Month 6: Goalsetting

Join our tribe of readers who are spreading happiness by creating Happiness Clubs in their own homes around the world, with help from Psychologies and Action for Happiness. This month, the focus is on setting goals

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Month 7 and we’re looking at setting goals. Goals are the way we can turn our values and dreams into reality. ‘Happiness doesn't just happen - it comes from thinking, planning and pursuing things that are important to us,’ says Vanessa King, positive psychology expert for Action for Happiness. Scientific research* shows that setting and working towards goals can contribute to happiness in various ways, including

  • Being a source of interest, engagement or pleasure
  • Giving us a sense of meaning and purpose
  • Bringing a sense of accomplishment when we achieve what we set out to (or milestones along the way) - this also builds our confidence and belief in what we can do in the future.

“Goals help focus our attention. Actively working towards them appears to be as important for our well-being as achieving the end results we are aiming for,” says King.

But research shows that goals are most successful when they're something we really want to achieve and when we set them for ourselves - rather than being something someone else wants us to do.

Smaller goals may seem unimportant. But having personal projects that matter to us - and are manageable - has been consistently shown to boost well-being, especially when they're supported by others around us. And it's even better if we can link our smaller goals back to our bigger aims and priorities in life.

How do we set goals?

Goal-setting is a skill and it can be learned, says King. Follow our 7 step guide.

1. Decide. Think of something you want to do or work towards. It doesn't matter what, as long as it's something you want to do - ideally something you're interested in or feel excited by. It should be something you want to do for its own sake not for something or someone else. It can be a big thing or a small thing - sometimes it is easier to get going with something small. And it often helps if it's something that's just a little bit beyond what you currently can do - goals that stretch us can be motivating!

  • Write it down. Writing down our goals increases our chances of sticking with them. Write down how you will know you have reached your goals and when you'd like to have achieved it by. Ask yourself: what it will 'look' like and how will you feel when you've done it? How does it connect to who or what you value in your life? Describe your goal in specific terms and timescales e.g. 'I want to plant lettuces, carrots and peas in the empty patch in my garden by the end of May' rather than 'I want to do some gardening.' Write your goals in terms of what you want, not what you don't want. For example: 'I want to be able to wear my favourite jeans again', rather than 'I don't want to be over-weight anymore'.
  • Be accountable: Telling someone we know about our goals also seems to increase the likelihood that we will stick at them.
  1. Be specific. Sometimes our big goals are a bit vague, like 'I want to be healthier'. I want to be run around the park in 20 minutes without stopping
  2. Create baby steps: Break down bigger goals into smaller goals so you can feel successful along the way . Having several smaller goals makes each of them a bit easier and gives us a feeling of success along the way, which will help keep you on track.
  3. Plan your first step. Getting started can be the hardest bit. Once you have created momentum it gets easier Plan exactly how and when you’ll make your first baby step. And the next 5 baby steps and then keep going. If you're struggling, ask people you know for their ideas on what you could do. They may help you see a different way. Thinking about different ways of reaching our goals makes it more likely we'll be successful.
  4. Celebrate. When you reach your goal take time to enjoy it and thank those that helped you. Think about what you enjoyed and learned along the way. Now, what is your next goal or project going to be?

Questions to discuss at your Happiness Club.

  • Name one goal that you have achieved in the past that you are most proud of?
  • How do you set goals in your day to day life and what works for you?
  • How do you sabotage your achievement of goals?
  • In the past, when the going has got tough, how did you manage to keep going?
  • What small goal can you set this month that will improve your happiness?

Suzy Walker

Editor of Psychologies, Psychologies

I am proud to be editor of Psychologies, a magazine that champions, challenges and coaches us to think differently so we can solve our own problems and create a life that nourishes us. Author of Making The Big Leap and The Big Peace, Suzy believes that the secret to happiness is living life to the full right here, right now, committing to a few goals now and again and taking Oscar, the Psychologies dog for a walk round the field when it all gets a bit too much.