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What is a long-term goal and how can I achieve it?

August 8, 2022 - 15 min read

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What is a long-term goal?

How to set long-term goals

Share your long-term goals with others

Why are long-term goals important?

6 benefits of long-term goals

9 examples of long-term goals

What is the neutral zone?

Remember: persistency is the key

Whether you’re trying to become an entrepreneur, improve your credit score, or win an Olympic medal, long-term goals demand all of your energy. To fulfill a long-term goal, you’ll need to work hard, plan ahead, and keep your eyes on the prize.

When we talk about what a long-term goal is, we’re talking about the big goals. The life goals. The dreams. Everyone’s goals are different, but this might mean becoming a doctor, launching a startup, or moving to another country.

Long-term goal setting requires you to think ahead for the future and how you can put in the work now to help yourself down the road. To be successful with these types of big goals, you’ll need to determine what gives your life meaning.

It can sound like a lot of pressure to set long-term goals, but everyone can achieve them with some guidance and effort.

What is a long-term goal?

A long-term goal is anything you’d like to accomplish in the future. These goals require more detailed planning and a longer period of time to achieve them compared to short-term goals. 

If you’re wondering what is considered a long-term goal, it demands big thinking. They can be professional, personal, and a mix of both. But just like your other goals in life, long-term goals get us out of our comfort zone and require some work. 

To achieve your long-term goals, it’s a good idea to incorporate some short-term goals into the process. For example, say your long-term goal is to become a veterinarian. You might take a preliminary step of volunteering at your local animal shelter for the experience.

Volunteering is something you’d like to accomplish that helps you work toward your long-term goal of becoming a certified animal care worker. 

Creating realistic steps to reach your goals will make them more achievable. In fact, seeing progress and achieving smaller goals motivates people to continue, increasing both positivity and productivity. 

We’ll dive into more examples of long-term goals soon, but for now, let’s focus on what we can do to set goals in the first place.

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How to set long-term goals

Setting goals with purpose will lead to better chances of you achieving them. Take the time to prepare before diving in. Doing the work at the beginning helps lay the groundwork for a positive and successful process.

Here are four tips to think about as you set your goals:

1. Take time to visualize

Set aside time to visualize your goals. Think about what skills you’ll have to learn, how you’ll take care of your well-being, and what milestones you’ll like to reach.

Are you thinking about what a long-term goal for a business is, or is this more personal? Whether you visualize an image or create a personal vision statement, you’ll wind up with a clearer idea of what you want to achieve.

2. Ensure your goals are SMART

Setting SMART goals gives you a framework for developing an action plan to achieve your goals. “SMART” is an acronym that stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. While it’s not the only goal-setting framework, studies show it’s often key to success

3. Make a list of possible challenges

Identifying potential obstacles can be helpful. Doing so prepares you for instances when you might have to adapt to your goals, which happens. The idea here isn’t to belabor all the ways things can go wrong but be prepared for needing to pivot due to new circumstances. 

4. Share your long-term goals with others

Sharing isn’t about bragging or oversharing but holding yourself accountable. By saying your goals out loud to people you trust, it can inspire you to take action. It’s a way to transition from thinking to doing.

Plus, sharing your goals with a professional network can help if you need advice on your industry. Friends and family will be able to check in and give their words of encouragement and support.

Finding someone who will hold you accountable during this process isn’t always easy. At BetterUp, our coaches can provide the accountability you need to plan and execute your long-term goals.

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Share your long-term goals with others

Since your goals can be about any aspect of your life, take the time to consider which category they fall in. Narrowing your focus will help you stay organized. You may find yourself with several long-term goals at once, so understanding where each one fits in our lives is important.

Let’s review the three types of goals we can have:

1. Personal goals

As you’d imagine, these types of goals are for things you’d like to accomplish in your personal life. Long-term personal goals can involve your hobbies, interests, or relationships.

An example of a personal goal could be running a marathon or traveling to a new place. You could also set personal development goals, health or fitness goals, or social goals

2. Professional goals

A long-term professional goal is different for everyone, depending on your career plan. Usually, these goals are aimed at leveling up professionally and learning new skills. A professional goal could be starting your own business or moving up into a management position at your current workplace.

3. Financial goals

Long-term financial goals are all about money. These goals can include short-term goals and need to have a solid plan. They can be targets for what you’d like to do with your savings account, what you’d like to earn, or how you’d like to save to afford a more significant purchase.

Do you want to buy a house in the next ten years? How much do you need to save each month to hit that target?

Why are long-term goals important?

Goal-setting is important for every area of your life. But something about long-term goals stands out. Your long-term goals focus on setting you up to succeed in the future. That’s where your five-year plans and other lengthy goals come in.

Humans aren’t static, and we must continue to grow. It’s up to you to decide where, and in what time frame. 

And setting these long-term goals helps you understand yourself. Do you want to move up the corporate ladder, or do you want to find a job that enables your globetrotting instincts? 

If you aren’t in touch with who you are, setting clear objectives might be harder. Understanding what we’re hoping to achieve in life might feel impossible if we lack self-awareness.

Research has even shown that self-regulation is an essential part of long-term goal setting, and it teaches us a lot along the way. It’s crucial for adapting to changing circumstances and teaches us to cope with setbacks or failure. 

On the path to self-discovery, you must decide both where you’re going, and how you plan to get to your destination.

6 benefits of long-term goals

Your long-term goals can significantly impact your life. Perhaps you won’t be able to see the benefits, but they’re still present. Here are some advantages that accompany setting long-term goals:

1. Helping you find your reason for being and purpose

2. Teaching you how to problem-solve

3. Showing you that you need to work and act with intention

4. Motivating you to create change

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5. Teaching you how to outline what success means for you

6. Paving the way for a future that aligns with your values

9 examples of long-term goals

It can be challenging to narrow down what a long-term goal can look like for you with so many possibilities. If you’re still wondering, “What is an example of a long-term goal?” we have you covered. 

Here are nine examples of long-term goals:

1. Graduating from college

2. Opening your own small business

3. Taking a month to travel 

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4. Writing a novel

5. Becoming fluent in a foreign language

6. Reading 52 books a year

7. Setting aside money for your retirement

8. Training for a marathon

9. Landing a job at your dream company

What is the neutral zone?

The neutral zone refers to the transition period when you’re approaching the end of your goal-setting journey, but haven’t yet reached it. During this moment, you may start to feel lost, unbalanced, and doubtful. The finish line could be in sight, yet you might feel like you’re in a holding pattern.

But here’s something to know: this experience is normal. It happens to everyone — even those you think to handle change exceptionally well. All change is daunting. It can make you question what will happen next and if everything you’ve done has been worth your while.

You may also grow nervous or frightened about what this change will bring. It’s as if you’ve been planning a solo traveling trip for months, and now, it’s the night before your flight. 

This transition period can throw you off your game and divert you from meeting your long-term goals, so it’s important to focus on how you can combat it and continue to move forward.

How to fight the neutral zone to achieve long-term goals

It’s normal and acceptable to feel a mix of emotions as you near the end of our long-term goal-setting journey. But you don’t want to let the neutral zone consume you. Try these four ways you can move past it:

1. Focus on learning: Welcome opportunities to learn new skills and take in new pieces of advice and information.

2. Show your creative flare: There’s no one way to achieve your goals or celebrate milestones. Act expressively and creatively to you and what’s best for your personal growth.

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3. Use your support system: Whether they are mentors, coworkers, friends, or family, it’s important to lean on trusted people for support. Talk about your emotions and how you feel as you navigate this period, and listen to what they have to say in return.

4. Be willing to take risks: You could be presented with a new opportunity or feel inspired to try something new. Taking risks can get you out of your comfort zone and experience something enlightening.

Remember: persistency is the key

Talking about a long-term goal takes time for a reason. These achievements won’t happen within the hour or this week. Your long-term goals will thrive when you can learn how to delay your gratification rather than succumb to instant pleasure.

Long-term goals demand planning, motivation, and resilience. Above all, they require persistence

But persistence is crucial throughout the entire process, especially in the dreaded neutral zone. It keeps you moving, focused, and motivated. And, embracing persistence helps you avoid falling prey to imposter syndrome, and helps silence your inner critic. It’s what guides you to enjoy all that accomplishing your goals will bring you.

Next time you feel a tinge of doubt as you work toward achieving your long-term goals, remember that a healthy dose of persistence will keep you on track.

If you need help learning to be more persistent, consider meeting with a BetterUp coach. They can help you learn the skills you need to be resilient and persistent as you work to accomplish your goals and demolish the self-doubt of the neutral zone.

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Published August 8, 2022

Erin Eatough, PhD

Sr. Insights Manager

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