Goals are critical to progress. Goals for your personal development are no different.

Personal and professional success is the result of consistent effort and reflection towards a specific goal.

Have you ever wondered why organizations of all sizes spend significant amounts of time to set business goals? And then have employees develop goals for their own work that are aligned with the organization’s goals? 

That is because goal setting has been shown to be linked to higher achievement.

But how do you set personal development goals?

There are specific aspects to goal setting that are important to understand. Without a foundational understanding of how to set and track goals, it’s easy to get discouraged when there is no marked progress in your development.

Let’s walk through tips on how to make sure you are setting goals that will lead to both personal and professional success.

1. Familiarize yourself with SMART goals 

Before creating your intentions, it’s important to know what makes a goal a GOOD goal. I like the SMART acronym, which stands for:

  • Specific: simple but clearly outlines the success criteria
  • Measurable: outlines criteria so you can easily say “yes, I met it”
  • Achievable: something realistic and within reach
  • Relevant: aligned with your overall desires 
  • Time bound: has a specific timeline associated with it

A simple example of how to apply SMART…imagine you want to improve your relationship with a relative. 

“Improve my relationship with my boyfriend” is not a SMART goal. 

Instead, a SMART version of this goal would be:

“Go on dates with my boyfriend at least once a week for the next 6 months”

How is this goal SMART? Let’s take a look.

  • Specific: instead of just saying “improve a relationship” the SMART goal lays out a specific action (having more dates) that would help lead to a healthier relationship
  • Measurable: the goal clearly lays out criteria, once a week, that can be measured
  • Achievable: at least once a week is a realistic and achievable frequency to set aside time for a significant other
  • Relevant: the overall desire is to strengthen the relationship, and spending more time with the individual is a relevant means to achieve that
  • Time-bound: “next 6 months” outlines a clear timeframe after which you can evaluate whether you were successful with the overall objective. It’s not that your effort to improve the relationship ends after 6 months. But the timeframe allows you a specific window to reach this goal, after which you can evaluate your progress and set a new desire.

So, as you go through the exercise of setting goals make sure you are setting SMART goals.

2. Determine your long-term (5+ years) goals

The first goals you want to set should be ones that are long-term targets. 

Long-term goals should focus on larger objectives that you’d like to achieve in the next 5+ years.


Make sure to include goals in a variety of categories. You should consider having long term goals for your career, relationships, self-improvement, hobbies/skills, education, and/or personal finance. 

Don’t make it overly complicated. Keep your long-term aspirations to a handful of ones that are really important to you.

Long term aims can certainly evolve over time, which is fine as well. You may learn things from your short- and mid-term goals that will cause you to prioritize other items in your life.

3. Break goals down into mid-term (6- 18 months) and short term (1-6 months) goals

Once you have your handful of long-term goals, break each one down to 2-3 short- and mid-term goals. 

Short term goals should be ones that are achievable in 1-6 months whereas mid-term goals should be achievable in 6-18 months.

Make sure that your short-term and mid-term aims are directly tied to your long-term goals.

This means that if you successfully achieve one of your short- or mid-term goals, you will be making valuable progress towards your long-term aspirations.

Remember, a short- or mid-term desire can also be tied to more than one long-term objective.

If you have a mid-term intention to obtain a promotion, it may result in progress towards longer term designs towards your career and financial categories.

4. Track your progress

Once you have your goals, go out there and do the work!

Make sure you take time to self-reflect on your progress regularly. If you journal, that is a great place to capture your aims and reflect on your progress.

Others like to just keep their desires in their mind rather than formally documenting them (like in a bullet journal), which is just fine as well. 

Whatever works for YOU to focus on this aspect of personal development is great.


As time frames of your goals that you’ve established come to pass, take time to reflect on whether you’ve achieved what you’ve set out for yourself. 

If you haven’t, reflect on why. Was it the target itself was not achievable? Was the timeframe too tight? Or maybe in hindsight you’d change your approach? 

Take your learnings and apply them to new objectives.

No one will achieve all of their ambitions all the time. If you are, your goals are not challenging enough. You should be achieving a good chunk of your desires, and learning from those you fail to. 

So don’t get discouraged when you miss a goal. Remember, failure is about the right perspective

Use it to grow and learn.

5. Celebrate success

Setting goals is a great way to focus on progress in different aspects of your life. But it is important to celebrate your successes. 

Achieved a short term dream? Take an afternoon for yourself and celebrate!

Achieved a 5 year purpose? Plan a vacation!

Make sure to celebrate your accomplishments. Fulfilling a desire is a BIG deal- you’ve prioritized your personal development and were SUCCESSFUL in doing so. 

So make have some fun!

Some people like to keep in mind how they will celebrate a specific goal when they set it. Other times, you may decide spontaneously how to celebrate once you’ve achieved it. 

Whichever method you prefer is absolutely fine. Enjoy the process and growth.

Related Articles You Might Like to Read

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The Most Accurate Personality Test (So They Tell Me!)


Marie Buharin is a full-time professional in the medical device industry, having led teams at both Fortune 500 companies and start-ups. She is passionate about helping people develop personally and professionally with her blog, Modernesse (www.modernesse.com), to live happier and more fulfilling lives.


  1. Hi Marie, Goal setting has been helpful in my life as well. I like that you shared the SMART goals. It has helped me to be clear and specific about where I’m headed. SMART goals can help in so many aspects of life.

  2. I was familiar with SMART goals prior to this, ans while I do think it has value, I am not one to make such specific goals. While they can be helpful for some, I find them too confining and limiting. Iprefer to be open and adaptable to what arises and find the opportunities along the way. So, I do believe in loosely-held, big, long-term goals, but I believe in being responsive to what happens to get here. Works for me!

    • I totally get it Debbie. I’m more of a desire person…perhaps because of my personal perspective about goals. 🙂

  3. This is a wonderful primer on goal setting. I use my planner as much for personal development as I do for daily, weekly, monthly tasks. It helps me keep my personal development goals in sight!

    • Hi Sandra – I’m glad you liked the article. I knew it would suit a lot of readers, especially those who have a great right brain activity. 🙂

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