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How to Set Realistic Goals For 2021

Updated: Apr 10, 2021

What a year it’s been! 2020 has been the year of the unprecedented, a year like no other – for many a wake-up call, for some a write-off, for others an opportunity to learn and grow. Wherever you’re at, you’re entitled to feel whatever you feel.

Many of us have been challenged, stretched and stressed to or beyond our limits. We’ve had to adapt, change course, be more flexible, get creative or even slow down or stop altogether (voluntarily or involuntarily). As 2020 draws to a close this is a perfect time to pause, reflect on the year that’s been and consider what you want for the year ahead and set realistic goals for 2021.

Goals & Uncertainty

Whilst some may question the rationale for setting goals, I would argue that it’s even more important to set goals during uncertain times. Abundant global research tells us that goals

a) are vital to our wellbeing and motivation – they can give us a focus as well of a sense of


b) help us bring to life what we want to achieve – putting into action your intentions

c) can contribute towards us having a sense of comfort and control - which in a year like

we’ve had can feel elusive

d) can help bring more conscious choice and intention into our lives – and help us get off

autopilot or get off the bike and stop freewheeling!

So now is the perfect time to review, renew, reset goals – and to make them realistic and achievable.

Wheel of Life

If you don’t yet have any goals or you are reviewing, renewing, resetting your goals, the Wheel of Life is a great tool to use. This helps to look at different areas of your life, gauge your satisfaction across each of the areas (which may help to give you an initial focus) and from there, set realistic goals.

Regardless of your focus area (and it’s not necessary to have goals in each area – this is just a guide) there is an opportunity to look at what steps can be taken, (no matter how big or small) towards the achievement of your realistic goals.

The reflective questions listed below by category may help you to set or reframe what personal or professional success looks like for you.


  • Are you in a career that you want or even that you like?

  • If you’re between jobs, what’s most important for you in your next move? (money vs stability vs culture vs autonomy vs leadership)?

Family & Friends

  • What can you do to maximise “quality” time with friends and family?

  • If you’re working from home, how are your boundaries between work / family life?


  • How has 2020 strengthened or strained your relationship(s)?

  • What changes, if any, need to be considered as you look ahead to 2021?

Fun & Recreation:

  • What are the activities that make you belly laugh and / or bring you joy and meaning?

  • How can I set aside time for fun?

NOTE: I highly encourage EVERYONE to have a goal around fun for your overall wellbeing. This is often neglected or forgotten. It is not a frivolous goal by any stretch – and it takes a serious commitment to ensure you commit to this goal just like any other

Health & Wellbeing:

  • What do you need to prioritise for your health and wellbeing in 2021? What help do you need to ask for?

  • When was the last time I took a break? (Commit to taking your annual leave – even if it means you can’t get on a plane!)


  • What’s in your control on the money side? Where do you want to be one year from now?

  • What financial opportunities / decisions that need to be made to support you / and or your family?

Personal Growth & Development

  • What do I want to focus on or invest in personally / professionally? e.g. a course, skill, accreditation, training, self-awareness, coaching etc.

  • What do I want to deepen my knowledge in or awareness of?

Passion & Creativity

  • What passion and creativity did I discover / rediscover in 2020 that I want to continue, pursue, take to the next level?

  • What have I been putting off in this area that I’m ready to start now?

Physical Environment

  • How satisfied am I with my physical environment (e.g. country/location, apartment/house, workplace)?

  • Is there an opportunity or need to change my environment? What is realistic and possible?

Given the year that has been, my hunch is that 2021 is going to be a year where many people are going to be wanting and needing to take care of themselves mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually as we continue to navigate some of the global uncertainty. Use the above questions to help you in your goal ideation.

Whether you are reviewing prior goals or starting afresh and regardless of what category they fall into, here are 12 tips for setting realistic goals in 2021.

1) Motivation: What's your why?. Time to get honest with yourself. What’s the driving force behind this goal? Is this YOUR goal or is this a SHOULD goal e.g. because pressure from outside or the perfectionist in you feels it should be on there?

2) Relevance: Is the goal (still) relevant? If yes, what modification, if any, is needed? If no, remove the goal. Time to get ruthless. If you’ve had a goal on your goal list for the last 2 years and it hasn’t moved it hasn’t been a high priority for you. Take the stress out of it and remove it.

3) Envision: What will it feel like once you've achieved this goal? Play the tape forward. What will it mean to you? How will you have grown either personally or professionally? In achieving this goal, who will you become?

4) Record / Write: Start writing your goals. Don’t overthink – just write – it doesn’t matter how many or what. If goals stay in your head, they may never be more than wishful thinking. Make them visible (e.g. put them on the fridge) so you can track progress.

5) SMART: Make them SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timebound). This helps keep goals very focused AND to bring a sense of accomplishment and achievement – activities that you can measure and define as success as well as enjoy.

6) Values: In working towards this goal how are you committing to any or all of your values? In order to better your chances of achieving your goals, goals need to be meaningful and important to you. Your values tell us what’s important. They are your guiding principles, your north star, they can be your barometer of meaning.

7) Systems: Are your systems in place to help you achieve these goals? Goals are often not achieved because of the systems surrounding them. So, if your goal is to run a marathon, then your system is your training schedule for the month.

8) Prioritise: Prioritise your top 3-5 goals and focus on those. Prioritising will tell you what’s MOST important, will help keep you focused and will best set you up for success.

9) Energy: Do things that give you energy and motivate you (no matter how big or small). Goals need to be pursued with rigour commitment, energy and conviction – especially during uncertain times. If you are not feeling the energy and there is a lack of conviction behind the goal, then the goal becomes just a half-hearted measure – I challenge you to take them off the goals list.

10) Hold them lightly: consider how ‘attached’ you are to the achievement of these goals in their current form. Consider all ways that the goals can be achieved. And remember: holding them lightly does not mean pursuing them less rigorously.

11) Expectations: There’s no need to limit your goal setting because you’re worried about the future and what may change. But do manage your expectations and understand what’s in your control. Set goals to look forward to, that that may even blow your expectations out of the water. Approach goal setting with an open-mind, and be prepared to practice the art of “letting-go”, accepting that the change is the only constant and that there will likely be adjustments along the way.

12) Anxiety: Consider revising or taking goals off if they are causing you great anxiety. Goals are intended to stretch and motivate us – not stress us out completely. Setting smaller goals that are easily accomplished in a shorter period of time (even daily goals) can help you get through those rough patches and stay on track in the long run. This is not a cop-out; it may be exactly what you need and maybe that’s going to be sufficient for you in 2021. That’s ok.

The Big Goal

And for those who are ready, perhaps 2021 is the time to set THE BIG GOAL (TBG)!

The goal that makes you feel a little bit intimidated and nauseous, the goal that challenges you to think even more creatively and outside the box, the goal that’s going to stretch and motivate you, the goal where you have to become the person you can’t even imagine being to move forward, the goal that’s helping you move towards the life that you want and the goal that’s going to BLOW YOUR MIND! Be aware of your expectations and attitudes towards any bigger goals – use this as an opportunity to explore, experiment and even give yourself permission to fail. This may help you as you encounter setbacks and obstacles along the way.

Accountability & Tracking

These final ideas are going to help set you up for success in the achievement of your goals.

Get yourself an accountability buddy – someone to whom you are accountable (weekly or monthly – you choose). Someone who can be honest with you and you honest with them when things are not going to plan. A family member or friend, a colleague or a coach. Verbalising helps with incentives and commitment.

Keep a track of your progress. Make it fun, gamify your progress, use an app, get creative. Take stock monthly or quarterly. If you fall off track, look at what’s derailed you. Was it inside or outside your control? With good motivation, systems, accountability and actionable tasks in place you may quickly get back on track.

Don’t forget to celebrate your successes or at least acknowledge what you HAVE achieved even if it feels like a tiny victory (or victories). Do this weekly – or even daily. And whilst acknowledging set-backs and failures is a very important part of any growth journey, be wary of going down the path of morbid self-reflection! Don’t beat yourself up when things don’t go to plan. The only one who suffers is you. Use this as an opportunity to ask the question “what is this teaching me?”


So as the year draws to a close and you reflect on the year that has been, December 2020 will be a great opportunity to invest valuable time in consider your realistic goals for 2021 and beyond.

You won’t regret spending time focusing on what you want to achieve – thinking through, researching and organising your goals. This is an investment in YOU. Uncertainty and challenge have a way of bringing out the best in us – so use this opportunity to position yourself for success.

If you have any comments or questions, I'd love to hear from you. Get in touch:


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