Setting Real Goals: A Step By Step Guide - Part 1

Originally, this was going to be a one shot post. But as I look through all of the work (it’s soooooo rewarding. Don’t be scared) that goes into setting real goals, I decided to break it down into three posts. It’s involved, but worth really digging into. The steps can be emotionally charged and pretty in depth. So this is part 1. The emotional stuff really lives here. If you are having a hard time with any of the steps, don’t be shy about contacting me. I did this and it has been one of the single most rewarding pieces of work I have done for myself. On to the post.


I realize that when I say “real” goals, it probably sounds like I’m losing my marbles. And you know, it’s possible I might be on other stuff, but I’m solid on this.

There is a difference between a goal and a real goal. There is a thin line, but a very distinct difference. A goal can be anything that you work toward. A real goal is a little more complicated but tend to pan out better. Real goals are goals that you can control the outcome of.

I’m going to level with you. The first couple steps to setting real goals are probably going to seem a little silly, but honestly they help. So Just do it. It’s good for your goals and for your head space.

Enough of that, let’s dive in.

Step 1. Soul Searching

See? Seems silly. But really; Just do it. Here’s why, with a personal story to boot.

Last year, I was in a pretty bad funk. It lasted for months. It was all consuming. Thankfully, my husband got sick of it before I spiraled too far gone and made me sit down and do an exercise that was kind of world shaking for me. On our whiteboard, he made me write what I wanted right that moment. He would have accepted any answer other than “nothing” or even worse, “I don’t know.”

Turns out in that exact moment, I wanted a sandwich and red flats.

We broke the exercise down into the following categories:

  • What I want right now
  • What I want this week
  • What I want this month
  • What I wanted before the end of the year
  • What I want eventually

I filled out each of these, not really thinking about them, and was stunned by how much I wanted. I mean totally floored.

I had ambitions that I wasn’t aware of (this business being one of them) and a strong desire to eat something, pretty much anything, although I think that was mostly because I was super ready for lunch.

Point to all of that; Being asked what I wanted seemed really foreign to me. I never really thought about what I wanted. Like most people I moved through my day fulfilling my obligations, working, attempting to take care of my health (not succeeding by the by) and a lot of times going onto autopilot. I wasn’t thinking about what gave me joy. I wasn’t thinking about what I really wanted.

So now I ask you. What do you want?

Note: The two questions you should ask yourself after just dumping all of your wants out onto a piece of paper are 1. Do I really want this? If the answer is yes, keep it. If the answer is no, drop it. Ain’t no shame in this game. It’s better to get rid of something you really don’t want than to spend your precious time chasing something that you don’t want to begin with. 2. Are you going to need help with this? You’re not planning anything out here right now, but this may be a glaring yes, depending on your goal. If you want to hire a personal trainer, you’re going to need a personal trainer. Asking friends and family for recommendations is help. So short answer, yes.

Action to take right now:

Take out two sheets of paper. On the first, write What I Want Right Now. Here comes the hard part. This is not what you need to do. This is what you want. Example, right this very moment, I want the veggie burger that I have waiting for my lunch. Now draw a line below that list. Follow this process for all of the above categories. (You got out two sheets for a reason. Fill it up. Front and back. List everything you want. Sandwiches, new pens, there is nothing too trivial.) Now take a ten minute break. Stop looking at it. Go for a walk, go pet your fur baby. Go do anything for ten minutes that is going to take your mind off that list. After you shake it off a little, take that list you think is complete (nothing is ever finished, we always push forward. Human stuff.) and put a checkmark or X or smiley face or whathaveyou next to the things you want that are going to require help. List who you need help from.

Step 2. Write It Down

Ummm… I just did that.

Yeah I know but now we are going to talk about how writing something down makes your shit legit. If you’re typing it, transfer it to paper please. I’ll explain why.

Reason 1: When you create something digital, it takes up space. It takes up space on your hard drive, your dropbox or your flash drive (whatever you use.) But we live in a physical world where the world is impacted by the things in it. Your dropbox may be able to hold less, but the world can always hold one more sheet of paper covered in what you truly want. By putting these wants into the physical world, you are making them tangible. Tangible things are more easily understood by people (Human stuff again.)

Reason 2: It creates a more personal connection to what you are establishing as your goal. If your goal is to start a business, writing that down feels liberating and allows you to be in control of it before you even start to break it down. As you write it down, feel what you feel. Excited? Scared? Butterflies? Annoyed? Acknowledge it. It’s yours just like that goal is.

Reason 3: Establish control of your goals with pen strokes from their very inception. You are in control of everything, but sometimes it feels like your plans have run away from you, or worse, without you. Writing them with a pen establishes the leash that you are going to keep them on.

You may not believe this personally, which is fine. You just keep typing away and making your plan. A plan is better than nothing. Or you could read the reasons to put your list into the physical world and give it a shot. Just saying.


Notice how I have just started using the word goals to describe what we are doing. A couple sheets of paper scrawled with your wants aren’t goals. They are wants. Goals are setting a roadmap to get what you want. I’ll walk you through one of my own wants right now.

I want to attend a creative conference next year.

That may sound like a goal, but it’s not, and here’s why. It’s not enough to just want something. You have to know what it will take to get there and the biggest part of all; Be willing to do what it takes. So if that’s my want, then what are my goals?

  1. Save a dollar amount every month to pay for travel needs and conference attendance costs.
  2. Not allow my business to “suffer” from taking time off of work.

Those are some pretty lofty goals, especially the take time off work one. As a business of one, I work really hard to stay on top of all of my projects and my business, so a couple days off actually sets me back. But being able to not have to worry about it is the goal. This is going to take prep, confidence (no time for self doubt), and ultimately setting myself up for success.

Action to take now:

You have what you want in front of you. Now write down what it is going to take to get there. Are you going to need to invest in equipment or education? Do you need to join networking sites or maybe a conference? Do you need to position yourself differently or redesign something to make it work for you?

These are questions that only you can answer, but take your time and answer them. What do you need to do?

Next is the really hard part. Ask yourself for each goal you set, “Am I willing to do this?” If the answer in no, you may need to go back to asking if you really want it or think of another way to get it. Again, take your time and be realistic.

Ending It Here Today

This is the reason I decided to break this into a three part series rather than a whole post. There is a lot of information here that is going to take some serious work. The rewarding kind. Promise.

I’ll see you back here on Friday with the second of three parts. Bring more paper and a calculator (don’t run! I’m doing it for you!) and a will to kick goal setting square in the ass.

I really want to know how you’re progressing. You can share using #setforrealgoals and tagging me @nicolina.mchugh on Instagram to show me what you got! What is your top Month goal? Nothing too personal to share? Take a picture and share it!

I’m super excited to cheer you on. (I love goal setting. It makes me happy.)

Let's hang on Instagram!