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When you are trying to change something in your life, having a goal that is broad and ambiguous is a sure way to fail.

But these kinds of goals are really common. Maybe you have set some of these goals yourself:

I want to be healthier.

I want to lose weight.

I want to get better at my job.

I want to improve my marriage.

I want to be closer to God.

They seem like good goals, right? What’s the problem? The problem is that these goals are broad and ambiguous. It’s difficult (perhaps impossible) to know if or when they have been achieved. It’s also difficult (perhaps impossible) to know if you are making progress toward your overall goal, which is essential to keep you motivated when the going gets tough.

What’s the alternative? Select goals that are specific and measurable.

First, your goal needs to be specific rather than broad. The goal needs to be described in a way that you can know exactly what it looks like if the goal is met. “I want to be healthier” is too broad. We don’t really know what it means. “I want to exercise for 30 minutes, 3 times per week for 1 month” is specific. We know exactly what it means, and we know whether or not the goal is met. When you are working toward a goal, make sure it is specific.

Second, your goal needs to be measurable rather than ambiguous. Being able to measure something is key. If you track something, you automatically pay more attention to that aspect of your life. In one research study on marriage counseling, the beginning assessment and feedback session accounted for 25% of the positive changes over the course of counseling. “I want to improve my marriage” is too ambiguous. It’s hard to measure that goal. “I want to have a date night once per week” is measurable. You can get to the end of the week and look back. Did we have a date night or not? When you are working toward a goal, make sure it is measurable.

Discussion: What is one goal you are working toward in your life? How specific is your goal? If your goal is too broad, try to change it to be more specific. How measurable is your goal? If your goal is too ambiguous, try to change it to be more measurable.

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