being pregnant.

All these situations will take up time and energy. And that might affect the goals you set.

Work out different options to deal with each scenario. The trick is to prepare beforehand, so you’re not caught out. Problem-solving ahead of time can reduce how much you worry as well, so that you can focus more on your goals.

4 Impact on others

In addition, recognise how others in your life will be affected. Will they be hurt or angry you’re giving them less time or attention? Or that you’re not helping them as much as before? Will they resent you spending money they consider is jointly owned?

a) Level of support

Do family or friends support what you want to do? Or are you keeping your plans quiet for the time being? Sometimes that’s very sensible. Others can try to talk you out of your goals.

b) Be assertive and empathic

Plan the groundwork carefully before you explain your plans. Be clear about what you want to do and how. You may need empathy and all your assertiveness skills to discuss these issues.

c) See their point of view

Most importantly, don’t spring change on people with little warning. See their perspective, and explain how they’ll benefit from the changes.

Be patient while they adjust to the idea if it’s a big change. After all, you’ve been planning for ages, but it’s all new to them. They may take a while to catch up psychologically.

So be prepared for some initial opposition and complaints. These will probably die down as others realise what’s involved.

d) It’s your decision

But in the end it’s your decision. If no-one else will be worse off by your decision and you believe strongly that you’ll benefit, go ahead. Otherwise, negotiate solutions to take the worries of others into account.

Everyone may need to compromise, or take responsibility for chores. But that’s not a bad thing. 

5 Resources needed

Take note of what resources are needed to pursue your interest. Do you have free space or a desk to use? What materials, instruments, books and technology will you need? Can you beg, borrow or buy second-hand?

Explore free electronic resources you can borrow from local libraries.

6 Previous knowledge

Some courses have prerequisites: skills you already need to know. Make sure you’re aware of these before signing up for a course. Also how much catch-up courses cost, and how long they last.

For instance, university science courses may need prior knowledge in maths, physics, chemistry or biology.

Of course it’s possible to catch up. Plenty of people have done it. But it does add to the cost and number of years of study.

7 Age/physical limitations

Some activities need physical qualities that older people just don’t have. Even a fit 55-year-old usually can’t match a fit 20-year-old in strength or dexterity.

As you get older, starting some high-level pursuits is also harder. If you start training at 65, you’ll probably never be a full-time astronaut. Or a top-notch concert pianist, gymnast or dancer if you’ve never done these activities before. They require years of training the body in certain ways. 

This isn’t discriminatory. It’s just the way it is. It’s reality. 

So be aware of the physical qualities needed to meet your goals. This can be important if you want to change jobs. Do your homework so you know what you’re getting into. It’s easier to succeed with realistic goals. 

Reasons for learning

But if you’re not aiming for the top, limitations don’t matter as much. It all depends on your reasons for learning.

You may only need moderate skill levels in some areas for work purposes. For instance, general primary school teachers run basic fitness or art classes. But they themselves don’t need the highest level skills.

And if it’s for your own pleasure and accomplishment, go for it! Don’t let age stop you learning skills that will enrich your life.

8 Age at starting study

Many jobs need you to qualify in a course of study. For professions like medicine and law, this can take many years. 

If you’re older, be realistic about your chances of employment. Few hospitals would employ a 65-year-old intern. And it’s probably much the same in other professions.

So be realistic about how many years your study could take. What you think may take 3 years could take twice as long. All sorts of life issues can get in the way.

Remember this though:

Even if you only work 10 years in a new career, it may be the best 10 years of your life!

Imagine 2 people, both 45, who want to change their careers. One decides that studying for three years to achieve the career he’s always wanted will take too long. Three years later, he’s still dissatisfied and trying to work out what to do. 

The other person takes all the pros and cons into account, and decides to go ahead with the course. After three years, he’s qualified, and working in a job he loves.  

Which person would you rather be?

Getting better with age

And if you’re self-employed, the sky’s the limit. You can work as long as you like within licensing regulations. And artists, writers, composers and other creatives can keep going forever. Their abilities seem to get better and better with age. Similarly for professions like historians or mathematicians.

So don’t let age stop you from stretching yourself in these areas. Just be aware of possible issues along the way.

The take-home message

It’s easier to succeed with realistic goals. Understand how issues like age, previous knowledge, reactions of others and possible stresses may affect your progress. But don’t let potential obstacles stop you. 

Be proactive

Be proactive in dealing with them instead. Plan for them, work around them, and be creative. Believe that you can overcome many of these issues. Take small steps, one at a time.

See it as a challenge

Rise to the challenge of setting realistic goals. Learn how to be flexible when you can’t do what you want. Be well prepared for any obstacles that might get in your way.

Remember, it’s easier to succeed with realistic goals. 

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