How often should you re-evaluate your goals? 

Where do you want to be this time next year?

Whether the answer is chairing a board meeting or sailing around the world, setting goals is a great way to get on in life.

But while it’s crucial to stay the distance if you want to achieve your dreams, it’s also important to review your aims and ambitions as your priorities change.

At 18, for example, your main aim may be to start the process to become qualified in your chosen profession. At 30, you may want to become your own boss, or buy your own home.

And at 50, your overriding preoccupation may well be having enough savings to enjoy a comfortable early retirement (or buy that sailboat). So how often should you take a step back and re-evaluate your progress to make sure you are on track to hit those key life goals?

Here, we ask successful individuals for their advice on when to reconsider your objectives – and offer some top tips on how to achieve them.

An annual check up

For a lot of people, the start of a new year is an obvious time to think about the things they want to accomplish. Self-employed personal trainer Lucy Locke uses this approach in both her career and her personal life.

“I like to do my re-evaluating at the start of each year, with an emphasis on what I want to change,” she said. “I put plans in place using timescales and action points to help me stay motivated and focused throughout the coming year.”

Rufus Sanders, who runs a chain of shoe shops, also reviews his business goals on a yearly basis.

“As a small business owner, there’s so much going on that you have little time to evaluate anything really,” he said. “However, doing the annual report is a good opportunity to review the last year; I find it helpful to get an idea of the bigger picture.”

A new age

Many of us formulate an idea of where we would like to be by a certain age.

So if you reach that age and are still nowhere near achieving some of the goals you had in mind, it’s probably a good time to take another look at them.

“Hitting big birthdays always seems to me a natural time to reconsider your options,” said Nicola Barber, head of public relations at a big agricultural company.

Setting new goals doesn’t have to involve dramatic change, though. It could just be doing something that will help you to enjoy life more, such as joining a local club or starting a new activity.

“When I hit 40, for example, I decided to start dancing again and it has made me more relaxed at work and a lot happier in general.”

Doing the annual report is a good opportunity to review the last year

A change in circumstances

Major life events such as having children or being made redundant will often have a profound effect on your goals.

So it is sensible to sit down and re-evaluate them when your circumstances change. This is particularly true when the change in question is not one you sought, as setting new goals can be a great way to start to see the positives.

Losing your job, for example, could be the push you need to set up your own business or train in a different career. When Mathew Ward, now an editor at a large media company, was made redundant in 1996, he decided to go freelance – a choice that worked out extremely well for him.

“I loved the freelance lifestyle so much I stayed self-employed for 18 years, during which time I was able to see both my daughters grow up while contributing to most national newspapers and writing several books,” Ward said.

“Having to re-evaluate my goals made me a much happier person all round.”

Successful goal setting: 4 top tips

  1. Work out what you want

Working towards the wrong goals is a waste of time. So ask yourself a few pertinent questions to make sure you are on the right path.

For example:

  • Has anything changed that might require me to revise my goals?
  • What does my progress tell me about how achievable my targets are?
  1. Be realistic

Setting unrealistic goals is a sure way to fail.

So consider what you can achieve given your existing circumstances.

“If a career change is unrealistic due to your financial responsibilities, why not try telling your employer you are open to new challenges and experiences and seeing what happens?” Barber said.

  1. Think long (and short) term

Think ahead to where you’d like to be in say 15 or 20 years.

Then think about the progress you will need to make over the next 12 months to be on track to accomplish this long-term goal.

Breaking a big ambition into smaller milestones will make it easier to achieve.

  1. Be true to yourself

We often feel pressured into setting ourselves goals such as earning a certain amount or owning an attractive home.

But there’s no point chasing other people’s dreams. So scrap any goals that are based on what other people expect of you rather than what you want yourself.

Jessica Bown is an award-winning freelance journalist and editor..

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