The way you describe your goals to yourself is going to make a big difference in how successful you are when pursuing those goals.

One recent study published in PLOS One found that depressed individuals describe their goals in more general and abstract terms, which may contribute to their lack of motivation and goal attainment.

Individuals are more likely to be happier and achieve their goals when they have specific goals in mind rather than goals that are very general and vague.

This is because if you can describe your goals in more specific terms, then often you’ll have a better idea of the kinds of actions you need to take to actually get to those goals.

For example, a very vague and unhelpful goal would be:

  • “I want to be happy.”
  • “I want to be successful.”
  • “I want to be nicer.”

On the surface, there is nothing wrong with these goals – however the biggest issue with them is that they don’t give you any clear idea on what actions you need to take to actually achieve them.

If your goal is just “I want to be happy” then you need to dig deeper.

First, what does “happiness” mean to you? What does a “happy person” look like in your mind? What kinds of things would a “happy person” be doing on a daily basis? Be as specific as possible and you’ll often find a much clearer picture of what you need to do in your life.

For example, more specific and helpful goals would include:

  • “I want to improve my time running the local 10km race.”
  • “I want to practice piano for one hour every morning.”
  • “I want to donate $100 to the Red Cross once a month.”

These goals are much more useful because they describe a specific action we can do. The more specific your goals are, the better. Try to include a “Who? What? When? Where? Why” approach to your goals to help improve their specificity.

You don’t have to limit your goals to one sentence either, an even better idea would be to write a step-by-step plan on how you will accomplish your goals. This simple act of writing them out in detail will automatically minimize a lot of the stress and disappointment of having vague (and unreachable) goals.

At the end of the day, you can’t travel in a new direction in your life if you don’t have a clearer idea of where you want to go.


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