How to Set Realistic Goals: The Ultimate Guide

Author: Madalina Roman

Goals. We all have them, some more ambitious than others. Some are just dreams that we hope to fulfill, others objectives that we work towards daily.

Whatever yours are, one thing is certain: setting your goals is essential. It’s not enough to think about them, you have to stop depending on luck and wishful thinking and work toward them. And do you know what the best kind of goals are? The ones you can fulfill.

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Yes, we’re talking about realistic goals, the kind of challenge that, with some work and organization, is within your reach. In this article, we’ll teach you how to set realistic goals, so you never have to think about the ones that got away.

What are realistic goals? 

A realistic goal is one you can achieve, given your skills, timeframe, and level of motivation. But only by determining these goals will you get closer to achieving them. 

What’s realistic for one person may not be realistic for another, but you should still think of realistic goals as something attainable. Above all, you have to believe in your goals. If you don’t believe in them from the start, you can’t truly consider them to be goals.

what is a realistic goal

Why is it important to set realistic goals?

In short, having realistic goals makes them easier and faster to accomplish. On the one hand, it keeps us motivated and focused on what we must do to achieve those goals and it’s one of the best ways to increase business revenue. On the other hand, it builds confidence and self-esteem in our abilities, changing our perspective and, ultimately, our life!

But how on earth do you define goals that you can actually achieve? Next we’ll reveal the 5 essential steps to define realistic goals.

You can learn more about the importance of setting realistic goals in our article.

how can you make sure you are being realistic when setting goals?

How to set realistic goals in 5 steps

  1. Write down your goals
  2. Make your goals SMART
  3. Determine what you need to do to achieve them
  4. Work your goals into your future plans
  5. Evaluate and readjust your goals if need

1. Write down your goals

We start with a piece of advice we give fairly often — write a list.

Writing lists down is an excellent organizational technique that will allow you to have a macro view of your goals. You don’t need an endless list of goals: the more concise you’re, the more focused you’ll be.

Additionally, writing down your goals also helps you prioritize. By having a clear vision of everything you want to achieve in a given period of time — whether it’s one year or five years — it’s easier to prioritize those goals and chart the path needed to achieve them.

  • Read about the 5/25 rule by Warren Buffet and improve the process of goal-setting.

Discover the difference between long-term goals and short-term goals.

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2. Make your goals SMART

It doesn’t matter if they’re personal goals or work goals. After writing down your goals, you need to make sure they’re SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-Oriented.

The acronym SMART was created in 1981 when George T. Doran, a consultant and former Director of Corporate Planning for Washington Water Power Company, published a paper titled “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. Way to Write Management’s Goals and Objectives”. Since then, this system has gained worldwide popularity and is one of the most respected ways of setting goals. Thus, a SMART goal is:

  • Specific: clear as water, unambiguous.
  • Measurable: with specific criteria that assess its achievement.
  • Achievable: it cannot be impossible to accomplish. 
  • Realistic: within reach and relevant to your life purpose.
  • Time-Oriented: it needs a deadline. 

Although ideally, all goals should be SMART, the author explains that not all goals have to fulfill the 5 SMART criteria in the original document. Not everything is, for example, measurable. 

smart goals explanation

3. Determine what you need to do to achieve them

Achieving your goals doesn’t depend only on your will. You need to spend time, sometimes money, have years of training, and even some help.

So after you have set your goals, it’s time to ask yourself what you need to achieve them.

Factors such as time, information, training, money, and support are some factors external to your motivation that you should consider. Once you understand what resources you need to achieve your goals, you should do your best to mobilize them. 

4. Incorporate your goals into your future plans 

Now that you know exactly where you want to go and what you need to get there, it’s time to lay out a plan. Part of what makes your goals realistic is your ability to include them in your future plans and work toward them.

So having a plan of action that helps you determine exactly how you will reach your goal is crucial.

Be creative and look for solutions outside the box. This will help cement the goal in your mind. Imagine that you have set a goal to be your team’s manager within the next 5 years.

A good way to include your goal in your future plans is to invest in extra training, give your best at work, and create important relationships within the company.

All your decisions should consider the goals you have set and move you closer to them.

what does it mean for a goal to be “realistic”?

5. Evaluate and readjust your goals if need

Finally, our tip is to be flexible with your goals. Sometimes things happen, and not everything goes as we predict. So it’s important to have the permeability to realize when a goal is no longer realistic due to various factors and adjust it. 

It may be just a matter of timing: the goal you wanted to achieve in one year may only be achievable in 2. But it may also happen that your dreams change due to alterations in your life or even your will.

We change, and our goals can and should change with us. 

So we invite you to look at your list of goals from time to time and adjust those that need it.

Remember: it’s always good to have a plan, but life rarely turns out how you plan it. Be flexible, and everything will work out fine!

4 Tips on how to set realistic goals

Now that you have the blueprint for setting realistic goals let’s dig deeper. Next, we’ll present you with 4 extra tips to help you with your goals. 

1. Set milestones along the way

As we said before, SMART goals need deadlines. But it’s equally important to set some milestones along the way.

If your goals take 5 years to accomplish, you can set a checkpoint at the end of each year, for example. That way, you can make sure your action plan is turning out to be the right strategy.

On the other hand, setting milestones will also feed your motivation, which is sure to increase when you see that you’re making progress!

Find some examples of project management milestones to make sure everything is going as planned.

how can you make sure you are being realistic when setting goals

2. Share your goals

We often hear that we must share our goals with someone because it makes us accountable. In most cases, this is true. However, recent research has shown that we should not just share our dreams with someone — but with someone we admire.

According to the same study, sharing your goals with a higher-up not only keeps you accountable, but it also increases motivation.

The reason is simple: you care about what this person thinks of you and build motivation because you want to make them proud.

3. Don’t compare your journey with others

Your goals may not be unique, but you, your circumstances, and your resources are.

While it can be motivating to have someone to share the journey to a goal with, we advise you not to compare yourself to others.

You can become demotivated if you feel you fall short or overconfident if, at any given moment, you’re closer than someone else to your goals.

Your journey is unique, personal, and non-comparable. 

4. Expect to fail

“Expect the best, but prepare for the worst”. While believing in yourself and your abilities is essential, it’s equally important to be prepared for failure.

It’s inevitable and will come sooner or later. So adjust your expectations and be prepared.

You may not have met all your milestones, but that doesn’t mean you won’t meet your ultimate goal. If and when you eventually fail, just pick yourself up and keep working towards your big goal.

A balanced dose of realism and hope is always the best way to go!

realistic goal definition examples

Examples of realistic goals 

Now that you know how to set realistic goals, here are some examples of realistic vs. unrealistic goals.

  • Realistic: I will learn a new language and become fluent in the next 3 years.
  • Unrealistic: I will learn a new language and become fluent in two months.
  • Realistic: I will work hard to become the leader of my team in the next 2 years.
  • Unrealistic: I will become my team’s leader after 2 months in the company.
  • Realistic: I will organize and optimize my work to increase my productivity by 30%.
  • Unrealistic: I will double my productivity just by working faster.
  • Realistic: I will lose 20kg and reach my ideal weight in one year.
  • Unrealistic: I will lose 20kg for an event I have next month.

Do you know the difference between productivity and efficiency? Get to know in our blog.


Our goals keep us motivated, focused, and ambitious. However, we must distinguish reality from dreams and realize that not all goals are within reach.

With hard work, motivation, and even a little luck,, we can get far, but we need to keep our feet on the ground and understand where realism ends, and unrealism begins.

Now that you know how to set realistic goals, it’s time to get the plan in action. Put into practice the tips we gave you, and stop only when you have achieved your dreams!

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