Everyone wants to set and achieve goals on their way to personal success. However, few realize that there are many different types of goals - each one intended to produce a specific result. This means if you don’t choose the right goal to start, you run the risk of pursuing the wrong thing and running in the opposite direction, wasting time and energy.
To help you understand and choose which type of goal is best for you, below are 13 of the most essential goals. It’s important to note, however, that I’ve divided these goals into three categories based on: measurement, concentration, and time. This is because the best goals have elements of all three. They can be measured, are focused in a specific area, and bound by time - all elements of the SMART goal framework.
Below are the 13 essential types of goals broken out by category:
The types of goals based on measurement are defined by how a goal is measured. There are typically three types of measurement-based goals: Numerical goals, event-based goals, and behavioral goals. Numerical goals focus on completing a certain number of things, event-based goals are measured by a tangible event occurring, while behavioral goals focus on personal or social change, measured either quantitatively or qualitatively.
While the differences between these types of measurement goals seem straight-forward, an important distinction to make is discerning which one gives you control over what’s being measured. For example, going to the gym four times a week is more achievable than winning a bodybuilding competition because you can affect the former while the latter is ultimately decided by other people. This doesn’t mean that one measurement goal is better than the other, only that you should measure the success of your goals based on something you can directly affect.
A numerical goal is measured by the consistent completion of a task a predetermined number of times. For example, making 100 sales calls a week or going to the gym four times a week would both be numerical goals. When compared to the other measurement goals, this goal-type can be the most motivating because the achievement of the goal is typically 100% based on your willingness and ability to do something even when you don’t want to do it.
For example, preparing for a test by setting a numerical goal to study for 50 of the next 100 days prior to the exam is completely within your ability to achieve. All it takes is the willpower to sit down once every-other-day, take out your textbook or fire up your computer, and learn. If you don’t study 50 out of the next 100 days, you know there’s only one person to blame. Conversely, if you hit the goal, you know that you deserve the credit and are right to celebrate.
However, be warned that you shouldn’t use this goal as a way to set weak goals. For example, it’s one thing to study for 50 nights, it’s another thing to have 50 quality nights where the information sticks. So, be honest with yourself. Did you actually achieve the intention of the goal, or were you just trying to hit your numbers and check a box?
Event-based goals measure success by an event either occurring or not occurring. Things such as winning a race, receiving an award, or accumulating a specific number of something are all examples of event-based goals. Unfortunately, this type of goal is both the most common and also the one least in your control, meaning they can be the most demoralizing. Sure, you can work your darndest to win an Academy Award, but at the end of the day, there’s a panel you’re not on which decides the award.
Does this mean if you don’t win an Academy Award that everything you did in pursuit of it is now worthless? No, of course not. So then why would you measure the success of your goal based on something you can’t control and give measurement powers to others who then dictate the success or failure of your life. This doesn’t mean that event-based goals are bad, only that they should be within your control to achieve.
Behavioral goals are measured by a quantitative or qualitative change in someone’s behavior, thoughts, or general outlook on life. For example, becoming a more positive person would be a behavioral goal. The achievement of “more positive” can be quantified, but typically is a qualitative measurement you make on your general disposition. If you feel more positive, then you are more positive and the goal is achieved.
Behavioral goals are perhaps the best measurement goal to set because it forces you to focus on the process of getting better rather than a specific event or number of things happening. While other measurement goals can put the power of achievement in your hands, behavioral goals are completely dictated by your consistent effort in improving.
All types of goals are measured in some way, meaning that the goals you choose should be measured by one of the three options above. However, measurement goals only tell you how to measure achievement, but not how long it should take to actually achieve your goal. For this reason, it’s important to understand the types of goals based on time, which allow you to create a vision for your ideal future, and then create bite-sized goals that help you get there.
This means that most of your goals should be measurable as well as broken down into three time frames: long-term, medium-term, and short-term. Start with your ideal long-term goal, such as “start my own business”, then break that down into medium-term and short-term goals that help you get there. Your short-term goals should roll up into your medium-term goals, which should in-turn roll up into your long-term goal or goals.
Long-term goals are your big hairy audacious goals (BHAG) that should take between 5-10 years to achieve. For example, if you want to become a working author, perhaps your BHAG is to get a book deal and a cash advance that lets you work full-time on your novel. Alternatively, if you want to start a business, then your long-term goal could be to make the equivalent of 100k per year in gross income as a small business owner.
As you can see, these are audacious goals that may take years to achieve. For this reason, while long-term goals should be time-bound and measurable, they also act as your North Star and help give your life direction and purpose. While not everything in life deserves to be set as a long-term goal, anything that your passionate about and/or want to make your life’s work or part of your legacy should be set as a long-term goal so you know you’re always headed in the right direction.
Medium-term goals typically take between 1-5 years to achieve. While not all medium-term goals should relate to your ultimate long-term goals, the best way to set goals is to create a long-term goal, and then break it down into a few medium-term goals that’ll help you achieve your ideal future.
For example, if your long-term goal is to become a working author, then your medium-term goals could be things like: sign with a literary agent, or, sign your first book deal. These, if achieved, will help you get to your long-term goal of making enough money off your books to live as a full-time author. Remember, however, that some medium-term goals don’t need to have a long-term goal. For example, if the thing you want to ultimately achieve should only take you a few years, don’t feel obligated to set a 10-year long-term goal along with the medium-term goal.
Short-term goals are ones that can be achieved within one year or less. Typically, your short-term goals should be in direct service of achieving your medium-term goals, which then help you achieve your long-term goals. Using the author example, if your long-term goal is to earn a living wage as an author, and your medium-term goal is to sign with a literary agent, then your short-term goal should be something like: write a killer manuscript that will help you query agents and get signed.
Like medium-term goals, however, short-term goals don’t always need to be tied to medium- and long-term goals. For example, if you simply want to make an extra $500 so you can afford to go to a music festival, then you probably don’t need to tie it to a BHAG. However, make sure that if you do have longer-term goals, that your short-term goals help you get there and don’t send you in the wrong direction.
To this point, we’ve discussed the various types of goals based on measurement or time. However, in reality, the goals you set should be both measurable as well as time-bound. This means that when deciding on the best type of goal for yourself, it’s a good idea to blend elements from each of these three categories, the third of which is comprised of the types of goals based on concentration.
These types of goals are categorized by the key areas of your life in which you should set goals. For example, a career- or health-related goal are both goals based on concentration because they are focused on a specific area of your life. Below are the six most important concentration goals you can set. Remember, though, that while you should set goals in each of the six categories below, make sure that they are all measurable and bound by time.
Career goals represent the milestones you want to achieve in a chosen field, profession, or simply the things you want to experience as your career unfolds. These goals can be focused on individual achievements, such as earning a coveted job title or salary, as well as group achievement, such as starting a successful business. Overall, your career goals should give your life’s work a sense of direction with a clear North Star you’re trying to achieve.
For this type of goal, it’s typically best to set a BHAG and then work your way back to a short-term goal. What’s more, it’s always best to choose a goal that’s measured by something you can achieve. For example, focusing your goals on learning skills that will help you succeed in a chosen field is more attainable than hoping someone decides to give you a promotion.
Financial goals, as the name implies, represent the goals you set around money, investments, and financial security. While achieving a given salary can be both a career and financial goal, financial goals are typically set around achieving a specific net worth or purchasing specific assets, such as a house. For example, earning one million dollars, creating enough passive income to live off of, and purchasing an investment property are all financial goals.
As you can see, financial goals are typically measured by an event occurring. While this is somewhat unavoidable, the best financial goal is one in which you have direct control over. Be careful not to tie your financial aspirations to events that are dictated by other people, such as receiving a raise or betting on the stock market moving in a specific direction.
Personal development goals, also known as process-oriented goals, is a type of goal concerned with becoming a better person. For this reason, most of these goals are measured by behavioral changes, such as thinking more positively or learning a new skillset. Personal development goals can be both qualitative or quantitative with achievement dictated mainly by yourself and no one else.
For example, becoming more present-minded or reducing your relative level of stress and anxiety are personal development goals. Expanding your horizon, learning new things, having memorable experiences are all also personal development goals.
Health and wellness goals are directly related to your physical and mental health. This type of goal can be measured by an event, behavioral changes, or a thing occurring a specific number of times. Going to the gym four times a week as well as losing 20 pounds are both health and wellness goals. Winning a health-related competition can also be a wellness goal, although the achievement of the goal would be largely in the hands of other people such as judges.
Humans need positive social interactions and uplifting relationships to feel fulfilled. For this reason, it’s important to set a social and/or relationship goal. For example, expanding your personal network, going to a networking event once a week, making a point to connect with an old friend or family member every week are all social or relationship goals.
Like the other goals, it’s important to measure this type of goal by something you can control. Calling your parents once a week to nurture your relationship with them is attainable, setting a goal like, “get XYZ person to like me”, is much harder to achieve because it’s ultimately not up to you.
Most people think of goals as professional or pragmatic things they want to achieve. However, setting a leisure-specific goal is also an important part of living a balanced life. Leisure goals focus on the enjoyment of life and allow you to slow things down and experience the present moment. For example, setting a goal to travel abroad once a year or allocating one day a week to rest and recovery are both leisure goals.
This is entirely dependent on the person. For some, 2-3 large goals are enough, while others can juggle 6-8 or more. Ultimately, you want the goals you choose to both fill your time and challenge you, but not overwhelm you. Luckily, while there are 12 types of goals listed above, many of them can be blended together, and ultimately, it’s important that you set goals in the right areas of your life and ensure they are both measurable and time-bound.
The best way to set achievable goals is to use the SMART method. SMART goals have five elements, which means they are: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. If your goals don’t have all five of these elements, you run the risk of choosing ambiguous goals or goals which are too audacious to actually achieve.
While there are as many as 12 types of goals or more, you can combine each of these goal-types into three broad categories: measurable goals, time-based goals, and goals based on concentration. Each of these goals is right for specific situations, but ultimately, you should combine two or more types of goals to create something that follows the SMART method.